A volunteer I work with at the Museum shared some interesting trivia with me last week. Money, pecuniary, chattel, capital & fee are all derived from the word cattle. Cattle served as a form of money in ancient societies. Coins today still have “heads & tails”. The word “salary” is related to salt – Roman soldiers were given their pay in salt – hence the expression “worth their weight in salt”.
These tidbits prompted me to investigate the meaning of the letters MB that are engraved on the trade tokens we replicated for our upcoming Annual Beaver Club Gala. During the early years of the fur trade, money was not used in exchange for furs and trade goods. Trade tokens, made of wood, ivory or shell, were the earliest used currency. The unit of value was based on the value of beaver pelts as they were the most sought after fur used in the hat-making industry. A large beaver skin would be cleaned and stretched and was known as a Made Beaver or 1 MB. Trappers would use the Made Beaver to trade for items at the Trading Post. The tokens evolved and metal tokens were issued by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1800’s. They were stamped with the HBC crest on one side and with the letters HB (Hudson’s Bay Co.) EM (East Main District) and MB (Made Beaver) and the denomination of 1 MB, 1/2 MB, 1/4 MB or 1/8MB. The first tokens were actually stamped with an NB due to an error by the die cutter.
The beaver was close to extinction by the mid-19th century – luckily the demand for beaver pelts all but disappeared after hat-makers found silk fabric to be more economical and just as stylish. The beaver has established its place in history and certainly deserves to be one of our National Symbols. If you are a fan of the beaver we have many items available in our Museum Store – from pendants to puppets!