I just came across a passage that perfectly illustrates what “money” or rather “currency” is, the issue having been nicely framed in Mac Slavo’s recent article. It comes from an unlikely source, “News From Tartary” by Peter Fleming, about an overland journey from Peking to Kashmir in 1935. Fleming states:
“There was another thing that the camels carried, and that was various forms of currency. The currency problem was an important one. Through that admirable institution, the Chinese Post Office, I had been able to transfer the bulk of our capital from Peking to points west by simply paying in a cheque at the Peking branch and then drawing the dollars at Lanchow and Sining. But the Mexican silver dollar which they use in China [!] is a big coin, and the country through which we were to pass had a lawless reputation; a suitcase heavy with silver could not be relied upon to remain indefinitely an asset and might indeed prove a major liability. So we carried the minimum of coin– 600 or 700 dollars secreted in different places among our gear. With the remainder of our capital– rather more than a thousand dollars– I had bought in Lanchow a 12 oz. bar of gold [!!] which, besides being easily concealed, had the advantage of being negotiable anywhere where a file and a pair of scales were available. For the remoter Mongol communities, who often have no use for gold or silver, we took with us eight bricks of tea and a good deal of cheap coloured cloth, one or the other of which is always legal tender.”
A new edition of the book is set for release in November of this year. It is considerably less expensive than the out-of-print editions.
Incidentally, Fleming also extols the expeditionary virtues of his “second-hand .22 rook rifle, which surpassed itself by keeping us in meat throughout the three months during which there was anything to shoot,” versus his other gun, what he describes as a “.44 Winchester rifle, with 300 rounds of pre-war ammunition of a poorish vintage, which was not worth firing.” Interesting.
Semper Fi, – J.P.P.