Various commodities have been used as money in different stages of economic development. In early times, the article which came to have wide acceptability and use as a medium of exchange was sometimes a necessity of life - rice, tea, tobacco; sometimes an ornament, like beads; or, again, a weapon. Among savage people, most of whom have an extravagant love for ornament, rare shells, beads and skins have served as money. When the first settlers came to America they found the Indians using "wampum" or "peag" as a medium of exchange. It consisted of strings of bends made from sea shells. The beads were of two colors, black and white, the black beads being worth twice as much as the white. These beads were polished and made into strings or belts to be worn as ornaments. A fathom of wampum consisting of 360 white beads was worth 60 pence, or three beads to a penny. In carrying on the fur trade with the Indians, the colonists found it convenient to use this wampum as money. It was always exchangeable for beaver belts, which in turn found ready sale in Europe. Owing partly to the decline of the beaver trade and partly to the practice which grew up of dyeing the white beads black, wampum gradually fell into disuse. This form of money lingered in some of the colonies, however, until the beginning of the eighteenth century.
In the pastoral stage of civilization, sheep and cattle, or their products, hides and skins, performed some of the functions of money. The origin of such words as capital, pecuniary, chattel and fee is probably traceable to those early times when cattle were used as money. The ancient Hebrews and their contemporaries reckoned their wealth by the ownership of flocks and herds. It is probable, however, that slice]) and cattle served as a measure of value rather than as a medium of exchange. Jevons notes that in the poems of Homer "oxen are distinctly and repeatedly-mentioned as the commodity in terms of which other objects are valued." Classical writers record the use of leather currency among the Romans and Carthaginians, and leather money is said to have been used in Russia as late as the time of Peter the Great.1
In the next stage of economic progress, the agricultural, such products as wheat, corn, rice and tobacco were used as media of exchange. The American colonists were compelled at first to buy from England most of the manufactured articles they needed. Because of the scarcity of metallic money with which to pay for imports, they had to export goods readily salable in the markets of the Old World. In Virginia, tobacco was the most available product and it soon came into general use as money. Planters were obliged to store their tobacco in warehouses controlled by the British government, receiving for it "tobacco receipts," which for some time constituted the only money seen in the colony. Practically all financial transactions were expressed in pounds of tobacco; and clergymen and school teachers were paid in tobacco. Fluctuations in the price of tobacco wrought great hardships and inequalities from year to year. As soon as it was generally recognized in a community that a particular article could be sold at any time it took on a new function. Quite aside from its usefulness as an article of consumption, it became the medium of exchange and the measure of value of all other commodities; in short, it became the money of the community.
All the forms of money mentioned, however, though they served the crude needs of a primitive society, were more or less inconvenient. The supply of corn or tobacco was quite uncertain. Their value fluctuated from year to year, according as the crop was poor or abundant, and they deteriorated greatly when stored. Cattle and sheep had the disadvantage of large value in each single animal, and also of perishability. Even hides, skins and furs were too large to pass about or possessed too high a value to serve in making exchanges of small amounts.