Money, What Does It Look Like?

So, this is something that I posted to one of the worldbuilding lists I’m on, for sundry reasons, and so I thought I’d post it here too: if you’ve ever, at various times in the past when I’ve mentioned money, or at least physical money, wondered just what it looks like – well, now you know.


Despite the modern prevalence of virtual, digital currency, the Empire still issues ‘paper’ notes and coins. The current issues are designed to be difficult to counterfeit, to be long-lasting, and to be convenient to carry. This physical currency is produced in three media: coins, bills and certificates (a.k.a. super-bills). For these purposes, the standard unit of currency is the esteyn, divided into twenty-four lumenis, each divided into twelve selenis each (288 selenis to the esteyn). There is also a larger denomination, the arien, equal to six esteyn.

Each esteyn coin, bill, and certificate is imprinted with the legend, “By Our Imperial Word, One Esteyn” (or whatever the denomination happens to be). Most people leave it there, but were you to go to the Exchequer and ask, “Ah, what word exactly?”, what they would tell you is that the guarantee is that what Yesterday’s Esteyn would buy, Today’s Esteyn will buy, and what Today’s Esteyn bought, Tomorrow’s Esteyn will also buy; that is, that it’s a reliable store of value that doesn’t have an accidental or deliberate inflationary or deflationary trend to it.

Each of these possesses a unique digital signature embedded within the medium; a v-tag – designed to only be operable at short range to prevent thieves from using it to detect concentrations of money – can return the unique signature of each currency unit, including its denomination as well as its serial code, when queried, and each unit can also be checked for validity against the Imperial Banking & Credit Weave.


Coins are used for all denominations below and including the arien. These coins are struck from a proprietary coin-metal alloy by the Office of the Mint; this alloy is extremely hard and readily takes tinct, and contains signature trace elements designed to be unique to Imperial coinage. The coins themselves use size and predominant color to indicate denomination, and incorporate the standard currency v-tag and embedded anti-counterfeiting technologies.

Each coin contains a delicate line-work etching of the Imperial Couple (in whose reign the coin was minted; there are usually a dozen variants in circulation at any one time) on the obverse, with their names and titles encircling the portraits in elaborately scrolled cursive text. The value of the coin is given at the base of the portraits in simple figures, and by a series of raised dots in the upper right quadrant.

The reverse of the coin is marked with a number of different designs, depending upon the coin’s denomination, as listed in the table below (primary denominations are tinted); note, of course, that these represent the current mintings and historical coinage may differ. On the milled edge of each coin is inscribed the Imperial motto, “Order, Progress, Liberty”.

Denomination Color Design
= ¼ selenis
= 1/48 lumenis
= 1/1152 esteyn

Brass tinct. An upraised hammer.
= 1/12 lumenis
= 1/288 esteyn

Copper tinct. A single ripe peach.

= 2 selenis
= 1/144 esteyn

Copper tinct. Sword and rifle, crossed.

= 4 selenis
= 1/72 esteyn

Copper tinct. A stylized atom design inside a laboratory flask.

= 6 selenis
= 1/48 esteyn

Copper tinct. An ékaláman (Eliéran wyvern) in flight.
= 12 selenis
= 1/24 esteyn

Silver tinct; gold inlay on the sun. Crescent moon and sun.

= 2 lumenis
= 1/12 esteyn

Silver tinct. A portrait; traditionally that of someone whom the Imperial Couple wish to honor for some act of note. This portrait is frequently changed, often as frequently as four or five times per year, and so double-lumenis of many different issues circulate together.

= 4 lumenis
= 1/6 esteyn

Silver tinct. A harp and quill.

= 6 lumenis
= 1/4 esteyn

Silver tinct. A pattern of interlocking cogs, ringed by lightning.

= 12 lumenis
= ½ esteyn

Silver tinct. The Borromean rings, traditional Imperial symbol of order, progress, and liberty.
= 288 selenis
= 24 lumenis
= 1/6 arien

Gold tinct. The fundamental unit of Imperial currency, the esteyn bears the Imperial Star alone.
= 120 lumenis
= 6 esteyn
White-gold / platinum tinct. The “constellation” formed by the stars of the original Thirteen Colonies along with the eldrae homestars.



Imperial bills, used for denominations of one arien (also minted as coinage) and greater, are constructed of a special plastic silk laminate that remains clean and has a very long use life. Bills are almost impossible to tear, won’t burn, and incorporate a large number of anti-counterfeiting technologies because of their unique method of manufacture. Plastic silk fibers are combined under high temperature and pressure and extruded as a rectangular bundle of great length. The differently-colored fibers form the pattern of the bill, not printed on but actually made a part of the structure of the bill. The bundle is then sliced to paper thickness, and a unique 14-character code and v-tag microtransponder is added for uniqueness. Bills are issued in denominations of six, twelve, twenty-four, seventy-two, 144, 864, 1728, and 20,736 esteyn.

The bills have been standardized at 2½ x 6 inches. They can be bulky in large enough quantities; a thousand bills stand two inches high and weigh one pound. Value is denoted by background tint color, face printing, and tactile impressions. Each bill has a portrait of the Imperial Couple in the left two-thirds of the obverse, the remainder of the space being taken up by the promise of value from the Exchequer and associated signatures, including the Imperial word. The design of the reverse varies, as indicated by the following table:

Denomination Color Design
Es. 6 / Arien

White Gilea Cheraelar, founder of the Invisible Exchequer and major figure in early Imperial banking, stands outside Worth House holding a merchant’s scale.
Es. 12

Blue The skyline of Calmiríë, centered on the Imperial Palace, with cranes on the wing above it.
Es. 24

Green A portrait of Sung Iliastren, the Father of Science, working in his alchemical lab.
Es. 72

Red Stane Vitremarvis, inventor of the Stannic cogitator, working at the console of one of the original “brass brains”.
Es. 144

Purple Calria Adae-ith-Adae and Airin Muetry-ith-Mirari, first sophs to land on the moon Seléne, standing at the base of the ladder of Silverfall Four.
Es. 864

Gold-yellow Symbolic representation of the process of nucleonic fusion that goes on in stars.
Es. 1728

Gold-yellow A portrait of Imogen Andracanth, inventor of the traversable wormhole, with a stargate in the background, through which a starship is currently making transit.
Es. 20,736

Gold-yellow A portrait of the economist Períne Cyprium-ith-Elethandrion, superimposed upon a fully-loaded Tyrnííché-class megafreighter.



Certificates resemble bills of denominations higher than 20,736 esteyn, but are a standard 4 x 8 inches, with extensive anti-counterfeiting technologies embedded in them. They are rarely circulated and are used primarily for bank to bank transfers, along with letters of credit, bearer bonds, and other negotiable instruments.

2 thoughts on “Money, What Does It Look Like?

    • Might well be where I got the concept from; I read a lot of stuff, so it’s hardly surprising if some of it sticks around in my head, floating unattributed.

      But I really don’t think Traveller gets to claim the fairly common industrial process of coextrusion, if that’s what you meant, as its exclusive notion.

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