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What Shape Is Money? Money Doesn't Have to Be Round or Rectangular


  • Understand that many kinds of objects have been used as money.
  • Identify qualities that make a good currency.
  • Design a nontraditional currency and decide on its value.



  • Social studies, economics, math


1. Inform students that throughout history various cultures have used currencies that we may consider highly unusual: pigs, shells, cattle, rice, kola nuts, salt, rice or grain, beads, teeth, eggs, feathers, coconuts, beans, camels, furs, blankets, snails, drums, and more.

2. As a class, make a list of Requirements of a Good Currency. The list might include some of these features:

  • Portable – can fit in a pocket
  • Lightweight
  • Nonperishable – won't rot
  • Strong and durable – won't crush, rip, crack, break off, or bend outof shape
  • Can get wet without being ruined
  • Can be produced in standard sizes so that any two pieces are identical
  • Can be marked or made in different sizes to show different values (such as $1, $5, or $10 bill)
  • Can be easily stacked or stored
  • Cannot be forged, adulterated, or thinned to lessen its value
  • Supply is large enough to be available to everyone
  • Supply is limited enough to preserve its value
  • All users believe in its value and agree to trade with it

3. Show students the photograph of the handa, a solid-copper currency used in the Congo in Africa. The handa is approximately nine by six inches. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using the handa as currency in today's United States. Which of the requirements on their Requirements of a Good Currency list does a handa fulfill?

4. Design a nontraditional classroom currency. Make a list of items you find in the classroom or around school that might be used as a currency. Consider items such as rubber bands, erasers, books, chalk, bottle caps, stones, sand, etc. Use the worksheet to compare the advantages and disadvantages of seven of the items you listed.

Select the best currency for your class. Decide on the value of the classroom currency you have chosen. Issue a certain amount of classroom currency and put it into a container. Decide how to protect it so that it is not tampered with or stolen. Decide what must be done to earn the classroom currency. Allow students to use it to purchase special privileges.

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies