Almost everyone thinks of coins and currency as being used as a medium of exchange or as a store of value. But, have you ever thought about the various ways in which money can be put to other purposes?
Coins and paper money are made out of substances. They have shapes, weight and chemical properties that sometimes are suitable for usage other than for financial purposes. Here’s just a handful of examples.
Perhaps the most common other use of coins is in jewelry. You can purchase or make your own rings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, cufflinks, watches and other forms that show off the beauty of the coins. Sometimes coins are even embedded in trophies and awards.
More times than I can count, I have seen coins used as a shim to stabilize furniture with either uneven legs or on an irregular floor. Almost every week in my company’s store someone brings in a coin that has a hole drilled in the center so that it could be used as a washer in assembling something with a screw or bolt and a nut.
In addition, we regularly see coins (mostly dimes) in our store that are warped on a small section of the edge. Obviously, these were used as emergency flat head screwdrivers.
Back in the days when most homes had a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker panel, blown fuses could be replaced in an emergency with the older, almost pure copper cents. This was not safe as it prevented the fuse from blowing in the event of an electrical overload. But, it would temporarily work until the homeowner had time to purchase the correct fuse to replace it.
You’ve probably seen products made with coins embedded in hard plastic such as paperweights, bowls, ashtrays, dishes, toilet seats, letter openers and the like.
When the current Michigan State Capitol broke ground in 1872, the cornerstone was laid on Oct. 2, 1873. For placement in the cornerstone, the U.S. Mint provided a complete 1873 proof set, including gold coins that each had a mintage of just 25 pieces each. When the cornerstone was opened a few decades ago, my company donated appraisal services so that the Michigan Historical Museum could put the set on display. Although the coins had been mishandled at some point, the rarity of the gold coins meant that the value was so high that the insurance company would only allow one gold coin at a time to be on exhibit.
For those who might be spoiling for a brawl, wrapping your fingers around a roll of quarters or filling a sock with a quantity of loose coins might give you an edge. We do not condone this.
People who might want to impress others with their apparent prosperity have been known to ignite a piece of paper money in front of those they want to impress, and then use the lit currency to light a cigar. For those who were in dire straits, they might use paper money to help start an emergency fire.
If you look back in history, silver and copper coins were widely used for their antibacterial and algae-preventing properties. It was common for ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and others to put silver coins in water cisterns to kill bacteria.
American pioneers traveling across the West regularly put silver and copper coins in their water supplies to keep it safe from bacteria and algae.
Before refrigerators, many Americans put silver dollars in their milk to keep it fresh longer.
There are a number of numismatists who collect short snorters. People, often on journeys together or serving together in the military, would autograph paper money as keepsake mementos.
In the same vein, a website (WheresGeorge.com) was created in 1998 called “Where’s George?” as a means of tracking the hands through which listed notes have passed over time. People can go to the website to record the serial numbers and dates and locations of the notes they have in their possession. This website currently lists more than 300 million pieces of currency, mostly U.S. and Canadian. The name of the website comes from the use of George Washington’s portrait on the obverse of all US $1 notes for more than a century.
The above list of non-monetary uses for money is certainly not complete. Feel free to add any other kinds of usage.
Patrick A. Heller was honored as a 2019 FUN Numismatic Ambassador. He is also the recipient of the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award, 2012 Harry Forman National Dealer of the Year Award and 2008 Presidential Award. Over the years, he has also been honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild (including twice in 2020), Professional Numismatists Guild, Industry Council for Tangible Assets and the Michigan State Numismatic Society. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at www.libertycoinservice.com. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio archives posted at www.1320wils.com).