The commodities which have been used as money have been many and various, and have possessed in varying degrees the qualities which enabled them to perform all or some of the functions of money more or less adequately. When any commodity becomes an object of general desire and acceptability, it is rudimentary money. Such a commodity is therefore intimately related to the social and economic activities of the people. A commodity generally acceptable in one community, however, may not be so in another, and its acceptability in a community may not be lasting. For instance, wampum shells, because of their general demand for decorative purposes, functioned well as money among New England Indians, but the influx of Europeans and the changes in social and economic life of that district destroyed the usefulness of wampum as a money commodity.

To be suitable as a circulating medium, the commodity must have utility other than monetary; it must be divisible without loss of value; it must be portable, with relatively large value in small bulk; it must be malleable and recognizable when stamped; it must be uniform in composition and quality; and it must be durable and able to resist wear and tear. To serve as a standard for deferred payments and as a store of value, its value in exchange should be as stable as possible; such stability would tend to result from limited and steady production and broad usage. All these qualities, and others which might be suggested, give to the commodity its essential characteristic, namely, universal exchangeability in both time and place.