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Currency Issues

Discussion in 'World Building' started by L M Rush, Aug 12, 2015.

  1. L M Rush

    L M Rush Scribe

    Hey guys,

    I received some real insightful responses on the other thread, so just thought I'd ask you guys how you handle currency issues in your fantasy worlds? Do you literally ignore it, or do you make it up as you go along?

    I've been working on my currency and have discovered a fairly reasonable ratio. I'll post it as dollars, as I'm the odd one out. A Copper Bit is the lowest form of currency, and it's the equivalence of lets say 50 cents, 0.5 $. I then have to trade 5 of these Copper Bits to get the next form of currency, a Copper Coin (Worth $2.50). The pattern remains similar.

    x5 Copper coins to get a Silver bit (Worth $12.50) and x5 Silver bit's to get a Silver Coin (Worth $62.50)

    x5 Silver Coins to get a Gold bit (Worth $312.50) and x5 Gold bit's to get a Golden Coin (Worth £1562.50).

    At this point, I feel a bag full of Golden Coins is a wealthy bribe. A Pouch of Golden bit's a young lordling's drinking and gambling money. A Silver coin flipped to a stable hand being an overly generous tip and a copper coin the price of ale, and a couple of copper bits to tip the wench.

    I then introduce the Gold Throne, which is what the big boys deal in. Payments to assasians etc. Again it's x5 Golden coins to make the Gold Throne (Worth $7812.5). I then plan to finish it with the Emperial Throne, which is x100 of the Gold Throne, so ($781,250). Was considering x10, to make it $78,125. Yet I feel the Emperial Throne is literally held in good faith of 100 Gold Thrones, like a bank would give you some sort of guarentee on your property etc.

    What do you guys do, what flaws in my currency do you see? I'm literally ignoring prices of smelting/forging the coins in my story, that's for far smarter people than me to deal with.
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Your scheme, as with all, would depend on the society in which it is used.

    For me, everything below Golden Coin seems pretty good & useful. Golden Coin is stretching it a bit, because a single coin worth $1562.50 would be used....how? Maybe in trade with other nations, or large trade items between nobles, or in gambling amongst nobles, the Golden Coin would find its place. The Golden Coin might also be used to buy large trade items from wealthy merchants/dealers. The problem however in dispersing it beyond the nobility is the question of how non-nobility could use it. For trade with those below nobility and wealthy merchants, I suppose it could be broken down (once received) into Gold bits. My point is: it becomes clunky outside use among nobility and wealthy merchants. So it's borderline.

    The Gold Throne and Emperial Gold Throne seem altogether too valuable for practicality—particularly the latter. Perhaps, again, amongst the extremely wealthy these could find some use. Or for storage, i.e. hoarding gold. More practical than giving someone a Gold Throne would be giving them 5 Gold Coins, for instance.

    I'm not sure of the sizes of these coins, so can't make an argument there, although I wonder at the size of an Emperial Throne if it is to be worth 500x a Golden Coin. Are we talking a coin that is 10 inches in diameter? :confused2:

    Again though, much would depend on the type of society you have, the size and complexity of the world. I think one could design a world and society in which such uber coinage would find a place, but it would need to include some extremes beyond typical medieval-ish size and complexity.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
  3. L M Rush

    L M Rush Scribe

    Hey, not sure how much you read/skipped over. Obviously as I pointed out, I'm not interested in the costs of coins. The sizes would be similar, naturally the more expensive, the thicker, just for satisfaction.

    Yeah, maybe I should of pointed out there are no paypal accounts in my world, or online banking. The banks would deal with the coins actual worth behind the scenes. Im more worried about making conversations/transactions easier for the storyline.

    People who earn like $200 a week, would be using the copper coins, and perhaps silver bits for big payments. Obviously they wouldn't be using higher currency coins or being worried about it.

    Rich people wouldn't want to worry about carrying a thousand silver pieces every day. Gold thrones/Emperial thrones wouldn't necessarily be coins. You kinda assumed that. You want to pay someone close to a million dollars, would you prefer one/two notes of credit, or 100,000 pieces of silver. I note your tone and feel I gave enough of an explanation that MY personal currency isn't beyond use.

    So you haven't heard of people in casinos? With chips essentially worth $1000? That's one use, what about paying an army, would you bother with the individual payments, or give the leader the money and let him worry about the rest?

    If somebody gave me a solid golden coin, would if be worth more than $1000? If not, is it worth $100? So what, a silver coin is $50? Ugh I just don't see the practicality in anyone other than banks having to deal with huge quantity of gold. Literally any time I want a big transaction to go through I say 'Lots of gold.' instead of 'Ten Golden Thrones'. When someone is bribing a mercenary 'I'll give you lots of gold, it's worth more than you currently get in lots of gold, but not twice as much.'.

    The audience literally have no scale.
  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    My general point re: the above is that, yes, the poorer classes wouldn't be using higher currency, but how would the wealthier classes be using it? Suppose a wealthy merchant receives a gold coin from a noble in payment for an extravagantly carved bed. Now the merchant has the gold coin. Can he use it to pay his laborers, his personal servants, or food sellers in the market when he's buying groceries? But then, if he does use it to pay these folks, how are they then going to use it? Breaking it down into gold bits seems like a plausible way for it to be used for paying these people below the wealthy merchant; otherwise, he is constrained to use it when he himself buys big-ticket items from other wealthy merchants. Or for gambling amongst other wealthy people he knows.

    You had also given the example of paying an assassin with a Gold Throne. Well, then what is he, the assassin, going to do with that Gold Throne? How spend it?

    As for the rest of your reply....You yourself gave a sort of value breakdown of each coin, which is why I responded as I did. The reading audience isn't going to need to know the actual value breakdown, i.e. in terms of dollar amounts, but only needs a general sense of scale. Obviously you can make up any set of words you like and go with "B is bigger than A; C is bigger than B; D is bigger than C...." as a guideline while writing. I'm just curious about why you asked with such specificity re: value amounts when in the end you only need a vague scaling set of terms to achieve a sense of scale.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    So, there are a number of factors you might consider. First and foremost, what is the cost of bread? One loaf. Another, closely related, would be the cost of a workman's wages for a day. Or week or year. Most any sort of urban workman, such as a carpenter, would do. Another might be the cost of a horse.

    These are more important parameters than how many Coins X equal a Coin Y. You can turn to any number of reference works for pre-modern Europe for ideas. You will quickly discover that gold coinage was uncommon before 1500 or so, and that for much trade money of account was used.

    Another factor to consider is variation in currency across time and space. In medieval Europe, every two-horse town had its own currency. Even in places that had the same currency, its value varied from one part of the kingdom to another. Royal and noble and urban currencies intermingled freely--hence the importance of the moneychanger. You can, of course, simplify and declare a single currency system for your world. Plenty of stories do that.

    The angle I find interesting regarding currency has to do specifically with fantasy. How much to hire a mage? What's a spellbook cost? Leaving currency aside, I would couch it in practical terms as above--one love potion would be equal to two months' wages, or some such.
  6. Trick

    Trick Auror

    For a semi universal currency system, you might consider how the US currency works, or any western country (I know little to nothing about other currencies so I can't use them as examples).

    Let's disregard electronic banking for the sake of this discussion since it will just muddy the waters.

    In the US, the base denomination is the Dollar (you should decide on a base currency for simplicity's sake, be it the silver or copper coin, it shouldn't matter but I'd not use the gold coin). The largest denomination is a $100 bill. Anything extraordinarily above that amount is dealt with outside of a physical currency system and substitutes are used instead; these must be backed by an institution of some kind, be it bank or government or what have you. Thus people would use something like Checks, bonds etc.

    Currency larger than that is, in many ways, just impractical. However, having a name for large quantities above that might serve a purpose for trade, especially for banks and lending houses. But no one mints million dollar coins because... what would you do with it? Sure, you could buy a castle if there was a reasonable amount of difference in the actual price (reasonable meaning, change could be made). But, in most circumstances, you'd have to go right to a bank (a large one) and deposit it, taking out a reasonable amount for spending in more manageable currency sizes/amounts. So, your Golden and Emperial Thrones would be conceptual, not hard currency; at least, logically they would be.

    The other issue is this: copper, silver and gold have actual value. They require no 'backing' like, for instance, paper money. So, your coins would not have a hard value in dollars (which you have used as an example). It would in fact be the other way around. Dollars would have a specific value in gold, etc. So, Skip.knox makes a good point; using commonly purchased items as a basis for value makes more sense. This means, in a system with both intrinsically valuable hard currency and conceptual currency, that the value of conceptual currency would change. One day an Emperial Throne would be worth 500 golden coins and then next it might be worth 498. And the next day, 502. Thus, the combination of intrinsically valuable hard currency and conceptual currency can get pretty complicated. All it takes is the introduction of a common practice like shaving gold coins and things get pretty precarious in your fantasy economy.

    Obviously, none of this ever needs to be explained in your book. Your basic system would work great. Unless you're writing about the richest characters in your world buying and selling quite often, the mention of Golden Thrones and Emperial Thrones would simply be an occasion of awe for most people and it would only need to be clear that it's a lot of money, not exactly how much.


    The shaving gold coins thing made me think of something else. The reason American coins have ridged edges is because of the practice of coin shaving (note that pennies don't have ridges because they were typically worth more as coins than as raw material). With smooth edges, coins can be shaved, decreasing their weight and thus their value. The shavings could then be put to use to forge currency, make gold jewelry (basically for free) or just to be used in rough form for trade, again, by weight. However, American coins no longer have intrinsic value since they aren't made out of precious (gold & silver) or useful (copper) metals; the ridging is just tradition I guess. They are now backed currency like dollars (which are really just bank notes anyway). So, I guess my point in this edit is to show further how complex mixing currency systems is. It's doable but would probably result in gold coins getting weighed by merchants all of the time (unless of course they had hard-to-fake ridged edges).
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
    Mectojic likes this.
  7. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Something I used to wonder about and still do, now and again. I know that folks in the ancient world were big on hiring mages - thinking Roman era 'curse tablets' and 'love spells' here - but never really ran across much about what these services cost. Also, all manner of books contained spells and incantations of one sort or another, most outright ridiculous. The real books on magic were kept secret, which, ironically, is why they turn up now and again - they were that well hidden, and hence protected. But not much info on monetary value for such a book.

    In my own writing...I ran into a dilemma. On the one hand, magic should be rare and wondrous and therefor expensive. And there are not a lot of true mages on my worlds. On the other hand, if magic costs too much, especially for the common spells (protection, love charms, divinations, that sort of thing), then the wizard is liable to price himself out of business...or into the local palace. But wizards in my worlds are near outcasts anyhow, or part of the church.

    I ended up making them either academics at a handful of locations, or wanderers, alternately selling spells in marketplaces or taking short term gigs with this or that merchant or noble. The church does something similar with Godborn (healing mages).

    But back to more or less on topic:

    You are almost certainly going to need a coin with a value of around 1/10th to 1/5th that of a copper - a coin that will buy a loaf of bread, bowl of stew, mug of ale, or a spot in a shack or hostel. (I'd suggest either a bronze or iron bit.)

    For that matter, you don't really need any coins of greater value than the gold bit - and even that will be the domain of merchants, prosperous artisans, and the government.

    Most non-menial folks will be using silver bits for the big bills (rent) and copper or iron/bronze for the small stuff.

    And, of course, the value of coins will vary from place to place depending on where they are minted. 'Coins from Kingdom X are known to be debased, hence we won't accept them.'
  8. Bruce McKnight

    Bruce McKnight Troubadour

    I based my world's currency in coins of precious metal because I like boring, normal-like setttings like that.

    My lowest value coin is roughly worth a quarter. I figure that's about the price of an apple, about the lowest currency transaction that's worth anyone's time. If you have something worth less than that, you better sell in bulk. I built up from there to coins worth about $10,000. These are basically for the money houses and rich nobility. Has anyone in my world needed one? Not in anything I've written yet. Shrug.

    The big thing for me, though, was to have a dose of reality by only making coins out of materials available on the continent. I was going to have brass coins, but there's no zinc mines, so I had to get rid of them (because I didn't feel like adding zinc mines).

    This is just for my main continent, though, other continents have their own currency based on the materials available there. The major port cities have money houses that will exchange currency for a fee.
  9. The Stranger

    The Stranger Dreamer

    My biggest concern as far as currency was mostly about how it would transfer from civilization to civilization, like how the currency would be exchanged. i was able to fix this by basically just setting up a global trade group called The Merchants Guild, which dealt with exchange rates and creating a uniform currency to be used throughout the world. essentially, every civilization still had its own currency, but there was always a globally accepted system of coin for travelling merchants and wandering adventurers. The only groups that wouldn't accept these coins were primitive tribes, but they mostly still operated on the barter system and the exchanging of goods. as far as exchange rates for the global trade currency, i mostly just left that alone, as i simply had far too many empires for which i would have to create currencies.

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