The Case of the Missing Coins

In 1990, Venezuela's coins began to disappear. Within a short period of time, all the coins were gone. What sounds like the work of a Batman super-villain had a simple explanation: inflation. The coins' nickel alloy suddenly was more valuable as bullion than the face value of the coins. People were melting them down and selling the metal.

It was a shopkeeper's nightmare: How could they make change? Small candies, bubblegum, and matches were offered instead. In Caracas, the capital, bakeries printed tickets that could be used to buy more baked goods. Pay telephones were hastily altered to accept credit cards.

The Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) responded by printing millions of brightly colored notes, most no bigger than movie tickets, to replace the absent coins. The tinoquitos, as they were dubbed - after BCV president Pedro Tinoco - were a success. Eventually, new coins were minted, and the paper "change" simply wore out.

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