World Coins

Yap stones and odd and curious money offered at ANA sale

A 70.8-pound Yap stone is the largest of six offered at Kagin’s auction of Kenneth L. Hallenbeck’s collection of “Odd and Curious” money to be conducted at the February American Numismatic Association National Money Show in Atlanta.

Images courtesy of Kagin’s.

Kenneth L. Hallenbeck’s collection of “Odd and Curious” money is an anchor of Kagin’s Feb. 27 to 28 ANA National Money Show auction in Atlanta. 

Hallenbeck is a past American Numismatic Association president, former acting ANA executive director, and longtime dealer. His introduction to this collecting area, representing objects used as money around the world, started when he joined the International Primitive, Odd and Curious Money Club. The organization was founded in 1974, and in 1984 was renamed the International Primitive Money Society, which continues today. 

Hallenbeck acquired many of the items in his collection during his travels, but not all. Kagin’s writes, “Other pieces were acquired from leading collectors such as author Charles J. Opitz, J. Hewitt Judd, the estate of Rear Adm. Oscar H. Dodson, ‘Curly’ Mitchell, and George Fisher.” 

Beyond dealers, Ken would search estate sales, flea markets, and follow up on leads from other dealers, since his interests in the field were well known. What resulted was a comprehensive collection of unusual money from Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. 

Opitz writes in his 1986 book Odd and Curious Money, Descriptions and Values, “The study of odd and curious money is not a mere matter of economics. It embraces the study of all mankind.” The author took an inclusive view of the collecting area in terms of what collectors of the subject might elect to include in their collections, “rather than some abstract of monetary theory and how it relates to economics,” encouraging collectors to think about “Odd and Curious” money in different terms than modern money. 

Ken recalled, “I had collected round metal things and rectangular paper things for over 20 years, and the usage, shape, and stories of odd & curious money intrigued me.” 

Stone Money of Yap

Among the most well-known items in the “Odd and Curious” money collecting area are the large stones that served as a means of exchange and store of value in Yap, an island group located in the Caroline Islands of the western Pacific Ocean. Ken’s collection has six of these Yap stones, which were introduced in the 18th century. The collector adds, “The greatest interest in these items is with collectors, historians and museums and non-investors. Imagine trying to slab a Yap stone.” 

The large round carved stones have central holes for carrying. Robert D. Leonard Jr. writes in the 2019 second edition of Curious Currency, a stone “gained its value because the stone had to be quarried on the island of Palau, 250 miles away, then shaped, drilled and finished by hand, and finally transported to Yap by canoe or steamship.” 

Opitz writes that, as of 1929, there were 13,281 pieces of stone Yap money on the island, though at present fewer than half survive, as many were destroyed during World War II. They could vary in size from 1.5 inches to more than 12 feet in diameter, and large ones were used as ceremonial gifts as well as payment for major items, like a house or canoe. Smaller ones circulated freely in the island. Leonard explains, “Since the stone money never had a set value, its status as money has been questioned,” yet today, Leonard observed, “In modern Yap, stone money is often used as collateral for loans in U.S. currency to buy pickup trucks, boats, etc.” 

Carrying the top estimate among Hallenbeck’s stone money is a large 70.8-pound Yap stone measuring just over 22 inches in diameter, featuring a thick center that tapers at the rim. Kagin’s writes, “This particular specimen is quite attractive with interesting colors and brown, yellow and black flow lines, and small cracks, tiny craters, crystals, crevices and spots throughout.” The firm places an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000 on it and deems it as “worthy of the finest collection and great bragging rights.” 

Kagin’s refers to it as pre-O’Keefe, referencing Capt. David Sean O’Keefe (1871 to 1901) who made a deal with an island chief to use his ship to transport men to Palau and return with the carved stones, which led to increased production of the stones, and increased sizes. 

Two pieces carry provenances from the collection of Rear Adm. Oscar H. Dodson (1905 to 1996) who collected these personally while he was stationed on Yap during World War II. One, described as post-O’Keefe, weighs 1.725 pounds and measures less than 6 inches in diameter. Kagin’s observes a “stepped ring tapering to edge,” adding, “This brown and tan stone displays considerable fascinating marbling.” The firm estimates it at $2,500 to $3,000. 

When asked about his collecting, Ken concluded, “Even though I’m selling my odd & curious collection, I’m still very much a collector. My current interest is in collecting credit cards, charge plates, and credit tokens. They’re substitutes for money, relatively inexpensive, and interesting. I currently have over 16,000 of them. They’re fun, and after all that’s what collecting should be about.” 

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