What do I use for money when I travel back in time?

I’m planning a trip back in time. I’d like to go back more than a few years but not sure what to take with me that would give me money to spend on room and board, etc., until I can get settled in or decide to come back.

It would be great if it was something (a commodity?) that would be worth more in the distant past than it is now and could be liquidated easily without raising suspicion. I don’t want to take knowledge that could be sold; that would fowl up history more than I’m willing to (although my iPod is fully charged and loaded with Beatles songs, but I would feel awkward about selling those songs and taking credit for writing them). And I need to be able to carry it in a suitcase so I can’t do something like take back a barge full of grain.


Raw gold, flakes, dust or nuggets. Perhaps aluminum depending on the era.

The topic has come up often on this board, but my searching here is currently borked, you may have better luck. I think a small amount of gold should work fine for most times and places – it worked for Lt. Cmr. Data and for David Bowie, should work for you as well. 'Tho that does fail your “worth more back then than now”

You don’t say how far back in time you are going. If you are going before about 1890, metallic aluminum was as valuable as silver. 100 years earlier metallic aluminum was worth more per oz than gold.

Can I make a suggestion to where/when you travel?

Ancient Alexandria, specifically for it’s Library.

Need more details on era of trip. Could be something as simple as salt or sugar.

You could check antique dealers to see how much actual cold hard cash from that era goes for. If you can buy old instances of modern day currencies for less than they were worth back then (due to inflation), you could even come out ahead. E.g. buying antique WW1 era United States Dollars (bills, coins) @ 2 modern USD each could land you ahead in terms of raw value. You don’t even have to take the currency of the area you are planning to visit if you can convert it in the past, for instance you could take British Pounds back to the California Gold Rush and convert them at a bank in San Francisco.

Or, use your knowledge of history to bet. Better be smart with this, don’t make too many wagers with organized crime or they might get angry when you keep winning. Maybe go to a modern library and research horse race winners, then go back in time and bet on the winners? That way, a modest investment into getting local currency could really pay off.

  1. Commodity that is much more common now than it was back then (gold and silver don’t really qualify, but if you go back far enough so little gold mining had happened that it would probably be a favorable exchange.)

  2. Information you can use to create wealth. Commodities there is a hard limit to how much you can physically move; with the right information you could really rake it in.

Diamonds are forever, so says 007.

But wait!

Prior to the 18th Century, amethysts were worth vast sums, but are quite cheap today!

You might get a huge bang for your buck.

Just go to the area around where Sutter’s Mill would be in California, about 1800. Get a bunch of gold. Then go where and when you want to use the gold.

If you’re going to mid-1630s Holland, tulip bulbs were more than worth their weight in gold . . . especially if you take varieties that hadn’t existed then.

Or, take a currency that is currently (2011) not legally usable today, and use or exchange it in the past. You might be able to obtain historical obsolete non-precious-metal currency in 2011 for a cheaper amount than you would pay for old US money, since old US money is still, in theory, usable, and so you aren’t going to be able to convince an antiques dealer to part with $1000 of Civil War-era Union money for anything less than $1000 since they could just as well walk out and deposit it in the bank or spend it as $1000.

Going back before about 1700? Spices and other non-perishable foodstuffs (cocoa, sugar). Pepper would be a good one.

Bring a suitcase full of Neosporin and live like a king.

Take a pig. No matter where and when you end up, a pig will always be in high demand and readily convertible to the local coinage. Plus, you can eat it in a pinch.

If you want to leave as small a footprint as possible, and attract as little attention as possible, you need commodities, not rarities. So gold is almost always good, especially if you have it fashioned into simple items, like rings. Nobody in almost any era is going to question selling something as simple as a gold ring. Metals that are so rare they carry immense value will always attract attention. Try selling a few ounces of Rhodium at your local pawn shop.

Other than that, commodities that would be commonly traded by travelling merchants in that era. So pepper might be good in the right place and time. But gold is still hard to beat. It is waterproof, corrosion resistant, won’t perish, and highly portable.

Eventually the most valuable thing you can take back is knowledge. Clearly a head full of modern technology is not a good idea. But knowledge of the history of the place that enables good investment choices to be made are clearly worthwhile. You can’t live forever as the guy that keeps selling his wedding ring. But the guy that has the knack of modestly investing in the right merchant ship sailing out of Venice, or other speculative venture, will be happy, rich, and mostly unnoticed.

Here’s a 4.35 million dollar railroad bond on the B&O Railroad from 1942. You could pick it up for $150. That’s not a bad return on your investment.


Gold always was, always will be, everywhere and anywhere, valuable .

That’s what the Spanish thought - and what bankrupted their Empire :wink:

Remember what most impressed Ishi when he walked out of the wilderness, glue and matches.