A Time-Traveling Odyssey of Currency: From Cowry Shells to Crypto Magic

Crypto Witch Club
6 min readJan 8, 2024

Hey, Crypto Witches! It’s a new year and do you know what that means? We’re about to embark on a journey through time, exploring the fascinating forms of money that have shaped civilizations.

From cowry shells to salt, feathers to fiat, our ancestors were onto something big — and we’re here to share the deets on the evolution of moolah. So, grab your broomsticks, and let’s soar through the history of world currency.

Prehistoric Times — BC: Cowry Shells: Ocean Treasures as Ancient Cash Flow

1200 BC — 1500 AD

Before seashells became the OG currency, cowry shells took center stage in the ancient trade game. Used by diverse cultures across Africa, Asia, and the Indian Ocean, these small, glossy shells were the bling of the seas. Symbolizing wealth, fertility, and even divine power, cowry shells were the gold coins of their time. So, next time you’re strolling along the beach, remember — those shells might have added up to the ancient equivalent of a Louis Vuitton bag. Oui, oui.

Ancient Rome — Salt: Worth Your Weight in… Salt?

6th Century BC

Flashback to ancient Rome, where the phrase “worth your weight in salt” had a literal meaning. Salt was a precious commodity, essential for preserving food in an age without refrigeration. Roman soldiers received a portion of their salary in salt, known as “salarium,” from which the word “salary” is believed to originate. So, if you ever feel undervalued at work, just imagine your boss paying you in salt babe … we kid, we kid.

Micronesian Islands — Rai Stones: The Stone Age of Micronesian Finance

500–1600 AD

Imagine a currency so enormous that it couldn’t fit in your pocket … welcome to the world of Rai stones. In the Micronesian islands, massive limestone discs served as a form of currency. Carved from the quarries of Palau and transported on wooden canoes, these stones could be as large as twelve feet in diameter. (For real.) Ownership was established not by physical possession but by communal agreement, making the Rai stones a unique and fascinating chapter in the history of currency and community.

Papua New Guinea — Feathers: Fly High in the Feathered Economy

1000–1500 AD

Feathers may seem like a wild choice for currency, but for the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea, they were a symbol of wealth and prestige. The vibrant plumage of exotic birds, like the Birds of Paradise, was highly coveted and used as a form of currency for trade and social status. In this ancient feathered economy, it literally paid to stand out and flaunt your avian bling. Get it, girlies.

Spice Trade Routes — Spices: Spice Up Your Life, Spice Up Your Wallet

15th — 17th Century

In the spice-laden markets of ancient civilizations, commodities like cinnamon, pepper, and cloves weren’t just flavor enhancers — they were the original spice girls of the economic scene. These aromatic treasures were so valuable that they became a form of currency in trade routes stretching from Asia to Europe. Merchants sailed perilous seas to bring back these coveted spices, and cities like Venice became financial powerhouses thanks to their strategic control over the spice trade. Next time you reach for that pepper shaker, remember — you’re holding a piece of history’s original wealth.

Ancient World — Seashells: The OG Currency Game

1200 BC — 1500 AD

Back in the day, before Venmo and crypto wallets, people traded in this OG currency: seashells. Yep, you heard that right. Shells weren’t just beachy souvenirs; they were the bling of the ancient world. Used by various cultures, from Native Americans to Pacific Islanders, these shiny, durable shells were the original status symbols. Imagine strolling into a seaside marketplace, flexing your shell necklace — talk about making waves!

Native American Tribes — Wampum: Strings of Wealth Among Native Americans

1600–1800 AD

Wampum, meaning “white shell beads” in the Algonquian language, held significant cultural and economic value among Native American tribes, particularly in the northeastern United States. Woven into intricate belts and strings, wampum served as a form of currency and a means of recording important events and agreements. Europeans soon recognized the value of wampum in trade, solidifying its place as an early form of currency exchange in the New World. These shell beads weren’t just about wealth; they were also a medium for storytelling and diplomacy, making them a unique and versatile form of currency.

17th-century Holland — Tulips: Flower Power and Financial Folly

1634–1637 AD

Fast forward to 17th-century Holland, where tulip mania took center stage. Tulip bulbs became the hottest commodity, with prices soaring to absurd heights. People mortgaged their homes and sold their possessions to get in on the tulip action. But just like a bad Tinder date, it all came crashing down. The tulip market bubble burst, leaving many in financial ruin. Lesson learned: investing in flowers might not be the most sustainable financial strategy.

Ancient Civilizations — Gold: The Midas Touch

Various Dates — Present

Ah, gold — the OG bling that never goes out of style, even now. Throughout history, civilizations have coveted this precious metal, considering it a symbol of wealth and power. From ancient Egyptians to the California Gold Rush, gold fever has driven people to the ends of the Earth (and sometimes, their sanity). It’s heavy, it’s shiny, and it’s the original flex. It even caused a Costco Craze in 2023. <https://www.cnbc.com/2023/12/15/costco-sold-more-than-100-million-in-gold-bars-last-quarter.html>

Modern Era — Fiat Currency: Cash Rules Everything Around Me

20th Century — Present

Enter fiat currency, the paper bills and coins we carry in our wallets today. But don’t be fooled by its simplicity; fiat currency holds the power of governments and central banks. The value isn’t backed by a tangible asset like gold; instead, it relies on trust. So, when you fork over that crisp dollar bill, you’re essentially saying, “I believe in this economic system, and I’m going to trust it.” It’s a wild ride, balancing on the delicate thread of collective trust in our economic overlords, but someone’s got to do it.

Digital Age — Crypto: Enter the Digital Spellcasters

2009 — Present

Now, fasten your seatbelts for the crypto revolution. Born out of the rebellious spirit of the internet and decentralization, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have taken the financial world by storm. Decentralized and secure, these digital assets are changing the game. No more middlemen, no more banks holding the reins — just you, your digital wallet, and the blockchain. It’s almost like … magic.

Alright, Crypto Witches, we’ve just surfed the waves of time, riding the currency rollercoaster from ancient cowry shells to the mind-bending magic of crypto. We learned flowers aren’t the best investment strategy (unless it’s a Joe Horner NFT), that community-driven investing is like, really, really old, and that fiat currency, those paper bills that have been cluttering our wallets, isn’t the elder statesman it pretends to be. We mean, the British Pound only showed up to the party in the 17th century — practically yesterday in the grand scheme of currency evolution. So, as you flex your digital assets and navigate the crypto spell, just remember, the financial game we’re in right now is a lot newer than that vintage Chanel bag you’ve been eyeing. Keep making those money moves, because the real magic is in staying one step ahead of the currency curve. Stay fab, stay crypto, and keep slaying those financial spells, witches! 💸✨🔮

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