Page:History of Hudson County and of the Old Village of Bergen.djvu/57

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49
and of the Old Village of Bergen

They would not know what to make of a modern banking institution with mighty steel vaults; for wampum, the currency of sea shells, was the leading medium of the New Netherlands during more of a century, and what little gold they possessed was "banked" in hiding places under the floors or in the gardens.

The sea-shell currency was known by the Indian names of wampum or seawant. The first Dutch arrivals found it in general use among the savages, and adopted it partly from choice, but largely from necessity. Dutch currency was not only scarce and precious, but it was unknown to the Indians, and thus it occurred naturally that the financial system of the new colony established itself on a shell basis instead of a gold basis.

The shells were of a special kind and occurred in two colors, black and white. The Indians prized the black shells at a ratio about double that of the white. To the Dutch traders it seemed immensely like making money by magic to obtain valuable furs for common shells; but as commerce grew, it happened inevitably that wampum could not be confined to trading with the Indians, and it had to be accepted by the Dutch in dealings among themselves.

Soon the "easy money" revenged itself as easy money always has done. Wampum was held to be worth a stiver for three black shells or for six white ones, and as twenty stivers equaled a guilder (about 40 cents) it encouraged many financiers to engage in the business of fishing industriously for the precious shell-fish. There was no law to forbid anybody from thus operating a submarine mint; and even if we repudiate