“Money Zoo: Fantastic Beasts in the History of Money,” a new exhibition at the University of Calgary’s Nickle Galleries, explores animals’ connection and importance to the human world.
Curated by Marina Fischer, a Nickle Galleries collections specialist, and Carolyn Willekes, a Mount Royal University professor, the exhibition highlights the historical use of animals as money plus their portrayal on past and present currencies.
Throughout history, hundreds of items made from animals and other lifeforms have met everyday commerce and trade needs in different societies, according to Fischer.
“For example, during the period of Canadian fur trade, Indigenous people brought animal pelts to Hudson’s Bay Company posts to trade for European manufactured goods. Prized for their water-repellent fur, beaver pelts traded at a premium, and by 1748 they became the ‘Standard of Trade.’ By the mid-19th century, the beaver was close to extinction.”
As for Canadian material, the exhibition features animal coins, beaver pelt, Arctic white fox fur and trade tokens. Some of the many worldwide items include a shark tooth sword made from 30 pairs of shark teeth and used as currency and for trade in the Solomon Islands plus a Papua New Guinea necklace made of beetle legs.
“The exhibition aims to raise awareness of our complex bond and dependence on these fantastic creatures and their place in the modern world,” Fischer added. The exhibition runs until May 27.