Posted by Allison on 4 April 2009, 10:14
Some people would say the fact that we put such value on banknotes which are essentially worthless is a pretty strange thing to do, but there are even stranger facts and quirky things we do with currency which say a lot about the kind of people we are.
Some of these things occurred in times gone by and are no longer practiced, while others still happen today. So let's take a very different journey through the world of currency and explore the ways that we have used it through the years.
One rather strange custom which used to take place in Britain was that of placing a penny on each eye of a person who had died. Some might think this was an odd way of making sure their eyes remained closed, but this is far from the truth. In fact the coins were put there to ensure the dead person had the money to pay the ferryman after they had died.
The ferryman was thought to operate a boat which basically divided the land of the living from the land of the dead, and if you didn't pay him you didn't reach your destination.
Staying with the other side for a moment, there is a particular type of currency which you may not even have heard of before, yet it exists in China and is known by the alarming name of Hell bank notes. This is literally 'currency for the other world' and it has that same announcement printed on each and every banknote.
The idea behind these is that they are 'given' to the deceased at their funeral, so they won't be short of cash on the other side. While many cultures believe that you can't take it with you, it appears that the Chinese have other ideas. The more of this money you can burn at the funeral the better. You won't find many low denomination notes either – they are all in the thousands, thus giving the deceased a huge nest egg to look forward to in heaven.
Money also figures highly in weddings – and not just in the amount of the final bill either. Several cultures pin their banknotes onto the bride's wedding dress; Poland is just one example of this.
There is also a long held belief that money attracts money, which is why you should always put a coin or two into a new purse or wallet before you give it to someone as a gift. The same goes for piggy banks. If you don't you are essentially giving a gift of bad luck, or so the theory goes.
It is also believed that if a coin has a hole in it, it is a lucky one – which means by default that the Japanese yen must be a very lucky currency since two of its six denominations of coin have holes in. It certainly seems to be true at the moment, since its economy and strength on the world's currency markets have done particularly well of late and show no signs of abating. Perhaps they should put holes in all their other coins as well?
It is certainly advisable to keep a coin with a hole in it if someone gives one to you, as it can bring you luck for many years to come. Others say the same of a penny if you wrap it up and keep it permanently in your wallet or purse. So long as you don't spend it you will always have money and never run out.
One of the most widespread customs involving money becomes evident whenever we see a fountain. Who can resist the urge to throw in a coin and make a wish of some kind? So long as we keep that wish to ourselves it should come true.
While it may not work exactly like that in reality, the reason we throw a coin in is to honour the water gods or water sprites or fairies (depending on what area and country the fountain is in and what you personally believe in) who are then able to make our wish come true for us. Nowadays all the coins thrown into a fountain or wishing well are generally collected up periodically and given to a charity of some kind – so in that sense they really do bring good luck to someone.
One particular banknote which seems to be associated strongly with bad luck is the American two dollar bill. Many people don't even realise this exists, and you would be forgiven for being among that number since the two dollar bill isn't often seen anymore. Americans apparently hated them and they soon became viewed as supremely unlucky – which only served to add to the antipathy they felt towards them.
But perhaps one of the strangest things you could do with a coin is to eat it. We've all heard of a child playing with their pocket money and accidentally swallowing a coin, but that doesn't usually cause much concern as nature will take its course and shift it.
But one man in France clearly had an obsession with swallowing coins – so much so that he died because of it. He was taken to hospital around six years ago after developing stomach pains, and after an examination his doctors discovered he had swallowed enough coins (several hundred of them) to cause a major blockage. Despite having an operation to remove them he died shortly afterwards. This has to be one of the most bizarre instances of things that people do with money other than spend too much of it.
Even kids are getting in on the act by getting involved with coins in an intriguing way – they make models out of them. Quite apart from stacking them and creating all kinds of different shapes, there is also a kit you can buy which lets you construct 3D structures using your small change. The kit comes with a selection of plastic clips which let you attach one coin to another and make structures as big as the number of clips you have.
It's an interesting way to start kids off with the saving habit; after all the more money they have the better the models they can make. It's certainly a different way of making use of whatever currency you have laying around.
But if one thing remains it is that we can all be rather obsessed with getting more money. That is presumably why some of us are prepared to get hold of a so called 'money spider' and swing it round our heads three times on its thread in order to encourage more money to come into our lives.
There's no doubt about it – money does strange things to people. It doesn't matter how much or how little of it we have, it's never enough. We keep to our superstitions; try and encourage more of it to flood into our lives; pick up pennies we see in the street because we know they will bring us luck throughout the day, and much more besides.
Whether you view money as lucky or the root of all evil, we certainly have strange ways of treating it sometimes.