I have a friend who works in the Treasury Department. The
interesting thing about him is, when you put a couple pints
of Newcastle in him, he gets blabby. Usually the stories
he has to tell are small-time, stuff about misprinted bills and
such, but last Saturday he came out with a shocker.
"Did you know that money isn't always worth what it says?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, what would you rather have? A quarter, or five nickels?"
"Well there you go. How can they be worth the same, then?"
"But that's just convenience."
"Convenience is time, time is money, and my glass is empty. Buy
me another and I'll tell you what money is secretly, officially
I bought him another, and this is what he had to say:
Well, dimes are actually worth a dime. Quarters are
worth twenty-nine cents, thirty-five if you
don't have a washing machine. Nickels are only
worth four cents, because a lot of the time you
have to use one of your quarters to make it come
Pennies are worth nothing. Nobody in
the department will admit it publicly, of course, but it's
common knowledge that pennies have no value unless
you get them squashed into souvenirs at an
amusement park, in which case they're worth about
Dollars are worth a dollar five, which
makes them less valuable than four quarters. All
other bills are worth face value except those weird
new hundred dollar bills, which are worth ninety-nine dollars
because they don't seem like real money.
Fifty-cent pieces are worth forty cents, except if
you're a little kid and you got it for your birthday
from an exceptionally cheap aunt, in which case it's
worth the two quarters you're going to change it into
first chance you get.
Finally, the new dollar coin we're working on is expected to be
worth about eighty cents, which is forty cents more than
Susan B. Anthony dollars ended up being.
At that, he tossed back the rest of his beer and headed for
the door. I sat and thought about what he had said, staring at
some change I pulled from my pocket. After a while I paid the bill
and left a nice tip. In quarters.