Probably won’t fit in your wallet —- The Kissi Penny
Throughout human history various items have been used as an exchange and measure of wealth. Gold, silver, precious gems, silk, cocoa beans, shells, each culture has used many different items that were considered to have value as money.
While Europe and Asia measured wealth in terms of gold and silver, pre-colonial Africa measured wealth in terms of iron. In the west iron may be a cheap metal but in sub-Sahara Africa iron was a rare metal. While Africa is known for very beautiful and elaborate gold working, it is a very easy metal to work with having a low melting point and high malleability. Iron was much harder to work with and Africa lacked the technology to work iron to the extent of ironworking in Europe and Asia. As a result iron was comparatively rare and only produced by highly skilled master metalworkers. This rarity gave iron a value comparative to silver in many other parts of the world.
On the West African coast in modern day Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia tribes living in the region fashioned their iron into a very convenient form of currency called the “kissi penny”. The kissi penny was a long twisted iron rod shaped like a “T” with a small disc fashioned on the opposite end. Sizes of the kissi penny ranged from 9 to 16 inches, with longer rods having higher values. For larger transactions kissi pennies would be bundled and tied together, much like one places bills in a money clip. Around the late 1800’s one hundred kissi pennies was enough to buy a cow, two hundred could purchase a virgin bride, and three hundred or more could buy a slave.
When Europeans colonized Africa in the 19th century the kissi penny continued as a form of currency, being used simultaneously with European paper money and gold or silver. Despite being banned by the British and French in the 1930’s kissi pennies continued to be used up to the 1960’s until they were replaced with more convenient paper money. While kissi pennies are no longer used as currency today, they are still occasionally used in religious rights and ceremonies.