Playing Cards Become Money?!

18 Apr
English: Playing Crapó - card game.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the most successful money-reformer in Canada was the first Intendant, Jacques de Meulles.

The intendants acted as business managers for the governors of French Canada.  One of their problems was to keep enough currency in circulation.  Coins were sent to Quebec to pay the members of the garrison, but they were returned to France to pay for the purchases.  Most trade among the inhabitants had to be carried on by barter.  Merchants  were legally bound to accept wheat and moose skins as payment for goods, while other pelts, like beaver and wildcat were equally acceptable.  One blanket could be bought for eight wildcat skins.

In 1670, France minted special silver and copper coins for use in Canada, but they disappeared quickly and none arrived at all in the spring of 1685.  A large number of soldiers who were billeted with private families were De Meulles’ responsibility.  They were not hunters capable of trapping their own pelts, but they still needed coins to pay for their board and lodging.  De Meulles, in desperation, hit on the idea of issuing paper money that would be redeemed when the coins arrived.

There was a good deal of card playing in Quebec, especially among the soldiers.  The most popular game was called “maw” and the lucky cards to turn up were, Tiddy, Gleek, Tup-tup and Towser!  There was probably a good deal of grousing when De Meulles gathered up the playing cards and cut them into four pieces.  He marked them as being worth various amounts of money and stamped them with the word “bon”, meaning “good”.  Each piece of paper money also carried his signature and seal.

The system worked so well that it was used again many times.  On April 18, 1749, the King authorized an issue of card money to be increased from 720,000 to one million livres!  It was the forerunner of the Canadian paper money in use today.

The Château de Ramezay Museum in Montreal has a collection of the coins used in those days and even some of the card money, although it is only exhibited by special request.

If you would like to learn more about this intriguing currency, and to see what they looked like, you don’t have to wait for the museum — just go to the Bank of Canada and the National Bank of Belgium.


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8 responses to “Playing Cards Become Money?!

  1. hermitsdoor

    April 20, 2013 at 6:19 am

    From what I have read, Britian used the restriction of “coin” in the colonies as a means of controlling commerce. As little coin was sent to colonies and was quickly returned via taxes, tarrifs, and levies that required coin payment. The colonists used bartering among each other, and various forms of IOU’s. Tabbacco became the “currency” for purchasing British goods. Food products did not last long enough to send them back to British ports for payment or sale. But, dried tabbacco could be stored in warehouses and exchanged with merchant ships that brought clothing, household products, etc. The merchants could then sell them back in England or other ports governed by British regulations. Of course, even coin and paper money is becoming obsolute, as digital money become currency (credit cards, etc.)

    • tkmorin

      April 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Wow, thanks for that … Very interesting! 🙂

  2. L. Marie

    April 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Wow. I love the fact that cards were used as money. It would be fun to see the card money.

    • tkmorin

      April 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Wouldn’t it be fun! I also wonder how many people tried to make counterfeits ones … 🙂

  3. seeker

    April 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

    I see, that’s a good way of exchanging goods instead of barter system. Good history as ever, TK.

    • tkmorin

      April 18, 2013 at 9:47 am

      Thanks, I appreciate it! 🙂

  4. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    April 18, 2013 at 9:23 am

    “Merchants were legally bound to accept wheat and moose skins as payment for goods …” Not exactly a great inducement to go into the merchant business unless you’ve got the connections to cash in the wheat and moose skins, somehow. The playing-card money was pretty ingenious.


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