Tea brick currency
Tee, thé, cha, tsài, tè, teo, chai, teh, chay—these are all words for the beverage made from leaves of the evergreen shrub Camelia sinensis. Wars have been fought to control its trade and gifts of it have been made to ensure peace. It has even been used as currency. In central and northern Asia, bricks of tea were a unit of value and medium of exchange well into the 20th century.
China had a monopoly on the tea trade right up until the 19th century and, as the taste for tea spread, it became an increasingly valuable commodity. It was exchanged for horses in Mongolia and Tibet. Russian caravans travelled for months across Siberia to trade furs for it.
Tea in the form of bricks was durable, easy to pack and, under the right conditions, could be preserved indefinitely. At factories in China’s Sichuan Province, freshly picked leaves were steamed, pounded into powder and then packed into moulds. The bricks were then dried or baked in the sun to harden.
The value of a brick depended on both the quality of the tea and the distance it had travelled from China. A French missionary travelling in Tibet in the 19th century wrote, “men bargain by stipulating so many bricks or packets (4 bricks) of tea.” Workmen and servants were paid in bricks of tea and a horse cost 20 packets. At the beginning of the 20th century, Western adventurers in remote parts of Mongolia and Tibet found that they couldn’t use gold or silver to buy supplies, but could only use tea.
The tea brick shown here was produced in the People’s Republic of China sometime in the mid-20th century. It is in the Bank of Canada Museum’s National Currency Collection and can be seen in Zone 4 of our main gallery along with many curious and fascinating objects that have been used as money.
Private Edward Atkinson’s example of trench art is what is called a “love token”—a souvenir made from a coin. It’s one man’s personal wartime experience expressed through a pocket-sized medium.
The first Canadian paper money was issued in 1817, and for the next 120 years, the vast majority of Canadian bank notes were only in English.
Bank of Canada Museum will be at the 66th annual convention of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA).
Retaining the landscape format but showing human activity and intervention transformed the imagery into an extended portrait of Canada and Canadians.
During World War Two, the Bank created the Foreign Exchange Control Board (FECB). One of its major tasks was to find as many US dollars as possible to pay for American imports.
Economic bubbles continued to pop up regularly throughout history, and still do today.
In heritage conservation, broken metal objects can be reassembled with an adhesive most commonly used for repairing glass and ceramics.
Used extensively in the 19th century, this type of hand-operated press printed secure financial documents using the intaglio method.
How on earth did an “S” with a line or two through it come to represent a dollar? Any ideas? No? That’s OK, you’re in good company.