In 41 B.C., Cleopatra is reported to dissolved a giant pearl—worth 10,000,000 sesterces (approximately the net worth of 15 countries at the time)—into a glass of wine vinegar in effort to demonstrate to Mark Anthony the extent of her wealth. Today, we can grow “cultured” pearls and the material is a fraction of its former value.
In the 15th century, many wealthy people in Europe had unusual safes in their estates, villas and palaces. The safes weren’t design to store and protect gold or diamonds but rather a far more precious commodity—salt. That’s right, salt. The common tabletop spice was once so valuable it was guarded under lock and key. Today, it is so inexpensive that many northern communities spread it on roads in the winter months to melt snow and ice.