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File:Worthless-yellow-rocks maple-story 3894.png

One man's treasure is another's trash.


Quark: Someone's extracted all the latinum! There's nothing here but worthless gold!
Odo: And it's all yours.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, episode "Who Mourns for Morn?"

The characters of a story run across something very valuable. But, due to ignorance, stupidity or possibly not being from Earth, they discard it as worthless junk. The audience groans in disbelief as wealth beyond their dreams is left lying on the floor.

Finding gold is the most common example of this trope. Though it has industrial applications as a highly corrosion-resistant electrical conductor and potential as a cheaper alternative to platinum catalysts, almost all of gold's value is due to its rarity. And, in a disaster situation, gold would quickly prove to be worthless after all. This can lead to an ironic Death by Materialism situation for someone who's "smart" enough to figure out what those funny yellow rocks really are and won't abandon them when they really should be running for the door. Compare All That Glitters.

A common Karmic Twist Ending is for Earthly characters to encounter a world or dimension where something like gold is so plentiful that it has little value, or where something common on earth, like aluminium or copper, takes the place of gold or platinum as the ultimate precious metal. (Aluminium actually was more valuable than gold once; see the Real Life section below.) Of course, given what science knows about the formation of elements, it is highly unlikely that there are any solid-gold planets out there, no matter how amazing it would be. On the other hand, there is a giant space-diamond. Probably a whole lot of them.

There is Truth in Television for the reasoning behind this trope. There is a law of economics where materials decrease in value as they become more abundant. (Refer to the above paragraph.)

Also common is the devaluation of diamonds Twenty Minutes Into the Future after the invention of successful synthesis technology. Diamonds are not made of an intrinsically valuable or rare element, but common carbon, so advanced people from the future or space-faring aliens are likely to consider them somewhat common and utilitarian. For that matter, they aren't that rare now (about as common as rubies, which have a much lower market price); their perceived value is mostly market manipulation sucker-rearing by DeBeers the distribution companies.

Using this with petroleum may constitute a Did Not Do the Research, if a writer assumes its only conceivable function is to fuel modern machines, ignoring its previous uses for waterproofing, oil lamps, etc. and other modern uses like chemical synthesis, including most polymers.

May be part of a Green Aesop on how foolishly humanity rushes for unnecessary luxuries and how money cannot be eaten.

Not to be confused with Green Rocks.[1] See also All That Glitters and Commonplace Rare. Kids Prefer Boxes is the G-rated version. Sometimes the species in question has a reason to not care about the shiny yellow rocks... A counterpart is Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap; both can exist in the same work. When video game money is useless because there's nothing to buy with it, that's Money for Nothing.

Contrast Gold Fever (where people go nuts over amounts of gold or some other valuable), Gold Makes Everything Shiny, Mundane Object Amazement, and Grail in the Garbage.

Not to be confused with pyrite, also known as "fool's gold".

Examples of Worthless Yellow Rocks include:



What am I going to do with all this gold‽


Anime and Manga

  • In Elfen Lied, Nana burns thousands of yen on the beach for warmth on a cold night due to never having experienced the world outside the laboratory where she was used as a test subject.
    • She then has nightmares of being crucified while naked at the hands of vengeful money-people, thanks to Mayu.
  • Taken in all directions in the manga and anime One Piece. Hidden in the Skypeian island of Upperyard is an entire city of gold. The natives of Skypeia, where otherwise people live on clouds and there is no natural soil, find the dirt of the originally blue-sea island itself far more valuable than any gold. The arc's Big Bad, God Eneru, does have a use for the gold. However, it's of no monetary value to him, either. He instead uses its conductive properties to enhance his own lightning-based powers. Finally, our heroes, the Straw Hat Pirates, do value the gold for its monetary worth, and make plans to steal what Eneru didn't make off with. The Skypeians actually intend to let the Straw Hats have all the gold they want in gratitude of the Big Bad's defeat, but the Straw Hats (believing they were stealing the gold) misinterpret this as their being caught and run away with only what they were carrying, when they could have gotten far more just by waiting. Notably, this is the only time they've ever actually stolen something (as a crew, anyway, Nami's another story) before or after this point (at least up to Whole Cake Island Arc. They didn't really steal anything then either, I'm just future-proofing this example).
  • In Princess Mononoke, there's a scene where a merchant throws a hissy-fit when Ashitaka pays for his bag of rice with a small, yellow rock...At least until a passing monk notices and points out that it's a solid gold nugget, and that it's probably worth three times what she gave him.
  • While it's not gold, when Hayate is told to spend a few (3) days away from the mansion because Nagi's embarrassed, he's given one million yen (~$11,000 US, £8,000). Which he promptly loses. It gets returned to the mansion and Maria counts it, stating that it's almost exactly what he was given for living expenses. Nagi passes by the table and asks what all the chump change is.
    • The characters, especially Maria and Nagi, have continually shown disdain for the value of money. Such that it's a huge leap in Nagi's show of maturity when she's willing to give it up.
  • Episode 4 of Space Symphony Maetel has Captain Harlock land on a planet where gold is worthless yellow rocks, but cotton is very valuable. They trade a pile of underwear for the rights to use their dock and some yellow rocks.
  • In the Anime of the Game for Dantes Inferno, Lucifer promises Dante's father endless gold and 1,000 years free of torment if he will simply kill his own son. Outraged, Dante asks him where he expects to spend it in Hell. His father attacks him anyway.
  • In one episode of Mon Colle Knights, Prince Eccentro, esteemed, rich snob of a "Monster Item" hunter, went digging through piles of gold, jewels and treasure, lamenting that he couldn't find anything valuable. He does eventually find something that makes his doggy digging pals quote excited. It's a cookbook...
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh manga, Maximillion Pegasus is touring Egypt when he sees some villagers about to execute a thief. Horrified, Pegasus tries to save the man by offering to pay for what he stole. Shadi shoos him away and says that he and the villagers do not care about money at all, but the thief deserves to die for Grave Robbing and stealing sacred artifacts.
  • Inverted in Spice and Wolf, which has iron pyrite (also known as fool's gold) suddenly becoming incredibly valuable in one town.

Comic Books

  • In Asterix and the Black Gold, "rock oil" (petra oleum) is only valuable because Getafix uses it in its potion.
    • And by the end of the story he discovers a local plant that works just as well.
      • He didn't discover a new plant, he simply used beetroot juice.
        • The revelation actually puts Asterix (who just returned from a long, failed and unpleasant trip to the other end of the known world to get the oil) through a comical Heroic BSOD.
  • Brazilian comic book writer Mauricio de Sousa uses "worthless petroleum" twice: in stories of the caveman Pitheco and when hillbilly Chuck Billy (Chico Bento) is searching for water ("Damn dirty black water!").
  • In one strip of Dilbert, the following conversation takes place:

Dilbert: Isn't it odd? Despite how advanced we are, we still rely on rocks for currency.
Dogbert: What's even dumber is that it's a rock that's hard to find.

    • There's also a comic where Dogbert goes into a jewelry store and points out how utterly arbitrary the diamond market is, and convinces the seller to give him a sack of diamonds just to keep the secret from getting out.
  • In Pre Crisis Superman comics, gold was supposed to have been plentiful and therefore worthless on Krypton.
    • More like worth as much as copper, aluminum or another industrial metal. In "World of Krypton," where Superman listens to an autobiography done by Jor-El, the pre-Heel General Zod asks Jor-El about working with one of the heaviest metals known. Jor-El counters "It's one of the cheapest, General--and the weight factor is irrelevant since we're dealing with anti-gravity rather than conventional thrust engines! And by using a cheap metal like gold, I've managed to cut costs by two-thirds!"
  • In an Elseworlds Superman comic book (wherein Superman is British), Superman attempts to pay off all of Britian's national debt by creating bags full of diamond gems from coal by squeezing it very hard. Of course, since, as is pointed out later by the villain of the story, diamond's value is based on its rarity, diamonds are now worthless and Superman's act was pointless, even counterproductive, because they now don't have all the coal he made into diamonds. We then get a panel where a poor family attempts to fuel their potbelly stove with diamonds.
    • To add insult to injury, they proceed to tax Superman for the diamonds that he did create, at the value they were during the time he created them (before they became worthless). It pretty much bankrupted him.
  • In an issue of Marvel Comics' What If?, Conan was transported to present day New York City. He inadvertently mugged a New Yorker, who tossed all his money at Conan and ran. Conan ignored the hundreds of dollars in bills and kept the 85¢ in change.
  • One Thimble Theater arc had Popeye and friends go on a treasure hunt. After braving many dangers, including an encounter with Bluto's crew, they end up in the land of Dooma. There, gold is so common that its used as building material. The local ruler allows Popeye's pack to take an unneeded pile with them, which is more than enough to solve a country's financial crisis.
  • In Transformers: Hearts of Steel, this exchange occurs when the Insecticons pull off a Train Job:

Kickback: Sheets of pressed inert plant matter with pictures of humans on them? (Read: banknotes)
Bombshell: What could these be worth to anyone?

  • In the opening to the Lucky Luke adventure "In the Shadow of the Derricks", the locals are severely upset about the overabundance of "worthless" oil deposits in the area, since it makes farming difficult and water undrinkable. Until it's revealed how much it's really worth...
    • Ruée sur l'Oklahoma has similar problems, with the added complication that the area is a desert and water actually is harder to get than oil at the time. Oil only becomes valuable enough after the land has been sold back to the Indians.
  • Toyed with in Crystar Crystal Warrior. As the name implies, the planet Crystallium is up to its armpits in enormous gems and crystals. They're literally as common as rocks, and about as valuable. Buildings are made out of them. Then in one issue, the cast winds up magically transported to the home of Doctor Strange, on Earth, and they're awestruck at the incalculable wealth on display: wooden furniture everywhere and entire shelves full of paper books.
  • Element Lad's introduction in Legion of Super-Heroes features a Tromian mother chiding her child for turning a lamppost into gold, saying "Gold is soft and useless compared to other metals. Only use your powers for useful things."
  • Trolls in Elf Quest set great store by gold and jewels, possibly since it takes so much effort to mine and refine them. In the trolls' patriarchal society the more mineral wealth a guy has, the better his choice of bride. By contrast, the elves of Sorrow's End consider gold jewelry mere decoration, since it has no practical value.
    • Similarly, in a later issue, the Wolfriders experience a tribal crisis when they realize that, without trolls to trade with, the only metal they have access to is gold. One of their own has to learn mining and smithing from scratch so they can have "Bright Metal" (presumably steel), the only metal they have any use for. In the same issue, a group of trolls who've lost the knowledge of metalwork value the wolfrider smith's worked sword more than a whole pile of raw gold and gems.
  • In The Smurfs comic book story "The Finance Smurf", Miner comes across a pile of "worthless yellow rocks" in his mine that he doesn't know what to do with. The title character Smurf decides to use them for minting coins as part of the Smurf Village monetary system. Later on, when the Smurfs abandon that system and return to their old communal ways, it gets used for making musical instruments.

Fan Works

  • In the Ben 10 fanfiction Hero High: Earth Style, Ren has a solid gold picture frame. She laments the fact that she was surprised how valuable the material was on Earth, as it was quite common on her planet.
  • In Petty's take on the Nuzlocke Pokémon Challenge, Barb the Nidoran/rina/queen collects pieces of paper that she finds, which trainer Locke ignores. After Locke has a meltdown, Barb offers to share her "paper collection" with her, and Locke discovers that it contains the SS Anne ticket and the Bike Voucher, which are priceless in the games and to Locke, but just paper to Barb.
  • In one chapter of Ellen Brand's Personality Conflicts series, Ignatz Hills, proprietor of the "Old As The Hills" antique store, sells a glass statue, priced at thirty dollars, to a customer on Christmas Eve. The stranger, who wears a trench coat and fedora (and is actually Ecliptor, buying a present for Astronoma), pays with a "perfect clear emerald, the size of a fingernail, without flaws". When Hill protests that perfect emeralds are incredibly rare (and far more valuable than the statue he just sold), Ecliptor replies that "Where I come from, they're as common as grains of sand."


  • Greed. Sure, you got the gold. Too bad you're in the middle of a desert without any water.
  • Stepsister From Planet Weird. The girl and her dad arrive on Earth, and being aliens, she believes diamonds to be useless, but dad claims they're quite valuable on Earth.
  • From The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu goes around with a pocketful of cut diamonds which function as small change on his planet; he tries to buy things with them on Earth, attracting the attention of the authorities.
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: when the waterhole dries up, the animals start digging for water, but all they can find is worthless gold and jewels. Subverted by the end; while the African animals don't care about the pile of treasure (and even if they did, you can't drink gold), the penguins certainly do.
  • From Men in Black, the Arquillian prince known as Rosenberg is a diamond merchant, but most of his species apparently thinks diamonds are only good for amusing children (or possibly candy). It was mostly to emphasize how valuable the galaxy was.
    • Same with Edgar the Cockroach, who, after opening the container he thought contained the galaxy, just dumped the diamonds all over the floor of the truck.
  • The numerous Captain Nemo knockoffs in the 60s and 70s, but curiously not the 1954 Disney film whose coattails they were obviously riding.
  • At the end of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the Mexican bandits - having killed Fred C. Dobbs and taken the gold that he had lusted for throughout the film - mistake the stuff for worthless sand and dump it on the ground, where it's subsequently scattered in a windstorm.
  • In WALL-E, the titular robot finds a diamond ring in a box, then throws it away and keeps the box.
    • Further spoofed in an Oscar montage where he finds an Oscar statue and a video tape; he tosses the gold statue and watches the tape.
      • Which, of course, is made even funnier since he did win the BAF award in 2009.
  • In the opening sequence to Operation Condor, Jackie Chan sneaks into a small cave where diamonds line the walls and litter the floor and begins stuffing them in his bags. When found by a couple of the local tribesmen, they just shrug and wave him on, but when he tries to refill his canteen from the nearby stream...
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox, the titular fox and his wife have a conversation next to a mineral deposit that appears to be diamonds (or some other equally shiny gemstones). The foxes ignore this because, well, they're animals.
  • In Avatar, the Unobtainium is a room-temperature superconductor, which makes it absurdly valuable to the humans. To the Na'vi it's "just" part of the ecosystem that they don't want ripped up and gutted.
  • Zombieland has a scene where the main characters play Monopoly with actual money. Later in the scene, after recounting a sad story, Tallahassee blows his nose into some $100 bills.
    • Justified in that the money actually is worthless, since the world now consists mostly of zombies, so there's not much to buy or anyone to buy it from.
  • One of the plot threads in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels involves the titular shotguns getting written off as useless and old by almost everyone who comes into their possession. At the end of the movie, they wind up in the hands of the four main characters, who also deem them completely worthless and order Tom to dispose of them. Shortly after Tom leaves, they're handed a book that reveals the true worth of the guns to be up to £300,000 before ending on one of the best Cliff Hanger endings out there.
  • In the Soviet movie Kin-Dza-Dza, the aliens regard matches as a highly valuable form of currency, entitling their owner to special privileges like wearing yellow or purple pants and having commoners curtsey to them.
  • In The Dark Knight, Alfred uses an example of this to illustrate to Bruce Wayne why The Joker won't back down. Specifically, Alfred tells a story about his time in an unspecified army, when they found a bandit who had been stealing precious stones. Alfred says they never found anyone who traded with the bandit, and later finds that the bandit had been throwing the stones away, leaving it to hands of local children to play with.
  • Heavily averted in Cowboys and Aliens where the main reason the aliens came to earth was to mine it out for Gold.
  • Taken to horrifying conclusions in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If you drink from one of the many beautiful chalices of life, created with gold, diamonds, and other precious metals, your age is sped up to the point of death. The only true chalice that will grant you immortality is made of wood or clay, because that's all a carpenter like Jesus would have used.
    • A more lighthearted Zigzagged example in the same movie; the sultan is unimpressed with the gold and jewels the Nazis offer him, but he does take a quick liking to their Rolls-Royce Phantom II.
  • During the song "Heigh-Ho!" from Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, the seven dwarfs apparently own a diamond mine, but when Doc sees a ruby among the harvested diamonds, he immediately gives it to Dopey, who then throws out the unwanted minerals.
  • Played with in the original Dawn of the Dead. When Roger and Peter find a bank in the mall, they stare at a cashbox full of mixed bills, then stare and smile at another cashbox full of wrapped $100 bills. Roger says, "You never know..." before they both fill their pockets with cash. When the biker gang breaks into the mall, they loot the bank as well.


  • Averted hard in Battlefield Earth, where gold is even rarer in the universe than it is on Earth.
  • Water Elementals in J. Scott Savage's Far World series place value on an object because of its craftsmanship. An old boot holds equal value to an expensive necklace (or at least, they are judged against each other based on craftsmanship, and not the obvious value), where a lump of gold is just a shiny rock. While this much is understandable, they go on to confound the other characters as well as the reader when they show that they would rather throw a 'valuable' item back into the water than give it to someone without compensation, regardless of whether or not they were ever going to keep the objects.
  • In The Second Jungle Book, the story "The King's Ankus" involves Mowgli coming upon a huge treasure guarded by a cobra. Unimpressed by the gems and gold in general, he takes only a jewelled ivory ankus (a goad for elephants). When he is told what it was made for, he throws it away, saying he doesn't want anything with Hathi's blood on it. Later, he and Bagheera track the man who found it and took it, and see it go through several changes of ownership and deaths. To prevent further deaths Mowgli gives it back to the cobra.
  • The "valuable treasures as common as dirt" variation is Older Than Radio at least; at one point in Voltaire's Candide, the title character ends up in El Dorado, the mythical "land of gold". Rubies, emeralds and all other precious gems are to him as pebbles and sand.
  • In the Discworld novels, in the Agatean Empire gold coins are used for small change, and gold is used for leading roofs and making pipes. Real money is made of paper, much to Rincewind's shock since, even if gold's as common as lead, paper can't be that valuable. One of the diaries (non-Canon, technically) mentions that in fact they may be backed by lead.
    • Played with in the later Making Money, which introduces banknotes to Ankh-Morpork. Moist von Lipwig, as the new Master of the Mint, says the Bank has a pile of "useless metal" in the vaults that needs cleared out and that, if viewed dispassionately, potatoes are worth more than gold.
      • It would be more accurate to say that Moist's argument is that potatoes are worth more than gold when viewed practically, as his argument runs something along the lines of the fact that while gold can be used to buy potatoes, if you're trapped on a desert island with no shops around, the potatoes are going to do you a lot more good than the gold. He's got a point, is what I'm saying.
    • The same book reveals the Agatean money is backed by silver.
    • In The Fifth Elephant, Sam Vimes is sent to Uberwald as a diplomat to negotiate for a precious commodity from the dwarves: not gold, not silver, not coal, but lard,, which is mined in large quantities in Uberwald. Ankh-Morpork does extract some fat from animals, but with all the applications (cooking, candle-making, soap-making, industrial lubricants...) local production can't hope to meet the demand.
  • In The Twenty-One Balloons, a man discovers an island where diamonds are so common that they just lie around on the ground. He's sensible enough to realize what a catastrophic effect it would have if this became public, so he instead colonizes the island with a small number of other families. They collect a boat-load of diamonds each year to sell off in secret, allowing them to live in luxury on the island. But on the island itself, the rocks are so common that diamond cuff links are simply given away.
    • Catastrophic for De Beers and Botswana, sad for people who had spent a fortune on engagement rings, good for the electronics industry, irrelevant for anyone else. These things only cause destabilization if a currency is based on them.
  • Played With in James Blish's Cities In Flight novels. The protagonists carefully save up selenium for use as currency. After they come back to "civilization" some time later, they are told that it's a "fine and useful metal, but you buy it, you don't buy things with it." Ironically, the sellers want a "valuable" metal like... gold.
    • Uh... so sell the selenium for gold and then go spend that.
  • In one of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga novels, Miles relates how at the end of the "Time of Isolation", when the planet Barrayar was rediscovered, one of his ancestors thought he could make a fortune by trading for precious stones with the galactics. The jewels were synthetic, the market was soon flooded and Miles's ancestor lost a fortune instead.
    • His mother Cordelia inverts it in an earlier book, wondering why the Barrayarans value gold so much when it's only vaguely useful in some electronic capacities.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood, the offworlders are deliberately keeping Earth ignorant and backward so they can buy Earth flint very cheaply. They use it to make portals and no other mineral will do, and if the people of Earth found out how valuable it was they would raise the price dramatically.
  • There is a story of a man finding an island where diamonds and other precious jewels were very common, but the food was very bland. He happened to have some onions with him, which he traded (as well as teaching planting and growing techniques) for a small fortune in diamonds. Hearing of this success, another man found the island, and traded garlic for the most valuable thing the natives had. He returned home, opened the chest, and found it full of onions.
    • A similar story appears in the Arabian Nights - a poor man went to the Caliph (who had never eaten poor men's food before) with a cart of onions. The Caliph loved them, and rewarded the poor man by filling his cart with gold. Another poor man had the idea - "if the great Caliph was so impressed by onions, what will happen when I introduce him to garlic?" The Caliph loved garlic too, and ordered the poor man to be rewarded by filling his cart with the greatest treasure in his kingdom... onions.
      • It is recorded, and as certain as anything else we know about Muhammad, that onions were his favorite food.
      • In much of the Middle East, water and arable land are both precious commodities. Vegetables might really be worth more than gold in some places.
  • David Eddings' The Redemption of Althalus does this one when the titular thief, in the middle of a stream of bad luck, breaks into a strong room (this in the world's Bronze age) and opens a chest reputedly jammed with cash. He finds it full of worthless scraps of paper and leaves. Only to be told in a tavern the next day of the owner's confusion at having come in the next morning to find someone had broken into his strong room, opened his safe, tossed all his Bronze age paper money in a pile on the floor and left.
    • In another of Eddings' series, The Belgariad, the Marag people were wiped out by the Tolnedrans (a Race of Hats based on Imperial Rome and phenomenally greedy) ostensibly because of the Marag habit of ritualistic cannibalism, but largely because their streams were literally lined with gold. The Marags, having a barter economy and being phenomenally xenophobic, didn't care about the gold. In a Karmic Twist Ending of sorts, after the genocide, the Marags' gold-filled country becomes so overrun with vengeful ghosts that no one can set foot there without going insane.
    • Belgarath also has a vast hoard of gold, which he mined himself, and which he almost never needs. Although he could create all the gold he wants, he doesn't do so, partly perhaps because it's less fun, but probably because doing so would gradually devalue the metal.
    • Of course Belgarath also places a huge diamond under a step in his tower to see how long it would take to wear down to dust, then forgets he placed it there anyway.
    • Also, Garion, his grandson, is given huge sums of money from his treasury each month and just throws it into a drawer in his bedroom. His wife, a Tolnedra (see above), is horrified. Of course this may be just because he is a king, but it still shows a very strong disregard for money in general.
      • Not necessarily. He might very well have announced he put the money in his bedside drawer on purpose, to get a rise out of Ce'Nedra. It's not like lovers teasing each other are entirely unheard of in Eddings' works ;).
      • He's well aware of the money's value, and it's as safe in his bedroom drawer as anywhere. It's just more than he needs.
    • In the David Eddings series The Dreamers, the four gods hire armies with gold, except for Aracia. Queen Trenicia of the Isle of Akalla won't accept gold- she refers to it as 'yellow lead' and took gems as payment instead.
  • Isaac Asimov's Robot City series, the robots of the titular city see gold as a very weak metal, and mostly useless. However, seeing as how it never corrupts, they ended up finding a use for it, eating utensils for the humans that visit.
    • They seem to forget it's also a great conductor.
      • Not that great. Gold's main value in electronics is its resistance to corrosion, as noted by the robots. This is why it's used quite often for plating contacts; no insulating oxide layer will form. However, copper is about 40% more conductive than gold, and silver is better still. That said, silver, copper, and gold are the top three, at least when only pure elements are considered.
        • It's very necessary in a host of electronic devices. Small wires tarnish very easily, if made of silver or copper, which interrupts the voltage. As such, gold's resistance to oxidation is immensely useful. Most mobile phones will contain about 40 cents of gold for this reason. And a couple cents of platinum too.
    • Given that Trantorians—inhabitants of the planet-city that's the capital of the Galactic Empire in the Foundation series—still get their news via dead-tree media, the robots probably all used vacuum tubes.
    • Asimov's robots use a "positronic brain" which runs on positrons not electrons. How the hell that might work is never explained but given that, its not much of a hand wave to say that gold isn't a good conductor for positrons.
      • The positronic brain is usually stated to be platinum-iridium alloy.
      • The only reason the "brains" of robots in Asimov's story are "positronic" is because when he wrote the first story featuring such artificial intelligence, positrons had just been discovered several years prior, and he thought "positronic" sounded cooler.
      • In Foundation, a Terminus trader is surprised that some planet wants gold as ransom for a captured person - for him it is "old fashioned", although he has no trouble understanding the possible uses of this fact (he can synthesize significant amounts of it). Later, he is trying to convince a nobleman of that world to buy technology. He sells him a device to transform iron into gold as part of a blackmail scheme of the supposedly pious nobleman. The man buys all of the trader's goods at a fair price in order to keep video footage of him drooling over gold from being broadcast to the citizens. He later tells a friend how laughable it was because it's just not cost-effective to transmute metals. The Galactic Empire is shown to use iridium the way we use silver.
  • At one point in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Book muses at length about how most of the proposed solutions to Earth's unhappiness have involved the movement of small green pieces of paper. It considers this odd, as generally speaking, it isn't the small green pieces of paper who are unhappy.
    • Douglas Adams took the idea even further; all forms of currency are ultimately proven to be either pointless or useless.
      • To sidetrack shortly, not every country uses monochromatic currency.
  • Played with in Aliens: The Other White Meat. A dimensional traveler named Blackbeard found a universe where gold was so common as to be lying around on the ground, but chewing gum was viewed as an incredibly rare treasure. Naturally, his response was to buy large quantities of gum, transport them to that world, and make himself the richest man in history.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth jewels are valued just like in the real world, except in Digitopolis. They only care about digging up numbers. Precious stones are tossed in the corner and are considered worse than dross. Of course our heroes realize their value, but are distracted by the arrival of lunch before they can even ask for some souvenirs.
    • Then there's still the Fridge Logic to deal with of why the miners bothered to cut and polish the gems before throwing them out.
      • They found them that way. Presumably the remains of a prior civilization, but who knows how a universe with non-symbolic alphanumerics works?
  • On a similar note, the underground folk from The Silver Chair do value gemstones, but only fresh ones that are filled with delicious juice. The hard, dry, inedible ones that surface-dwellers hoard are stale and tasteless, hence without value.
  • In The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin, an early Soviet sci-fi novel from the 1920s, the titular Mad Scientist takes over the corrupt, ultra-capitalist United States by offering everyone an endless supply of cheap gold, thus bringing the entire monetary and financial system to its knees. It is then up to the brave Communist heroes to foil his plot to Take Over the World (for those wondering, he got the gold by using his laser-like Death Ray to drill deep beneath the Earth's crust, where there is apparently an entire geological layer composed of gold).
  • In The Water Trader's Dream, a poem by Robert Priest, aliens trade gold and jewels for water on Earth, a scare and valuable commodity in the galaxy (!).
  • In Wolf of the Plains, when Wen Chao attempts to recruit the Mongols as mercenaries to fight the Tartars, he offers Temujin (the future Genghis Khan) gold. Temujin turns him down and demands a more useful payment instead - swords, bows, and armour.
    • In the second book, Lords of the Bow, 'Ma Tsin' tries to bribe Temuge into persuading Genghis Khan to lift the siege of Yenking. He fails, because Temuge finds the idea of exchanging a horse for a bag of metal, which can then be exchanged for another horse, ridiculous.
  • In H. B. Fyfe's "In Value Deceived", an alien exploration starship is searching for a way to alleviate the famine on their homeworld. They make first contact with a human starship on some barren little world. On a tour of the human's ship, they are thunderstruck when they see the hydroponic installations. It's the key to salvation for their people! But of course they feign disinterest. They ask for one as a souvenir. They don't notice the similar disinterest with which the humans ask for an alien heating unit. The one that produces all that pesky ash. Stuff like uranium and gold nuggets. Both aliens and humans are surprised when both parties make quick good-byes after the trade and take off before the trade is regretted. They both think "gee, the other guys act like they cheated us."
  • In Cryptonomicon, the heroes discover a small fortune in sunken gold plates. Due to the unusual legal situation they're in, they treat the gold as more of a liability than an asset. However, a reader who has also read the prequels knows that the sheets are giant punchcards from a failed attempt at a Steampunk computer, not to mention an unknown isotope of gold that is the key to immortality.
  • Inverted in Triplanetary, our iron is the most valuable substance in existence for the alien Nevians.
  • Shifted a few preciousness brackets over in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle. The Tsurani invade Midkemia (standard medieval-but-with-magic Earth-clone) for their metal. Their home world of Kelewan is an old world which was previously inhabited by at least two intelligent races, who mined out all the metals. Silver used to pay for a meal in a tavern on Midkemia could support a Tsurani family for a year. At the same time, the small, low-quality gems used in lieu of large-denomination coins on Tsuranuanni are so valuable on Midkemia that a Tsurani noble's modest travel chest is enough to set him up comfortably for the rest of his life.
    • Tsuranuanni is a thinly disguised Japan, which in Real Life has little iron or other metals. One of the reasons why European armor was metal and Japanese was not, was that Europe had iron.
  • One of the very early books of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, involved him and his friends-of-the-book questing after the treasure of a long-perished galactic overlord, only to find that it's a cache of once cutting edge military materiel, immensely valuable at the time, but basically worthless to them, since Technology Marches On.
  • In the Transformers novel The Veiled Threat, Starscream is shown to be bribing terrorists by using his internal matter converter to produce massive amounts of gold coins. The other Decepticons are baffled that the loyalties of humans can be won by such simple and, from their perspective, worthless bits of metal. They claim that Cybertronians are superior as they only value what is useful for continued functioning, like energon. Considering the behavior of some of the human terrorists within the novel, they may be right.
  • Similarly, in Bruce Coville's Rod Albright Alien Adventures series, it's mentioned in the first book that energy credits are galactic society's basic unit of exchange. "Makes more sense than gold," Grakker comments (rather condescendingly) to Rod. "Not much you can do with gold once you've got it."
  • In Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, Rob is contacted by a woman who wants to sell an entire collection of rare and valuable records for a pittance. Justified Trope in that the woman's husband just left her for his much-younger secretary, and asked his wife to sell the collection to finance his new life with the secretary. She's deliberately trying to short the husband. Rob can't go through with it in the end. See also the Real Life example below.
    • This sequence was done for the movie as well; it didn't make the theatrical version, but is in the deleted scenes on the home releases.
  • In the Fighting Fantasy book Creature of Havoc, the PC is a monster, and so gets to kill several adventuring parties in the early part of the book. If they choose to investigate the corpses, they find some shiny metal disks, but can't imagine what purpose they might serve and so throw them away.
  • In one of Henry Kuttner's stories, a spaceship crew is starving on Venus because gold and silver are too common there, the society is too conservative to buy any of their devices, and the main medium of exchange is iron, which they only have as alloys
  • In The Sword of Truth, the Mud People have gold treasuries (and possibly mines) on their territory, but consider it worthless because it's too soft for spears.
  • Thomas More's Utopia points out the bad logic of assigning "value" to things just because they're pretty and rare. In Utopia, they have the stuff and use it to trade to the outside world, but within Utopia, it's communally owned and growing attached to it is discouraged. Gold is used for the shackles of slaves and for things like chamber pots, so that it's associated with the shameful and dirty. Precious stones are given to small children to wear and play with, with the understanding that any self-respecting Utopian will quickly grow out of this infantile attachment to the shiny if they want to be taken seriously—so if any foreigners ever arrive all pimped out in their most ostentatious jewelry in an attempt to impress the locals, they'll look like overgrown babies.
  • The "disaster situation" applies in the novel Robinson Crusoe: In chapter five, Robinson is stranded on a desert island with no other human being. He needs every tool he can get, things like razors, scissors, knives, and forks are precious, but then he writes: I found about Thirty six Pounds value in Money, some European Coin, some Brazil, some Pieces of Eight, some Gold, some Silver. I smil'd to my self at the Sight of this Money, O Drug Said I aloud, what art thou good for, Thou art not worth to me, no not the taking off of the Ground, one of those Knives is worth all this Heap, I have no Manner of use for thee, e'en remain where thou art, and go to the Bottom as a Creature whose Life is not worth saving. However, upon Second Thoughts, I took it away, Robinson knows the value, but those treasures are really only worthless yellow rocks if there is not a society to give them value.
  • In The Diamond Age, the most valuable items are things that are handmade, due to ready access to nanotechnology. Diamond (and anything else that's made of carbon) is basically worthless.
  • In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel Night of the Humans, Amy is in the far-distant future, and when she learns she's got involved in a treasure hunt she says "Like a chest of gold or something?" Her companions are amused; it's like she's never heard of Voga.
  • One of Keith Laumer's stories had diplomat Retief make a deal with an alien who could provide amphibious construction workers. The alien said his people were skilled craftsmen, who had to bring along the materials they knew and loved: gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and granite. Retief okayed the gold and jewels, but said to hold the granite, and the alien was pleased at his generosity, "accepting the stuff we got a surplus of, and foregoing the rare and expensive granite."
  • The 13 Clocks featured a woman who was cursed to cry jewels - once word spread about her, people came from far and wide to tell her sad stories and make her cry. Unfortunately, over time she flooded the economy with jewels and her town collapsed once cobblestones became more valuable than jewelry.
  • In the picture book The Littlest Angel, all the angels in Heaven are asked to bring gifts for the birth of Jesus Christ, the best of which will become the Star of Bethlehem. The titular angel, a small boy, brings a box of his earthly possessions from when he was human: a broken dog collar and some shiny pebbles. Because of its sentimental value, the littlest angel's box of trash is chosen over the more elaborate and costly gifts of the other angels.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky duology takes place In a World where iron is extremely rare, resulting in a Steampunk level of technology in the 21st century. Gold is mentioned several times but is usually brushed off as only useful for decorations. Once, the main character notices a State ship-of-the-line and realizes its wooden hull is gold-plated. He muses that they could've afforded to iron-plate it, but it would just rust. Apparently, steel was never invented in that world, and no one ever mentions aluminum, despite its potential for use in aircraft.
    • See Real Life: without the Bayer process, aluminum is exceedingly expensive to refine in a pure form.
  • Another Older Than Radio example: H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. Gold is so abundant on the moon that when our protagonists are captured by the Selenites, even the chains they are bound with are massive gold.
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Bible promises that Heaven will have streets paved with gold, and lots of gemstones all over the place.
  • Played with in The Girl Who Owned a City. The local children do steal money when they raid abandoned supermarkets and buildings for food, but Lisa notes that money isn't any good anymore, since "there's nowhere to spend it".
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two, space-entity Dave Bowman peers down into the depths of Jupiter and discovers that its core is a diamond the size of the Earth. In 2061: Odyssey Three, it turns out that the stellar ignition of Jupiter at the end of the previous book tossed a few "insignificant chunks" of this core up into orbit, including one mountain-sized hunk that landed on one of the Jovian moons.
  • A Biblical example:

1 Kings 10:21 : All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon's days.

    • This is either a case of silver being Worthless Yellow Rocks (or worthless white rocks, in this case), or a Badass Boast about the level of Solomon's wealth.
  • Pippi Longstocking has piles of gold and zero comprehension of math, so she tends to pay people far more than the asking price. At one point, she receives change in silver and reacts with disgust: "What would I do with all those nasty little white coins?"
  • In Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, the Ireland Quiddich team mascots are leprechauns that make their entrance throwing gold coins on the audience. However, this trope is inverted when it becomes apparent that the leprechauns had thrown leprechaun gold - which vanishes after a few days. This puts Ron in an angsty mood since paid Harry back for buying him some binoculars with the gold instead of 'real' money, and is too poor to actually pay him back, and it angers Fred and George when a rather large bet they won was paid in said gold.
    • Also invoked with portkeys. Almost anything can be made into a portkey, so if someone is making a portkey to leave somewhere outdoors so that someone else can use it later, they often make it out of something seemingly worthless (like an old newspaper or an abandoned shoe or something) so that Muggles who happen to come along in the mean time won't be tempted to touch it.
  • The titular planet from the New Kashubia series is rich in every sort of heavy metal, but desperately, desperately shy of lighter elements. Even air and soil had to be shipped in at hideous expense, and though the inhabitants, transported there very much against their will, live in tunnels drilled through solid gold, they're still the poorest people in the galaxy. By the opening of the second book, their economy has improved to the point that they can afford luxuries like clothing, and actual homes.
  • In the Doc Savage novel Murder Melody, the Beneath the Earth kingdom of Subterranea uses gold for a huge variety of uses as it is the most abdundant and ductile metal available.
  • In The End Of The Matter, the incomprehensible alien Abalamahalamatandra sits around idly, playing with its toes and setting stones into circles, while the other characters talk. Naturally, nobody notices that it's using very large gemstones to do so, or that it stumbles in a hole where the priceless archeological treasures two of the speakers had been seeking for months are concealed.
  • The Postman is set After the End. The protagonist finds a heavy box in an abandoned house and hopes that it's filled with canned food, ammunition and/or medical supplies and not useless gold hoarded by a short-sighted pre-Apocalypse citizen.
  • Most of the societies in Alice, Girl from the Future are moneyless. One of the stories features Alice looking for a replacement for a 1.5 kg gold nugget she took from the school's museum and lost. Since she has plenty of friends, the next day she comes to school with her dad carrying twelve times the required amount.
  • Diamonds, rubies, sapphire, and emeralds are all popular building materials in the Great Ship universe. Glass has been replaced by diamond panels, and the other precious gems are used essentially like wallpaper.
  • Played with in Phyllis Eisenstein's "The Crystal Tower". The hero, Cray Ormoru, finds himself in a place where gemstones are so common as to be worthless. But when he tries to pay for a drink with a silver coin from his homeland, the proprietress is first suspicious, then unsure what to do when offered something so rare and valuable as silver. She decides to use the coin as jewelry.

Live-Action TV

  • Played with in the first episode of Firefly. At the start we see the main characters raid the wreckage of a spaceship for some boxes containing large metallic bars. Towards the end of the episode we find out this is food (wrapped in coppery foil), although admittedly in the form of single bars capable of feeding a family for a month per bar, and giving them immunization boosters to boot. The point being that something like that would be far more useful to settlers on a frontier planet than 'valuable' metal.
    • Though it's worth noting the currency of frontier planets is platinum, while more advanced and civilized alliance planets uses "credits", consisting of bills.
      • In the Serenity tabletop RPG, it's established that while gold isn't worthless, it's not worth a whole lot either. Platinum is the currency of real business; gold and silver are pocket change.
  • On ALF, Alf bails the family out of a financial jam by hocking some of the plumbing fixtures on his ship - which are made of platinum (which is more plentiful than iron on Alf's home planet).
  • The Diffys from Phil of the Future bought their house with a bag of diamonds produced as a waste product of the magnetic bottle containment system on their Time RV. They were going to throw them out. Keeping with both sides of this trope, aluminium foil is apparently extremely valuable in the future.
  • In Star Trek, gold-pressed latinum is a universal currency outside The Federation, which is a cashless society (though unofficially it's the universal currency inside the Federation). However, the gold itself is worthless—the latinum sandwiched within the gold is the source of its value. Ordinary latinum cannot be replicated, and because it's liquid at room temperature, it's mixed with the gold to make convenient (and shiny) units of currency. An episode of Deep Space 9 featured Quark falling victim to a con game where he ended up in possession of a large amount of valueless, hollowed out bars of 24k gold. Of course, being the crafty and greedy sonuvabitch that he is, the Ferengi promptly subverts this by remembering that other, more primitive races in the galaxy would consider the gold valuable, and tries to convince the guy who got him caught up in the scheme in the first place to help him barter with said races.
    • Of course, Star Trek isn't completely consistent.. there are episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where gold is of considerable worth to Ferengis (chalk it up to Early Installment Weirdness, remember that "gold-pressed latinum" as a concept didn't exist yet). Also, in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, a group of Ferengi are thrilled when Captain Archer lies to them that he has hundreds of gold bars, but this is only because they assumed he meant gold-pressed latinum, while Archer himself was under the impression the gold itself was valuable.
    • The detail that combadges use actual gold became useful in "Time's Arrow" when Data went to 19th-century Earth; he was able to use it to make a bet in a game of poker and acquire money. Which frankly isn't fair, as Data is an emotionless android that can count all the cards and has the ultimate poker face, but as the gamblers were looking to basically take others' money, it works out....
    • Enterprise inverted the trope in one episode. In order to get their hands on the formula for some Applied Phlebotinum, Archer gave an alien merchant a selection of Earth spices, presumably from the kitchen. While spices aren't exactly worthless on Earth (as Trip said, "on our world, wars were fought over these"), Archer could probably have replaced the sample set for about 50 bucks. But to the alien merchant, they were exotic spices from a distant world, which he could probably have sold for significantly more than the value of the formula he traded.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • In "Elaan of Troyius", the Federation has no idea why the Klingons are so interested in a certain planet inhabited by a low-tech race. When they happen to look at a necklace worn by one of the natives, they discover the "common stones" it is made of happen to be dilithium crystals, which are the source of starship power and highly valuable to space-traveling races.
    • In "Catspaw", aliens try to tempt Kirk with a pile of precious jewels. He tells them that he could manufacture a thousand of them on Enterprise.
      • Oddly, in "Arena", Sufficiently Advanced Aliens put Kirk and the captain of an alien ship unarmed on a planet, where they must fight it out. When he comes across a deposit of diamonds, he notes: "a fortune in precious stones, and I'd give it all up for a hand phaser".
  • In 3rd Rock from the Sun, the Solomons think the lottery is just a game, and throw away a winning ticket without realizing it would have made them very rich.
    • In another episode, Dick decides to buy a diamond ring, but is horrified when he finds out how expensive diamonds are. His exclamation sums it up: "Where I come from we use the big ones as door stoppers!"
  • In The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Rip Van Winkle Caper", thieves steal a truckload of gold and put themselves in suspended animation for a hundred years in a desert cave to escape the law. When they awake, they turn on each other and all but one die. The surviving thief tries to cross the desert and dies in front of two motorists, promising gold in exchange for help with his last breath. The couple wonder why he considered gold to be so valuable, as it had been manufactured cheaply for years.
    • This trope was also invoked on the trip through the burning desert, where a drink of water was sold for one gold bar each.
      • Another TOS Twilight Zone example: In "Two", the male soldier raids a cash register, realizes that the money is useless because it is After the End, and tosses the coins into the street.
  • An episode of Wonder Woman dealt with this concept: how do you establish a galactic currency when wildly-varying worlds use gold or steel or wood. The rather squicky solution that some unethical individuals come up with is using minds sucked out of their original bodies.
  • Present day variant: in the Lost episode "Expose," Nikki and Paolo essentially die because of some diamonds. When Sawyer finds the diamonds, he and others (including Sun and Hurley) decide they're worthless on the island and scatter them in the grave. This is horribly painful to watch once one knows that Sun and Hurley get off the island about two weeks later, not to mention that Nikki and Paolo are actually paralyzed and are being buried alive. This was mostly the Losties being Genre Savvy enough avert Gold Fever.
    • In Hurley's defense, back home he was trying to get rid of the millions he already had because he believed it was cursed.
    • And Sun's financial situation didn't turn out too shabby, either.
    • It worked out pretty well for Miles, assuming he doesn't die, because he found out about the diamonds, dug up the graves, and took them.
  • The History Channel TV Show Modern Marvels had an episode on recycling where the plant manager of a metals recovery firm was displaying to the audience a box containing gray chunks and dust which looked like, well, worthless dirt and rocks, and admitted that's what most people thought it was. You'd be surprised to discover that the box contained two and one-half million U.S. dollars worth of recycled platinum.
  • In the NBC's Gulliver's Travels mini-series, the Houyhnhnms are puzzled as to why the Yahoos love certain common rocks (actually gigantic diamonds), Gulliver explaining that "primitive creatures love shiny things." In secret, he collects some for himself to sell in England only to throw them away when he decides to stay with the Houyhnhnms.
  • Played with in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. Tom Zarek makes a speech about how money has become useless because of The End of the World as We Know It and attacks people still clinging to such things, including Roslin. Later in the same episode, Starbuck and Apollo arrest a would-be assassin who has a wallet full of banknotes. During interrogation, they rip them one by one while referring to Zarek's earlier speech (the guy claimed he had a lot of money so he needed a gun, but the guy was pro-Zarek and was believed to be in his service, which is why they tore into him like that). Money doesn't completely lose its value in the fleet as the show goes on, but barter is important.
  • In one episode of Tales from the Crypt ("Dead Wait"), the protagonist explores a remote location, searching for a legendary black pearl in the hopes of getting rich. In the end, a local murders him, celebrating that collecting his scalp full of red hair will increase her status immensely. She notices the pearl, and throws it away like it was trash.
  • Gold is as common as dirt on the planet Voga in Doctor Who. Unfortunately, this makes the Vogans a target for both greedy human prospectors and Cybermen who hope to eliminate a source of weapons against them (gold dust is to Cybermen as silver is to werewolves).
    • In "Planet of the Dead", the Doctor has one of the people he's stranded with retrieve a giant yellow crystal suspended in some mundane looking clamps. He then discards the crystal, because the anti-gravity clamps are what he needed.
  • In the original My Favorite Martian (TV), Tim O'Hara accidentally breaks some ordinary drinking glasses, and Uncle Martin muses that it's a pity because on Mars, objects made from glass are exceptionally valuable.
  • In one episode of Lost in Space, treasure hunters come looking for the treasure of a man from a planet where gold and gems were extraordinarily common. The treasure chests contain objects of aluminum and tin - to a man who had handled gem encrusted gold objects every day of his life, they were treasure.
  • In a segment of The Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi is explaining how bad the economy is, and what to invest in. When Jon Stewart says, "What about gold?", Aasif replies, "It turns out that gold is just a shiny metal. Very shiny, but still just metal."


  • In the old radio show X Minus One, a protagonist got mixed up in a time-traveling get-rick-quick scheme by going to the past and investing in stocks that would rise and property loaded with a type of mineral that the seller told him had interesting scientific qualities but was basically worthless: uranium.

Recorded and Stand Up Comedy

  • Classic urban legend: A jilted wife advertises her ex/absentee/cheating/imprisoned-husbands car for way less than cheap in the newspaper. A youngish man comes to buy the car, typically a cherry 50's-70's pony car or custom muscle car with a Blue Book value that looks like a phone number, for $10. (In some versions, she just wanted to get rid of the reminder; in others, the husband had sent a message asking her to "sell the car and send me the money".)
  • Then there's the old joke about the rich man who died, and an angel was sent to bring him to Heaven. He bargains with the angel, and its superiors in Heaven, to allow him to bring all his riches with him, which they are against. Eventually, they cave in and allow him one single suitcase and whatever he can fit into it, which after agonized deliberation, he fills with solid gold ingots. After he arrives in heaven, Saint Peter asks what he brought, and the man opens the suitcase. Saint Peter looks at him with a confused expression on his face and asks "You brought PAVEMENT?"
  • A standard old-timey joke involves someone offering his dim-witted friend a choice between "a shiny coin" or "a straggly bit of paper" (usually a £1 coin and a £50 note respectively). The idiot takes the coin of course; if they're feeling subversive, he'll also take the paper "to wrap it up in".
    • There's also a version of the joke where a bystander takes pity on the dim-wit and points out to him that the piece of paper is worth more than the coin—to which the supposed dim-wit replies that one piece of paper is worth more than one coin, but that as long as he keeps picking the coin, his friend will keep offering him more.
  • One more joke/urban legend that's been used multiple times in various media. An elderly man passes away, and his widow begins to wonder how she'll be able to afford to keep their house. Someone comes to help her sort through her husband's things, and sees some scraps of paper that the widow is using as bookmarks or wrapping paper otherwise seen as useless. Upon looking a little closer, they realize that those scraps of paper were stock certificates, and the late husband bought a few hundred shares in some start-up way back in the Seventies that has since turned into IBM or Microsoft, or some other newly blossomed company.

Tabletop Games

  • In the Dragonlance campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons, the value of gold dropped sharply after the Cataclysm; steel pieces are used where gold pieces would be used in other campaign settings. This made very little sense. Only a creative GM would stop you from getting rich by buying swords and melting them down.[2]
    • In Dark Sun, though, another campaign setting, this is handled much better—you can't melt down your swords for (insanely valuable) steel, because of course only the god-kings (and their trusted lieutenants and so on) could afford a steel sword; most weapons are made of obsidian. The primary currency is ceramic, and is backed by said God-Kings' say-so, not by any inherent value of its material (although more valuable silver, gold, and platinum pieces do exist, they are so valuable that they are almost never used; and nobody would waste what little steel there is on currency, since it is essentially priceless).
  • In the Midnight campaign setting for D&D, from Fantasy Flight Games, gold and gems became useless trinkets after the Dark Lord Isrador conquered the world. Surviving humans and humanoids have reverted to a barter system. The only people who use coins as currency at all are the "Traitor Princes", those who surrendered without a fight; they will commonly give peasants a worthless gold coin when they commandeer goods and services, under the pretense they're "buying" them.
  • The Lizardmen of Warhammer Fantasy Battle don't understand why humans (and elves and dwarves) are so greedy for gold and jewels. They do value gold however, not for its beauty or rarity but for its long-lasting nature- the ancient tablets of the Old Ones that they will do anything to recover are made from gold.
    • They make their armor out of the stuff, or at least the Temple Guard and high-ranking Saurus do. And they don't even give a damn about most of what the other races steal from them; the only stuff they really put any effort into retrieving are their sacred plaques and the relics of the Old Ones.
    • As it was best put by a Skink Priest:

Why do they always want gold? What do they do with it? Do they eat it?

    • Ogres consider gold innately worthless, because it doesn't make good eating and isn't sturdy enough to make weapons or useful tools out of. They do hoard it... but only because they can "con" other races into giving them "valuable" food and weapons in exchange for "worthless" gold—although Greasus Goldtooth seems to have found another use; paying people on the other side to suffer a spontaneous outbreak of incompetence.

Video Games

  • In Kingdom of Loathing', the local currency is meat. One adventure in Itznotyerzitz Mine in which you "feel pretty moxious for trading a bunch of worthless rocks for cold, hard meat", those rocks being various diamonds. There also exist "fat stacks of cash" and "pile of gold coins" items, which are utterly worthless, only good for trading for a small amount of meat.
    • In the same mine, it's possible to convert your "worthless" chunks of diamond into useful chunks of coal. Yay!
    • There was a period when the Penguin Mafia would accept stacks of cash in exchange for crates of Crimbo goodies, temporarily making them quite valuable.
  • In the freeware game Vinnie's Tomb, you encounter an Old Queer Snake living on a heap of garbage who has the key to the aforementioned tomb. Understandably, the player will try offering him various items in their inventory, including an enormous diamond you find in that same heap. Waving the diamond in front of him will prompt dialogue along these lines:

Vinnie: Will you trade me the key for this diamond?
Snake: What are you, stupid? Diamonds are worthless! Why do you think it's in the trash?

  • In Escape Velocity: Nova, railgun rails and ammunition must be made of, naturally, a material with high conductivity - "something cheap, like copper or gold". One can only theorize that, somewhere in the game's universe, there exists a planet(s) with obscene amounts of the stuff. Metal even seems to have more worth, being a tradable commodity.
  • Inverted in World of Warcraft with a silly quote for female Draenei, a member of a race of interdimensional refugees: "This planet has a tremendous supply of sandstone. The inhabitants must be wealthy beyond their dreams!"
    • Another example appears in several instances. One example would be Uldaman. At the end of the instance, the group would find a chest of one or two gear pieces that they take. However, your avatar seems to ignore the fact that there's large piles of gold right next to the chest. Perhaps the ultimate example is Utgard Pinnacle, where the very first room is the treasury. Players have found a use for it though. If you take a detour across the piles of gold you can skip the first encounter!
      • Anyone who has done the quest inside Utgarde Pinnacle knows that the gold is cursed. The skeletons tending to it are the former companions of the drunken dwarf hanging out by the entrance. So taking any of that stuff is a bad, bad idea.
      • Note that the main unit of currency in World of Warcraft is in fact gold coins.
      • Which, as the game has aged and subsequent expansions have inflated the amount of gold in the game economy, have become more and more plentiful and less and less valuable accordingly.
  • Late in Popful Mail, air-headed elf boy Slick is astonished when Mail mentions to him that she needs to find a set of magical orbs to prevent the Overlord from reviving. They're actually powerful artifacts, but Slick thinks of treasure in terms of gold coins and precious jewels, and thus had this to say to her:

"ORBS? What good are dumb old orbs? If I saw one, I'd probably just pass by."

  • In the Fallout Universe, bottle caps are generally used for currency. In Fallout 3, the player can find stacks of pre-War Money, and while they're not totally worthless, they're considered no different than any other Vendor Trash item.
    • This is obviously a Call Back to a scene in Fallout 2 (which switched from the caps of the first game to generic "money"), where you stumble on an enormous heap of bottle caps, which are now worthless.
    • Incidentally, in Fallout 1 the value of the bottlecaps received a good explanation: they were backed up by the real currency, like banknotes used to be backed up by gold in Real Life: clean water, the most valuable substance in the wasteland.
      • It wasn't JUST the water that made caps valuable. It was also the fact that bottle caps were incapable of being replicated, thus no forgery, and their mineral composition gave them a modicum of worth. Same case with bottle caps in the Capital Wasteland.
      • In Fallout: New Vegas a couple more wrinkles are added:

Everyone in the game still prefers to deal with caps instead of other currency - only casino cashiers are willing to pay you in NCR dollars or Legion coins.
That said, every currency can be traded for caps or vice versa at their respective exchange rate from anyone willing to barter with you, regardless of your barter skill.
The NCR starts to print paper money backed by gold. Unfortunately, before the game starts the NCR gold reserves are irradiated by the Brotherhood of Steel, so they have to switch back to backing their currency on water. This massively reduces the value of the NCR dollar.
The Legion mints its own money system of gold and silver coins which end up having a higher value than NCR currency or bottlecaps, owing to actually being made from said metals.
Someone in the game gives you a quest to destroy a bottlecap press located in a pre-war soda factory, noting that a supply of newly pressed "counterfeit" caps will destablize the economy. (Unfortunately, you aren't given a chance to use the press before destroying it.)
In the Dead Money expansion, you can come across gold ingots - these weigh 35 pounds and are valued at 10,349 caps. This means that many items (like fully-repaired rifles and energy weapons) are worth more than their weight in gold.

        • Considering the weight of Pre-War money, bottlecaps, denarii, NCR dollars, and Sierra Madre Cash is 0, it's all infinitely more valuable than its weight in gold.
  • The MMORPG RuneScape sometimes did this, along with other self-parody. In one quest, there is a cutscene of the Trolls killing an adventurer and discarding the 'worthless' red metal he was wearing (the most expensive set of armor in the game at the time).
    • The Villagers in Tai Bwo Wannai on Karamja consider gold to be not worth much, due to how much of it there is on Karamja, but find some plants to be useful as currency. The Tz Haar also find gold useless, because the volcano they live in is hot enough that it melts (curiously, the temperature seems only to make gold worthless in Tz Haar city, burn paper, and make Rum vanish, and not effect anything else), so they use bits of obsidian as currency.
    • Played much more literally in the in-game world economy—gold and silver are only used in the Crafting skill, and as such, gold and silver ores and bars are worth far less than mere iron ore. Items made out of gold or silver, if they don't include gems, are generally worth even less than the ores and bars, if only because no more experience can come out of processing them.
  • "To Brother Gil - Bro, I found the sword, like you told me. But there were two. One of 'em had a lame name, Something II. It was a dingy, old thing with flashy decorations, something you'd probably like. So I went with Excalipur. I'll be back after I find the Tin Armor." - note from Enkido found when the player obtains the Excalibur II, the best weapon in Final Fantasy IX.
  • In Frontier:: Elite II there were some worlds that had rather unusual notions of waste. One, Cemeiss, would pay traders a small sum to remove gemstones and a rather larger one to remove precious metals from their worlds. Woe betide anyone who brought any such materials into the Cemeiss system... they'd be promptly fined for smuggling waste.
  • One sidequest in Morrowind has you running messages between two exceptionally stupid Orcs in and around the town of Caldera. Your reward for your hassle? A "useless rock"—which happens to be a diamond. The orc thinks he's pretty clever conning you.
  • In Ultima VI, if you sell the contents of a mostly useless reference book from the Lycaeum through the Xorinite wisps (an interdimensional Hive Mind Knowledge Broker), they will genuinely assume you'll want an equal amount of information in return from the buyer, and are baffled when you accept the initial offer of a small amount of valuable metals. Which is to say, all the gold your whole party can carry.
  • At the beginning of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign Dark Carnival, you come across a campfire in the middle of the road full of burnt dollar bills.
    • A similar scene can be seen at the beginning of the Blood Harvest Campaign.
  • Although gold is still very rare in Minecraft, there's no monetary system. As a result, it can only be used in crafting, and, to the dismay of many, a sword made of gold is as useful as one made of wood. It can be used to craft a handy watch as well, but that's about it.
    • At the same time, the trope is averted, however; diamonds are the rarest item in the game, and can be crafted into the strongest armor and tools available. And a record player.
    • An update made it that gold tools now mine faster than diamond, Still fragile like a twig.
      • And the Gold Pickaxe still counts as though it were Wood for purposes of what it can harvest, so some things will take a long time to dig with it and won't give you an item—such as any ore except Coal.
    • And, in further aversion, its conductivity makes gold an essential ingredient in newly-introduced Booster Rails, which can speed up or slow down mine carts.
  • Dwarf Fortress players consider gold mainly useful for pacifying nobles and buying more useful supplies, because it's very heavy and cannot hold an edge to save its life.
    • Rarely, though, a weaponsmith in a Strange Mood can produce a golden warhammer, which is worth its weight in... well...
    • Platinum has a lot of the same problems as gold, and also makes a bitchin' warhammer if a weaponsmith in a Mood grabs some.
    • Silver, on the other hand, can be forged deliberately into weapons—but again, is only really good for warhammers, floor spikes, and other weapons that base damage on weight rather than an edge.
    • For non-hammer weapons and armor, steel and bronze are the best... unless you can get adamantine, but then you risk opening up a whole other can of worms...
  • EverQuest II uses gold as part of currency system (100 Copper = 1 Silver. 100 Silver = 1 gold. 100 gold = 1 platinum). However, both Copper and Gold clusters are commonly-found harvesting materials for low level tradeskills. Not too many residents of Norrath actually find gold to be all that valuable (other than goblins, but they like anything shiny). Silver clusters, on the other hand, is an exceptionally rare high level harvest that players will pay a lot of platinum to buy, yet nobody ever thinks about smelting down all the commonly found silver coins to use for other purposes. (But that's mostly because they technically can't.)
  • At one point in The Longest Journey, protagonist April Ryan can attempt to buy something in an Arcadian marketplace using her gold ring, only to be informed by the merchant that gold is worthless there - the precious metal of choice in Arcadia is iron.
  • In Tales of the Drunken Paladin, Save Hobos find gold worthless and build their slum sector out of it.

Web Comics

  • In Freefall, two supporting characters are looking for Sam because he scammed a 50 kg bag of diamonds from them. This is supposed to trick the reader, and subvert the expectation. Diamonds are, of course, dirt cheap in the Freefall future, and someone made them by accident by feeding CO2 instead of argon into the magnetic bottle of a fusion reactor on startup.
    • Later on Florence meets a group of robot student tailors that use gold cloth, silver thread, and lots of gems. Organic cloth is rather expensive after all.
    • This one explains the trope perfectly (as well as the basis of economic trade in every time period or world ever).
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, aliens can synthesize gold very easily. This is sometimes used to pay for repairs to Bob's repeatedly destroyed roof.
  • The Order of the Stick: This strip shows Haley dividing up the party's treasure equally to everyone else, but only taking worthless rocks for herself. Roy catches on and demands the rocks to be split between everyone else with Haley getting none (but a double share of the rest of the treasure). The trick is, they were actually ordinary, valueless grey rocks, and Haley just duped the party into giving her more treasure.
  • X in A Magical Roommate exploits this trope by paying her entrance into a magical university with aluminium. She also apparently plans to profit off platinum...
  • Mentioned in 8-Bit Theater. Even with the threat of Chaos ending the world, Thief is still determined to hoard as much cash as possible. Red Mage and Black Mage point out that when Chaos does rampage, money wouldn't be worth the act of picking it up, as day to day survival will be the only thing anyone cares about. A farmer would be rich because he could make his own food. Thief is naturally horrified.

Thief: Wealth that belongs to those who can make it? Great Elf in the sky... We must stop this horrible future no matter the cost! So long as cost remains on the backs of the poor.

  • Dragon Mango: The goblin king refuses a sack of gold and demands something useful like a chicken or a box of donuts, saying that they have literally whole walls made of the that "worthless gold". War is averted with a happy ending when the true worth of gold is explained to him (and almost immediately goblins are reclassified from monsters to people by surrounding nations)
  • In Homestuck, currency in the form of "Boondollars" are awarded to the players (the children and the trolls) for advancing on their echeladder and doing sidequests. It is pretty much regarded as worthless, and considered "useless bullshit money" by Dave.
    • TG: alright well its not like i even have a problem parting with this useless bullshit money
    • This may not be entirely true—both Aradia and Terezi state, and John later confirms that the Boonbucks are used to purchase 'fraymotifs' which are likely styles of combat. The trolls have apparently all bought the best ones they could, and Dave apparently bought a few offscreen. It's just that Dave used his time-travel abilities to manipulate the game economy.
    • Jane has an item that converts whatever she wants into grist, at the price of a few boonbucks. However, since she has no idea what grist is supposed to be used for, she considers the item completely useless. Similarly, she already has a fortune in boondollars and a fetch modus which lists the alchemy components of items, but she has no idea that they'll have something of a use in the near future.
  • Discussed in Dubious Company. Sal and Leeroy win a presumably large fortune at the Festival of Veils. While excited about their winnings, they decide to give it up as the Elvish currency would be worthless in whatever dimension they would end up in next.
  • Gold is worthless to Drow for two logical reasons. Drow living underground come across gold way more often than anyone else, making it a very common metal. It also cannot be used for weapons and armor due to it's physical properties, and can not hold mana, so it's only purpose is decoration. Fossilized tree sap on the other hand (which are literally worthless yellow rocks for people on the surface), appear to be extremely valuable.

Western Animation

  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (the funny cartoon) did this once when Sonic dressed up as a bumpkin and tricked Robotnik and his goons into trading all their stolen loot for a bag of "worthless yellow rocks". Turns out later that they were worthless: just chili beans painted gold. Stale chili beans, at that.
  • in SpongeBob SquarePants spongebob and patrick find a valuable pearl, which they were going to use as a volley ball, however if a scrupulous pawn shop owner didn't come buy and buy it from them for a "small fortune" this trope would have almost certainly gone its natural course.
  • Von Goosewing in Count Duckula attempts to dig his way into Duckula's castle. He completely obliterates the mountain it sits on in the attempt, finding only a bunch of "funny yellow rocks" in the process. The whole reason he can't find the castle is that Duckula has taken it on a trip to go gold prospecting, from which he returns empty-handed.
  • Futurama: The Wong family long ago bought land off the native Martians (who didn't have a concept of ownership) for a single bead. Generations later, the Martians, thinking they'd been scammed, exact revenge on the Wongs, but it turns out that the bead was actually a gigantic, inconceivably expensive diamond. Of course, the modern Martians actually do have a concept of ownership...
    • Yet, in a different episode, Bender is stealing a $10,000 cigar. He uses an enormous (easily the size of a basketball) diamond to cut the glass surrounding it, and then promptly throws it away. This raises the question of whether diamonds are valuable or not in Futurama...
      • The cigar itself was made from the Declaration of Independence and hand-rolled by Queen Elizabeth II. Its value (and the fact that he was stealing it) made it worth more to him then the diamond, which was probably manufactured in a factory.
      • Said diamond likely came with the $300 burglar's tools Bender bought with his tax refund. If so then it had to be worth less than $300, and thus less than the $10,000 cigar.
    • From the same episode, Dr. Zoidberg tries to spend his $300 tax refund on luxury goods but dismisses them as junk:

Zoidberg: (after sampling some jewellery) I ask for rich guy stuff and you give me shiny pebbles? Bah! I bid you adieu!

      • Zoidberg also did this with food, spitting out expensive caviar and goose liver pate demanding something other than "the garbage parts of the animal".
    • Another example is when the Planet Express team is traveling cross-country in an old Volkswagon van (which still runs somehow, even after being buried for 1,000+ years). Having ruined most of their money in the washing machine, they're desperate for some food. Zoidberg then coughs up blue-and-pink-swirled pearls, which he thinks are disgusting (because he did literally vomit them out), but Leela finds them beautiful...and so do many other people, as she's able to sell necklaces and bracelets made from Zoidberg's pearls.
  • On Rocky and the Dodos, Rocky, Tantra, and Elvis dismiss gold coins they find with a metal detector, as they thought that it would help them find Limpets.
  • On Rugrats, the babies trekked through a sandbox to find nickels, discarding a diamond ring, a million-dollar bill and other treasures as they went. Of course, they are babies.
  • One episode of Seabert the Seal had a con-artist exploiting a group of jungle-dwelling natives by providing agricultural services in return for sacks of "colored glass". Needless to say, the glass was diamonds which the natives had no use for.
  • The Simpsons: Homer rummages through a box at a yard sale and finds the first issue of the Action Comics comic book, reams of Inverted Jenny stamps, and a Stradivarius violin ("Stradi-who-vious?") He discards all of them as "junk".
    • In one episode, Homer goes dumpster-diving in hopes of finding free peanuts, and is disappointed when he only finds a twenty-dollar bill. His brain has to remind him "Money can be exchanged for goods and services".
    • In another episode, Martin's mother almost sells the original handwritten script of Star Wars (Alternate Ending: Chewbacca is Luke's father!) to the Comic Book Guy for 5$.
      • Inverted when Marge brings to John Waters what she thinks is an antique Civil War soldier statue, but is just a bottle of Johnny Reb whiskey.

John: (after taking a shot of whiskey from the statue) Ah, that'll make your bull run.

        • Fridge logic strikes when you realise that the whisky in that bottle, being bought by her grandmother and kept for decades, would have likely been extremely valuable.
    • In "The Burns and the Bees", Prof. Frink uses a perfume to attract bees. Moments after using it, a incredibly sexy woman walks up to him begging him to marry her and she will support him for life. Frink only states that she isn't a bee, deems the perfume useless and throws it away.
  • Sorta-kinda done on SpongeBob SquarePants, in the episode "Idiot Box." The episode begins with the titular character buying a humongous flat-screen television, only to throw it away. It's quickly revealed that he actually bought it for the cardboard box it was packed in.
    • In another episode. where Mr. Krabs is trying to get a penny from Spongebob. It's revealed he was only picking up piece of chewed up gum for his collection. Spongebob tosses it when he realizes it wasn't a piece of chewed gum after all. Just a $500 bill.
  • The Thundercats find gold in one episode, but discard it as too soft and too heavy to use for anything they can think of. Wouldn't you know it, they need the gold to help repower a fire spirit who can help Lion-O repair his Wrecked Weapon. This one's weird; it showcases the 'cats non-materialism, but both Panthro and Tigra could be expected to know enough about electronics to come up with something to do with it.
    • Cheetara did keep some of it because it was pretty though. The rest got dumped.
  • In a few Looney Tunes shorts, Bugs Bunny or some other character will be in trouble because he has a bunch of "funny yellow rocks" on his person and villains like Yosemite Sam or Blacque Jacque Shellacque find out.
    • In at least one instance, they are just Worthless Yellow Rocks: Bugs remarks how much fun you can have with some rocks and a can of yellow paint...
  • Megas XLR "Battle Royale" In Space, Jamie's pocket lint is more valuable than his two coins.
  • Spoofed on Duck Dodgers. The Eager Young Space Cadet claims that "Diamonds haven't been valuable for centuries. Ever since we realized they're nothing but shiny rocks."
  • Timon and Pumbaa: Timon and Pumba initally regard the gold they found as worthless, until a nearby criminal reminds them that they can use it to buy bugs to eat. They even call them useless yellow rocks.
  • In one episode of Garfield and Friends, Garfield finds himself in a hidden city filled with smurf-like people who regard food (such as the lasagna they stole from him, which began the whole episode) as money, and money as food.
  • One episode of The Fairly OddParents involves Cosmo and Wanda losing their wands on the beach. They end up digging in the sand, turning up all sorts of priceless treasures and discarding them. This is eventually Lampshaded:

Wanda: Cosmo! I found something!
Cosmo: Eh? Let me guess, another Holy Grail? (rolls eyes)

  • King Julien went to the Lost Stuff box to find something funny or entertaining. Tossing aside a bunch of dollar bills and a huge gold collar

Julien: Paper Trash....Metal Trash....

  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Beezy bribes Heloise with a box filled with gold. She happily accepts she can have the box it comes in.
  • Roger the alien from American Dad excretes gold inlaid with jewels as feces and doesn't recognize its value on Earth.
    • Which kind of raises some questions since he's shown spazing over various pieces of jewelry and having lived long enough on the planet to know what platinum is.
  • In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic pre-cut gems can be dug up practically anywhere, as such they're mostly used as sequins on dresses or dragon chow.
    • Although it does make sense that one wouldn't assign much monetary value to a thing dragons like to eat...
      • Actually, it would make sense that they would assign value to food. Salt used to be used as a standard of currency, which is where we get the expression "Not worth its weight in salt." Plus, as a food item, it could command value, similar to how Applejack sells her apples for bits. Overabundence of supply and limited demand for gemstones is most likely the reason why gems aren't used as currency.
        • That, and the fact that nobody trades or interacts with dragons. Spike is the only Dragon to have actually been raised in Pony Society - they don't have value as trade items with dragons as there is no opportunity to trade with dragons.
  • In Freakazoid!, Jeepers created a watch that could turn beavers into gold. But there's very little call for gold beavers, so he ends up with a closet full of them.
  • An episode of the Krazy Kat animated series revolved around Krazy being Born Lucky. For instance, after getting violently ejected through a ceiling, she finds a cache of paper money and is delighted--"more pictures of presidents for my collection". She then examines a hundred-dollar bill and remarks "Oh, phooey, Thomas Jefferson. I already got him."
  • One episode of Johnny Bravo involved a cat burglar in a museum trying to steal the world's largest cut piece of cubic zirconia, a cheap diamond substitute. When trying to remove it from its case, she discovers she can't break through it because it wasn't made of glass like she thought:

Burgler: Rats! The case around it is made of pure diamond! How ironic.

  • The Fractured Fairy Tales version of King Midas encounters this when, in an attempt to improve his public image, gives himself the "Golden Touch" (actually just discreetly painting objects gold). His subjects clamor to the castle to get various objects turned gold, but they do it so much that gold eventually becomes worthless to them. The kingdom shifts from the gold standard to turnips—something comparatively valuable, but which King Midas doesn't have, making him the poorest person in his own kingdom.
  • One Underdog cartoon features an alien race called Cloud Men, who have so much gold they make furniture out of it. It's worthless to them; what they really need is silver (because all clouds need a silver lining) so they steal it from other planets. Eventually, Polly convinces them to trade their gold for silver, which they apparently never considered.

Real Life

  • Generally averted in real life. Gold, as with most heavy elements, are rare in a universe filled with hydrogen and helium because it can only be produced naturally as the result of a supernova. The internal nuclear fusion of a star at the point of its death only produces iron and the elements that are lighter than it.
    • Even if gold wasn't extremely rare, it would still be valuable for its industrial uses. It conducts electricity very well[3] and is a soft, non-toxic metal, which makes it useful for things like dental crowns and fillings.
    • That being said, the bulk of gold's value is due to its status as a de facto reserve currency. Absent that, gold would not be worthless, but it would be much less valuable.
    • And it's pretty.
  • In the United States, farmers who were digging for underground water reservoirs were frustrated when they sometimes dug up oil, which was worthless at the time.
  • The Spanish Conquistador myth of Cibola, the City of Gold, was partly based on a tribe in the Amazon where gold was so common that it was used for body paint and inexpensive decorations. Unfortunately, when the Spaniards finally found the tribe, they were distressed to learn that the metal they mostly worshipped was platinum, which the natives had fashioned into elaborate jewelry. Frustrated Spaniards worked the Indians to death in the mines looking for gold, only to turn up mounds upon mounds of previously unheard-of platinum. Not knowing how to work the ore, since they had worked the tribe to death in the mines (and later engineers never did figure out how they did it), and given that it was so rare back home that it had no resale value, the angry Spaniards called the whole expedition worthless and buried the mounds of platinum ore in slag heaps that later became "lost treasure" more valuable than a city of gold by the 20th century.
  • Back in the 19th century, some men counterfeited gold coins by using a "worthless" gray metal and gold plating the coins. Today, that "worthless gray metal" is known as platinum, and it's actually more valuable than gold for its applications. If you have a car, your catalytic converter has a considerable amount of the stuff. This has led some enterprising thieves to harvesting whole parking lots with metal-cutting saber saws, cutting out the converters for recycle value.
    • In the 17th century, the Spanish government tried to stop the above counterfeiting practice by dumping their entire stock of platinum in the sea.
    • When platinum was first found in Russia, the ignorant population used it as shot - you had to pay for lead. Then they found out that shooting an animal was more expensive than the animal.
    • As of the time of this writing (August 2011) it seems to have gone full circle as speculation on gold caused by the economic downturn has caused the price of gold to surpass the price of platinum! Despite platinum being both far rarer and significantly more useful.
  • As of a matter of fact, aluminum was once considered more valuable than gold (indeed, the Washington Monument is tipped with a spire of aluminum, considered priceless at the time). Most aluminum in nature is in the form of aluminum oxide, and the reduction of this oxide into pure aluminum requires a great deal of electricity. Of course as any recycler will tell you it costs a lot less to simply melt down existing aluminum.
    • The electrical requirements for reducing aluminum are so great, that it's worthwhile to ship bauxite (ore which contains aluminum oxide) to Iceland (where electricity is very cheap) to be refined, and then ship the aluminum back. Or to put it another way, Iceland uses the aluminum refining process as a means to export its electricity. Granted that the alternative method of laying power lines across the North Atlantic would be difficult, but still.
    • Emperor Napoleon III of France had a set of plates made from aluminum in the late 1800s. It was such an ostentatious display of wealth that it was only used at state banquets, and then only for the most important guests. Less important guests had to settle for eating from gold plates. He also commissioned a gold-and-aluminum rattle for his son.
    • It should be pointed out that the while aluminum does require a lot of energy to obtain through the current technique of electrolysis, it's still a lot more efficient than earlier processes, which is why the metal was once so expensive and no longer is. To put in into a perspective, aluminum now costs somewhere around $2,000 per ton, while steel is about $500 and titanium, as discussed below, is eleven times more expensive at $4,800 just before the patent expiration.
      • Despite titanium rings being all the rage nowadays, be under no illusion they are worth more than your standard 18 karat gold ring. Gold is worth about $35,000,000 per ton. One of a titanium ring's 'special' traits is that they cannot be resized if you gain/lose weight.
    • All of the above is ironically an example of Aluminum Christmas Trees when viewed from a modern perspective.
    • Players of Dwarf Fortress will likely be familiar with the value of pre-industrial aluminum (and the usefulness of bauxite, the only lava-proof stone for a long time).
  • Titanium (and most purified metals). It is the ninth most common metal on Earth and useful for its incredibly high strength and low weight. Unfortunately it's mostly in the form of titanium oxide which is an absolute bitch to concentrate and break down (generally requiring the use of magnesium, something that is hard to find). Titanium oxide does have a use however, in paint. Most purified metals are worth recycling for similar reasons.
    • Look around your bathroom on the ingredients list. Chances are, if it goes on your skin (sunscreen) or hair (hairspray), it'll have titanium dioxide. Titanium is also used in replacement joints—not for its strength, but for being something to which nobody is allergic.
    • An interesting point: because the richest titanium mines were in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, the American aircraft engineers at the Lockheed Skunkworks literally called the stuff "Unobtanium".
    • Relatively recently a so-called FFC Cambridge process allowed the titanium oxide [4] to be easily and economically smelted to a pure metal by electrolysis, just like the aluminum, promising a huge drop in prices—titanium now costs around $22,000 per ton, about ten times more than aluminum. The patent was filed in 1998 and expired in 2018, which should cause titanium prices to plummet (thought they've already been on steep decline as expiration neared). To add insult to the injury, the richest titanium mines are still in Russia, where the main local producer, VSMPO Avisma, still used the old, slow and energy intensive Kroll process, burning a lot of expensive magnesium on the way, but still being the largest producer in the world.
    • As if that weren't enough, titanium burns in open air at about 1200 degrees Celsius, but doesn't melt until 1600-1700 degrees - so trying to melt it in air leaves you with the same titanium oxide you just spent ludicrous amounts to process. It has to be worked in inert gases or in vacuum, which is about as much of a pain as it sounds.
  • The nebulae from which stars form have wildly varying compositions. Exploding supernovae "season" embryonic solar system with heavy elements; on the other hand, older "Population II" stars have few elements heavier than lithium. Spectroscopic studies show stars with different elemental ratios than our own sun, and their planets should follow suit.
  • Within our own solar system, it has recently been confirmed that Saturn's moon Titan is covered with oceans of liquid methane and ethane—the same natural gas we sink drilling platforms deep through the seabed to extract small amounts of.
    • But it's still a moon of a freaking different planet, so it is even more unobtaniumy.
      • Consider this, it takes 60 MJ to get on kilo of matter into space, thats more than you get from burning one kilo of methane at 100% efficiency.
      • It's almost like the universe is taunting us.

Scientists said the cloud, located near the constellation Aquila, contains enough alcohol to make 400 trillion trillion pints of beer.

      • It makes one wonder why the Big Oil haven't already turned into investing in it. It's not that it isn't obtainable, it's just fiendishly expensive, and need a lot of investment to make it affordable.
        • Complaints of this sort are ignorant in the extreme - put simply, if a company can extract profit out of something, they will. Realize that this is a moon around a planet - by the time we even had the technology to get there we'd almost certainly not need the gas, let alone the cost it would take to go there and bring it back, all for use in domestic cars and energy production? We'll probably have Generation IV nuclear plants by then, so long as political will remains (note: Currently, we mostly have Gen II plants - if we shut down all of them and replaced them with Gen III and then IV once those are completed, we could power the current earth for centuries and produce less waste than we've produced so far.)
  • Many's the time a fellow has lamented the fact that years ago his mother threw out his comic book or baseball trading card collection that would today be worth thousands of dollars. Of course, it is the fact that lots of collections were thrown out that makes the surviving collections be worth thousands today in the first place. This reason has actually led to the trope being played completely straight—baseball card prices drop sharply (even adjusting for age) for cards newer than 1980 or so. The reason for this is that a much larger pool of cards from this era exist because a large number of parents told their kids to store the cards carefully and never play with them as they could be worth a lot of money someday. This is why things like a can of Halo 3 Mountain Dew Game Fuel is going to be worth a lot. Sure, people store cards, but who ever thought up storing an unopened can of soda? Not too many people.
    • This example doesn't play the trope as straight as it sounds. A lot of these (comics in particular) were the result of "salting the goldmine" type scams. In short: collector plants stories of "mint-condition" comics selling for scads and scads of money, and then turns around and offers their own books at a substantial discount from the reported price, while using mind-bogglingly arbitrary "grading schemes" to keep others out of the con.
  • A year or so ago a British man found some old Beatles memorabilia in his attic and sold it for a few quid at a flea market. Turns out it was extremely rare memorabilia that was actually worth thousands of dollars.
  • Gold was very abundant in pre-colonial Philippines. As in, you could see gold everywhere; decorated on houses, jewelry, etc. But finding gold was just as common as, let's say, getting a piece of candy. Pick almost any spot, dig, and you'll find a nugget of gold. And when Portuguese traders came, natives were willing enough to trade two gold pesos worth... for a measly silver one.
  • A interesting variation occurred with the U.S. gold rush into the Black Hills. Miners were pissed that their sifting machines kept getting clogged with a thick blue powder. An enterprising businessman found a way to filter it out and kept the powder as part of the payment. It turned out that the blue powder was silver in concentrations of nearly 100 times higher than the gold.
  • Old infomercials from The Franklin Mint selling collector's plates of various styles somehow manage to both subvert this trope and play it straight at the same time. The commercial talks about how these plates can be worth lots of money and are of heirloom quality before adding the infamous disclaimer:

Disclaimer: "Not all collector's plates increase in value - some go down."

  • In the vein of the metal examples above, a surprising number of scrappers will toss off unstripped refrigerators, washers, etc into the tin pile[5] so they can go out and get more to do the same thing; most of these are druggies just out for their next fix who can't be bothered to take the time to actually process the things.
  • Silver was often considered more valuable than gold by the ancient Egyptians, because gold was easily obtained from Egypt's southern territories, whereas silver was primarily imported from Asia Minor and the Mesopotamian region. Every time Egypt's relations with its Asiatic rival civilizations went sour, the cost of silver went up.
    • Iron as well, although much of that had to do with the fact that iron-smelting and ironworking were unknown until about the 16th-14th centuries BCE, at which point Egypt had ceased to be a Great Power. It hardly helps that unlike gold, iron has endless pragmatic uses, and a therefore much higher demand.
  • Speaking of Egypt, medieval Egypt provides a near-literal example of Worthless Yellow Rocks. In 1324, Mansa Musa (literally, Emperor Moses) of Mali, a devout Muslim, went on pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through Cairo on the way. Now, Mali is gold country, and at the time supplied the Mediterranean with a very large proportion of its gold. Since West African kings since the Ghana Empire had a tradition of taking a cut of every golden ounce, the Mansa of Mali tended to be extremely rich. So when Mansa Musa went on pilgrimage, besides all manner of little gold items carried by the people in his entourage, he also had with him about 80 camels laden with 300 pounds of gold. Each. When Mansa Musa reached Cairo, he went for a visit to the Sultan, and then down to the souk (bazaar) to buy souvenirs and such. Unfortunately for the Malians, nobody in the entourage had any idea what things were supposed to cost in Cairo, and naturally the Cairo merchants fleeced the Malians for every penny they could get. This pumped enough gold into the Egyptian economy to cause massive inflation, drastically devaluing all gold in Egypt. For the next ten years, gold, while hardly worthless, commanded ridiculously reduced purchasing power. On the other hand, the Italians doing business in Egypt at the time loved these new prices, since Italy hadn't suffered the same inflation (although everyone in the Mediterranean was affected somewhat).
  • Euro starter kits were sets of a few coins totalling around from about 4 to 20 Euros given out before the actual introduction of Euro cash. Many of these were simply the first Euros people spent - and these people are now probably kicking themselves as complete, unopened kits can nowadays be worth ten times their original value as collector items. The record is held by Finnish kits, which are worth forty times the nominal value of their coins.
    • As said above with baseball cards, the reason these sets are valuable is because so many were spent in the first place.
  • Not necessarily worthless, but rather worth less: the gold-to-silver ratio was far lower in Tokugawa Japan than in the Western world at the time, and, as a result, Western traders brought large amounts of silver to Japan and traded it for large amounts gold, nearly ruining the Japanese gold standard.
    • Wait, wouldn't a lower gold-to-silver ratio in Tokugawa mean that gold was rarer there?
      • I think he mean the ratio of value, i.e. gold was worth less relative to silver.
  • A hypothetical planet proposed by Some Dude (TM) whose top layer is basically just tons of graphite/carbon. This, logically, leads to the conclusion of a planet's entire surface being nothing but diamond. Think of the monetary possibilities how Earth would rape it for quick cash how beautiful it would be! Like the planet Midnight, only less pretty! Of course, since there would be so much diamond available, the price/perceived value/worth of it would drastically decline.
    • Obviously, since humans are fragile creatures, nothing from Earth (bar the extremophiles) could survive on the planet, as it would be high in carbon and low in...everything else.
    • Actually, diamond is not stable at pressures akin to the surface of Earth. It's just graphite that has been squished really hard into a different molecular structure. Diamonds, over a period of millions of years, will actually revert back to graphite unless kept under pressure. Unless this planet has some seriously wicked atmospheric pressure, or is some enormous free-floating chunk of solid diamond that broke off something else in recent geological history, a solid carbon planet will have a surface of stable carbon structures, and any diamond will exist where diamonds are stable... diamonds on Earth are thrown up by tectonic activity, and an all-carbon planet probably doesn't have that.
    • Why wouldn't it? Any number of things can cause tectonic activity. The most fun thing about a carbon planet, however, would be the hydrocarbon deposits. Tar pits are cool? What about tar oceans? Gasoline seas? So Cool Its Awesome.
      • We actually have gasoline seas in our own Solar System—they're on the aforementioned Titan, which also have methane/ethane rains and its rocks are made of bitumen, so it's basically Oil: The Planet. And there are a lot of it, Titan being roughly the size of Mercury, a largest moon in the Solar System (unless overcame by Ganymede...again). The only downside is that it's a friggin another planet, though once the Big Oil start investing in it...
    • I don't have the link, but an episode of Modern Marvels about Carbon mentioned that scientists have found a SUN, that is basically a huge fucking diamond. Given, its a neutron (or electron) star, so it's much smaller than earth, but still.
      • Well, it wouldn't be a neutron star, as those aren't made of carbon (the outer layers would likely be iron, and individual atoms wouldn't exist in the core). A carbon/oxygen white dwarf might qualify (and there are a lot of them), but I'm not sure if carbon at degeneracy pressures really counts as "diamond".
      • Yes, it's a white dwarf star.
    • And now there appears to be a planet made of diamond a mere 4000 light-years away.
    • It's been theorized that the gas giant planets could have cores, or layers, where the temperature and pressure has turned the carbon into diamond.
  • Historically, amethyst was one of the cardinal gems, along with diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire. Then enormous deposits were discovered in Brazil, making amethyst the inexpensive semi-precious stone it is today.
    • This also happened in the Brazilian region of Minas when it came to diamonds, people in that region used them as an equivalent for chips used for poker, or, more accurately, peanuts being used while cruising aboard a ship. Ironically enough, that's also when the gold was in highest demand—sort of a Latin American Gold Rush.
  • In the days before modern refrigeration methods, ice was considered a valuable commodity. A ton of ice was priced at hundreds of dollars while other commodities were being priced in pennies.
    • Ice was made worthless by its own popularity. It was only available in limited quantities and at certain times of year, and people wanted refrigeration all the time, leading to the development of the technology.
      • "Make a box that is cold... a box that is cold!" And that's the story of Refrigerator Day.
  • The exact details are a bit memory fuzzed, but a Modern Marvels about chocolate gives us this: Chocolate was once extremely expensive, and extremely secret, the Spanish kept its existence a secret from the rest of Europe for decades. This came to its logical conclusion when some pirates, having captured a Spanish merchant ship and finding it was full of "dried sheep droppings" burned it and its cargo at a time when cocoa beans were worth their weight in silver.
    • the spanish conquistadors set up a cocoa plantation shortly after arriving in mexico. this destroyed the local economy as up to that point the aztec emperor had tight control over the production of cocoa-beans (which was used both as money and towards the production of an expensive beverage)
  • With the possible exception of the magpie, every other species on the planet really does consider gold to be this trope. You can't eat it, mate with it, or build cozy nests out of the stuff, so what's the big deal?
    • that's also what north-american indians thought about gold: didn't have a practical application so what were all those crazy white people doing with it? that doesn't mean these indians didn't have money or didn't care about wealth and prestige (as hippies sometimes seem to think), just that their money was made from things like seashells.
  • Similar to the aforementioned gold, diamonds have practical uses, like tile cutting blades, but the vast majority of their worth is derived from their status symbol appeal given to them by people who like "worthless shiny rocks". Without this arbitrarily given value diamonds would be a dime a dozen.
    • With the technologies for synthesizing diamonds are quickly advancing to produce jewel-grade stones relatively cheaply, we are likely to see a huge price drops within our lifetime, as soon as people get over the diamond cartel propaganda which still tries to pass synthetic jewels off as "fake" despite of having the same exact molecular consistency.
      • there has been 'currency exchange' going on in the world for centuries: buying 'worthless' gold from indians for glass beads and mirrors, european traders buying slaves in western africa with seashells from island in the indian ocean, etc. when a 'primitive culture' got overflown with 'cheap import-money' (f.i. minerals brought over by ship instead of a long land-route) hyperinflation and economic instability would often follow.
  • Even perfectly ordinary rocks can fall under this trope if there's a sudden demand for them. White Jurassic slate from Solnhofen, in Bavaria, was just a mundane construction material for roofs and floors until 1796, when lithographic printing was invented and created an insatiable market for the stuff. When printing tech marched on, Solnhofen's slate became just another rock again.
  • Gibbon tells the story of a Roman legionary who found a leather bag full of pearls that had been dropped by a fleeing Persian soldier. The Roman kept the bag and threw away its contents - he assumed that something with no use would have no value.
  • There's an interesting case surrounding the original Nancy Drew mystery stories. The books themselves have solid blue covers with the book's cover art being printed on a dust jacket. The books themselves now are fairly cheap (libraries refused to stock them, considering them "junk books," meaning more books were published for people to buy, saturating the market.) The dust jackets, however, which are considered a nuisance to some bibliophiles (for being clumsy and unattractive on the shelf), have become much more valuable. Not simply because fewer dust jackets have survived, but due to an unfortunate fire at the home of the artists, Russell H. Tandy, the original artwork has been lost. At this point, the dust jackets can be worth more than the book itself.
  • Pablo Escobar (Pictured on The Cartel) once burned $2,000,000 cash to keep himself and his daughter warm while fleeing police in the mountains of Columbia. His daughter was starting to suffer from hypothermia and the cash was otherwise worthless.
  1. usually
  2. Long Sword cost: 15 steel pieces. Weight: ~4 lbs. Coin weight: 1/10 lb.
  3. Although not as well as copper, which is much cheaper. Its main advantage is its corrosion resistance for electrical contacts
  4. actually, most metal (and not — another proposed application was production of a semiconductor grade silicon) oxides
  5. essentially the mulligan pile