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With metals you can take something you don't like, melt it down and use the metal for something else. My question is, can the same be done with porcelain?

In my fantasy world, metals like gold, silver, copper, iron etc. are all scarce except in one very specific place in the world, so most people get by using bone china made from the skeletons of dragons and other monsters whose biology incorporates a lot of naturally occurring biometals. Because of the strength of the bones, the china made from them is much more durable than real life ceramics, and can be used to make weapons, armor, and even building materials. This on top of porcelain's many IRL uses makes monster bone china the primary "universal currency" most countries use to facilitate trade with peoples outside their borders.

Of course making "money" like coins, chips, or things of a similar nature out of this porcelain only makes sense if the porcelain can then be processed or reforged into a more useful shape, since its value is derived from its utility. If you can't use it for anything after it's been made into a coin, then you'd be better off trading in powdered or unprocessed bone. So can you reuse porcelain or china once you've already made it into the shape of a coin, a plate or a tea set?

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    $\begingroup$ Recycling porcelain is possible but it is massively energy intensive. You don't re-use porcelain, you grind it into dust and re-melt the dust. Remember that at the end of the day you are recycling clay; there is plenty of clay on earth, so the economics must be considered carefully. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 4 '17 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ It's a fantasy world and you will have fantasy solutions. Specifically, you have dragons since you have dragon bones. Which implies you have dragon fire. That might be a spell, a special fission powered furnace or fusion if you don't want to cook the chef. Or a dragon, tamed, chained or contained in some fashion. Which you will wow your readers with. $\endgroup$ – dcy665 Sep 4 '17 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ Can you clarify what a 'biometal' is? Are there more than one element of biometals? What are their properties? $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 4 '17 at 5:16
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What is needed for currency:

There's a finite amount at any given time. There isn't too much or too little of it.

If the elements of bone come from specific types monsters/dragons which changes the quality of the bone china in a way that's different from standard bone, this adds a layer of rarity that you might not get simply from bone china taking skills and a forge to make.

It doesn't rot or wear out. Best if it CAN get wet without being destroyed.

Portable, lightweight.

Difficult to cheapen, thin, or counterfeit. Bone china allows light to pass through it and has a certain "ring" when pinged. With an addition of dragon bone, it might sparkle a certain way or somesuch. There is a difference between bone china and porcelain--and though you are calling this porcelain in your question, you are actually asking about bone china. If counterfeiting is in question you might want to look into how antique dealers tell the difference--porcelain is a brighter white, light plays on it differently, the sound is different. Any savvy merchant will be looking for these differences.

Possibly fungible. That is, the value of the currency does not depend on weight or measurement. You might have different denominations or sizes, but they tend to be static enough that they don't have to be measured to know the value. Not true in the case of salt or tea, but as it was used more often, things like that would be compressed into bricks that are of uniform size and shape so that one doesn't have to have equipment to know the value of the money. So basically, you can forge pieces of bone china where the value depends on size and what's in it. You can mix colors in even to differentiate, which would be more interesting than just size.

It doesn't actually need to have ANY other use, even if that is a neat feature. Which is what you seem to be worried about. Take cowrie shells for instance.

Because the answer to your actual question is not really. Not if they are glazed in any way. If unglazed maybe, but the energy needed would be more than just forging from scratch. This element of being able to reforge it is not actually needed. It will be worth more as currency than it likely will be in objects for the most part. Porcelain isn't metal, and that's possibly what will make it more valued, not less, if it takes skill to make and specific ingredients.

You say:

Of course making "money" like coins, chips, or things of a similar nature out of this porcelain only makes sense if the porcelain can then be processed or reforged into a more useful shape, since its value is derived from its utility.

But when things such as pressed tea, salt, and other utilitarian objects were made into money, and once they were, rarely saw service as actual tea or salt, as they were more valuable and more tradable in a recognizably monetary form. (Were phased out because the amounts needed were far too heavy). The same was true of dagger currency. While they were technically metal, they weren't actually used as knives, however utilitarian knives are.

You can have bone daggers and things made of bone porcelain, but the currency just needs to be recognizable, and have the characteristics of a good currency.

Now there is a fantasy model which does work like this--in the Dragonlance series, coin was Steel. And so were weapons. Here's a message board talking about the value of that vs. gold in the series and the RPG.

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Porcelain can't be reforged

and even if it could, it's ill-suited for use as a currency in your world.

Why gold is a good currency

LiveScience has an excellent discussion about why gold makes an excellent candidate for currency. They have four selection criteria:

  • Not radioactive
  • Not a gas
  • Won't corrode or react
  • Hard to find but not too hard

This leaves a very short list of elements: rhodium, palladium, platinum, silver and gold. Every one of those elements should be extremely familiar to anyone who has purchased jewelry. It also helps that all these elements are pretty.

Composition of Bone China

Bone china on Earth is made from various quantities of aluminum, potassium, calcium and sodium with oxygen and hydrogen mixed in for good measure. Also, these elements are exceptionally common on earth and with the exception of aluminum, make up significant percentages of the human body.

Too Common to be a Currency

Unless this monster bone china contains one of the above listed currency-worthy elements, it's probably not going to be a good currency. Also, none of the currency elements make good candidates for inclusion in bone structures, where strength is required.

Without "enrichment", the real life equivalent to this monster bone china would be using common red bricks as currency. Sure, it can be done but it doesn't make sense.

Part of the point of a good currency is that it can't be used for anything else or is not quickly made to serve another purpose. Consider the alternative where currency is useful for many other uses. What happens when an object, say armor, is the most useful/valuable form for this monster bone china to take than small coins? The small coins will disappear because armorers will take in all the small coins they can to make the more valuable armor.

(Not)-Reforging China

Since china or ceramics in general are special forms of glass, reworking the china is done the exact same way; by essentially melting down the glass and recasting it. If you still want to go the reforging route, the biscuit temperature (not the final firing temperature) for bone china is 1200 to 1300 C. Low carbon steel reaches reforging temperatures at about 900 C. Even with a maleable clay to work with, what tools would you use to perform the reforging? You'd need a set of special ultra-high temperature tools to rework the porcelain while it's still hot. At these temperatures, you're not reforging porcelain, you're recasting it.

Additional Reading

Ignition of Metals in Oxygen

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In principle, unglazed porcelain can be recycled. The material must be thermally stressed, then ground into fine powder which can be used to produce new material.

However, any colored glaze will interfere with the final color of such recycled material, and virtually all porcelain has such a glaze.

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    $\begingroup$ Porcelain is primarily feldspar clays, whereas glazes are primarily silicates. Since the two are not co-soluble, when heated to melting, they would settle out like oil and water. From there, you can skim the one off of the other. On cooling, grind both to dust and start fresh. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 4 '17 at 2:47
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Porcelain can melt. When it is fired, it is vitrified (turned into a glass-like substance). In theory, you could heat it up and melt it again. Then, you could pour the melted porcelain into a mold. You might also be able to grind the porcelain down and reuse it as mentioned in another answer. That doesn't mean what you've created would have the same properties such as the same strength. Even re-forging something easy like Iron takes special techniques to make sure that the Carbon content is kept low.

However, you aren't asking about normal porcelain. You specified that the strength of the material is more durable than normal porcelain. The only way this can be achieved is if it ISN'T porcelain but something else. Materials have properties based on the elements, arrangement of atoms, and bonds inside those materials. Materials don't inherently "remember" how strong they were before they were incorporated into their new form, particularly when they are transformed into a glass-like end product like porcelain.

Items that can't be reforged can be used as currency. Bitcoin, for instance, doesn't even have a physical form. It is a currency. The only true limit to using a currency is whether others will accept it.

Examples of ancient currency include salt, pelts, and one tribe that carved massive limestone blocks. The limestone blocks never moved despite changing ownership. When one was lost at sea, it didn't even matter to its value. http://listverse.com/2013/06/21/10-strange-forms-of-ancient-currency-2/

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I like your idea. You could certainly use unfired bone as currency (probably easier than using porcelain) Some thoughts...

Is this dragonbone rare enough to be good for currency? Presumably new finds of bone keep getting made. You'll have to decide whether new finds get made often enough to cause inflation issues. Doesn't preclude using it; all economies have problems.

I would suggest you dial back on the construction uses of dragonbone. This (as others have said) implies it is more common. Maybe it's used for critical fortifications only or in very wealthy people's McMansions of the Clan McMansion.

It would be awkward to use the bones as currency, as they are not standardized, and it would be hard to make change. "Hey, can you break a vertebra?" Might be better to use the powder. You'd get a secondary industry making little containers for it, and a whole host of plotworthy counterfeiting schemes. ;D

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  • $\begingroup$ This was going to be my suggestion as well. You can saw the bones into coins to solve the problem of "splitting a vertebra" $\endgroup$ – bendl May 16 '18 at 2:17

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