Also called traditional money, primitive money or odd & curious money, this is a broad field covering all objects other than metal discs and rectangular pieces of paper which were used as money. Although definitions vary, the uses of money are generally given as medium of exchange, storage of wealth, and standard of value; the characteristics of money are portability, durability, divisibility, and distinctiveness. Coins and banknotes posses all of these properties, and are thus modern, general-purpose monies. Ethnographic moneys posses some of them, but rarely all. Many objects possessing some properties of money have dual function as jewelry, weapon, badge of office, religious talisman, etc. The collector who prizes objects for their beauty will tend to acquire pieces with fewer aspects of money, as money rarely needs to be pretty, while the purist who values these objects in proportion to their monetary function will tend to acquire scholarly books, as collector-oriented works and sales catalogs are liberal in what they call money, and short on specifics of use.
      Below is just a start. I have a large stock of ethnographic monies which I will gradually list, Meanwhile, your inquiries are welcome.

      The best general anthropological survey of the field is A Survey of Primitive Money by Alice H. Quiggin, and a good collector-oriented reference with photos and valuations is An Ethnographic Study of traditional Money by Charles Opitz. These and many other more specialized works are offered here.

      Click on the thumbnail to see a larger scan. Size of scan is not related to size of actual object; look in the description for measurements. Sometimes the scan is of the actual piece being offered, but usually not; the word TYPE means it is just a general illustration representing multiple specimens in stock.


Inca Gold Coins    Similar pieces are described as "Peru,Chimu Culture, c. 1200 AD Repousse gold pendant, used as money" in H.Schulman Gibbs Sale, Pt. 1 (4/6-7/71) but Schulman was not the best authority on such things. They are gold, but are they Inca or Chimu? If so they are more likely decorative facings for a larger object, or pendants, than exchange items. Hand-chased designs on thin gold plate, drilled holes. Opinions sought!   20A) Wide head, 2.38gm, 38mm; 20B) Tall Head 2.05gm, 37mm; C) Animal 2.37gm, 38mm    Each: $350

Spindle Whorls   Lot of five terracotta Mexican spinning whorls, most with design. Sold by Paul Dillingham as NSA-19. Not actually money, but almost certainly old.   23b) Five pieces: 30.00

Razor Money   Obsidian scrapers 60mm long, said to have been used by the Tarascan Indians of Mexico as a trade item. See Opitz p.242. These blades imprted by Paul Dillingham in 1970s.    70) As samples shown: 17.50

Hoe Money: Ecuador     ca. 800-1400 The original hoe/axe/scraper money from which later Mexican types were derived. Functional shape with usual striations across top and up shaft. A purchase of 20 pieces averages 75m high by 70m flared top. Weight ranges 11.72-20.85g with one 25.39g piece. Well described in Axe-Monies and Their Relatives by Hosler, Lechtman & Holm 1990 Fig. 2, Quiggin p.313, Opitz 2000, p.23-25:. Some specimens are green, some brown with soil adhesions, some with inked number.    An important item, rarely on the market.   Available:     80b) 81x76mm, brown $175;      80d) 73x67mm, brown $160

Hoe Money: West Mexico   (Guerrero-Michoacan) ca. 1200-1520 Probably derived from Ecuadorian type via maritime trade. aka Trajaderas, coas, axe money. Thin, crinkled chisel-shape without side ridges. Copper-arsenic alloy. Hosler et. al Fig. 5 #1a. This type comes in various sizes; these specimens are 150-160mm (about 6") long. Intact, but often slight chipping at top & tiny pinholes inn body. Available:     67Ef     $65.00 Each

Padre Beads    Chinese bead which travelled all over the world as part of the Spanish silver trade. Best known in North America where they were popular with Southwest US Amerinds, especially the tourquoise blue color. Made ca. late 18th-early 19th C. by the primtive winding process.    Strand of 10-11", blue, white, or less common yellow, red. Also just in, translucent dark blue which I haven't seen before.    531) Each: $20   531p) Scarcer cobalt-blue beads $27.50

MORE BEADS used in the Americas.





   Cowries (Cyprea Moneta and Cyprea Annullis) are the world's most universal currency. Found from Melanesia through the Maldive islands, they have been gathered for centuries and traded to virtually every civilization in southern Asia through Africa where they formed a low-end currency, often well into the 20th century.

Cowrie Necklace (Africa)   Braided leather with simple knot & loop catch, several used cowries attached to dangle. These are monetary cowries, as note the "broken back" to make them flatter and easier to handle, but this is a jewelry use. Leather shows signs of wear and is somewhat stiff, so I recommend using a softener if you wish to wear this. Each piece slightly different; sample shown.    206 $7.85
Cowrie Belt (Burma)   Double row of filed cowries threaded on three lengths of reed-like material to form a wearable belt; roughly 250 cowries. From the Chin or Karen tribes of Burma and Yunnan, where cowries are still used today for small purchases. I am not sure whether these belts are ornamental or a means of storing cowries, but cowries are not as common nor inexpensive here as they are in Africa.   207g) Full belt, as shown, some breaks in reed so belt is too fragile for actual wear $85;    207f) Partial belt, about 23" length, cowries more yellowed (see scan for sample) $45.