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Alternative & Unusual Currencies

Last week I went to the bank with a backpack full of cash and deposited $1600 in $2 bills. It’s all part of a recent fascination of mine with alternative and unusual currency: $2 bills, Bitcoin and Ithaca Hours.

$2 bills

I’ve always thought it strange that the $2 bill never caught on. I decided to start using them just like any other denomination so each time I visited the bank I began asking for them. If I was lucky I would leave with $8 or $10 each time. Then I discovered I could have the bank order them in bulk on my behalf. I now use 2’s more often than any other bill: wedding gifts, $2 trivia challenges at parties; tips; the small purchase at the local bodega, etc.

Ithaca Hours

While visiting Ithaca, New York in early July I made it my mission to get my hands on some of that cities local currency. The Ithaca Hour is the oldest and largest local currency system in the United States. I found a grocery store willing to sell me some Hours my first day in town and spent the rest of the trip trying to pay with them. It’s apparently a niche currency though most often used in progressive grocery stories and food markets and I usually just got strange looks from cashiers.


bitcoin1Over the past few months I’ve traded most of the US Dollars that I own for an anonymous digital currency called Bitcoin. I’ve since traded most of that back to fiat currency because of the markets extreme volatility but once the price stabilizes I plan to go back in. My hope is that within a couple of years this will be my primary means to give and receive payment. Bitcoin is developing quickly and while it still has a lot of challenges to overcome before it can be used widely, it’s exciting to watch those innovations evolve. For example, I’d like to make more of my income from writing and less of it from selling to commercial publications funded by advertisers. This seems a paradox but it doesn’t have to be. Below this post is a plug-in that allows someone to donate a small amount of Bitcoin to my digital wallet. I’d love for media to be funded by readers tipping rather than the commercial interests of advertisers. This is an experiment. I may not get enough traffic from people that use Bitcoin for this to justify the space it takes up. But this is an example of the kind of thing that Bitcoin is making possible—and that in and of itself is exciting.



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