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Global History of Currencies

Currency Globe
An Exclusive Feature of Global Financial Data
By Dr. Bryan Taylor, Global Financial Data Chief Economist

Currency History Descriptions

In putting together currency histories for each country, we have tried to provide several important pieces of information.

First, we provide political information on each country. This includes both a brief political history and codes for historical and current political entities. For example, we differentiate between Jamaica (JMB) as a British (GBR) colony and Jamaica as an independent country (JAM). We provide both a three-letter code for the country itself, as well as the code for the sovereign power over that country.

Second, we provide a name for each currency. In some cases, no official currency name exists to differentiate one historical currency from another. Yugoslavia went through six Dinars after World War II, but did not provide a specific name for each. In those cases, we have provided what we feel is an appropriate name.

A currency may continue to be used even if there are political changes in the country. Mauritius issued the Rupee both before and after it became an independent country. In these cases, we change the counry code, but not the currency code or name.

Third, we indicate when each currency circulated within that country. Wherever possible, the dates represent when that currency was legal tender within that country. For example, the Euro was introduced in France on January 1, 1999, and the French Franc ceased to be legal tender on February 17, 2002. Both currencies were in use in france during that period of time.

Fourth, we try to indicate the conversion rate between the new currency and the old currency. For example, it took 100 "old" French Francs to get 1 Nouveau Franc in 1960. In some cases, currencies can overlap in time as the country converts from one currency to another. Where possible, we provide the initial exchange rate between that currency and another currency if the authorities tried to fix the exchange rate to another currency. For example, the Romanian Leu was set at par to the French Franc Germinal when it was introduced in 1867.

Fifth, we list the subdivisions of the currency. While it may be obvious that 1 Dollar is divisible into 100 Cents, few people outside of Great Britain remember that a British Pound Sterling was divisible into Guineas, Sovereigns, Florins, Crowns, Shillings, Pence and Farthings, much less how much of each was needed to obtain a Pound Sterling. We do this to make sure that subdivisions of a currency are not confused with actual currencies.

Sixth, we indicate whether the currency circulated in the form of coins or banknotes. If the currency existed in neither form, it existed only as a unit of account. Where possible, we also provide information on the issuer of the currency. In general, there is a division of labor within most countries for issuing banknotes. Governments are usually responsible for issuing small-denomination notes or coins while (Central) Banks are responsible for issuing large-denomination notes.

We have excluded some "currencies" for various reasons. First, many smaller countries issue commemorative coins for the numismatic community, but not for general circulation. These coins are not intended to circulate as legal tender, but only exist to generate profits for the government. For example, the Republic of Niue has issued numerous commemorative coins, but New Zealand Dollars are used for everyday transactions. Unless the government has issued coins or banknotes for circulation, the issues are not counted as a currency.

During the Nineteenth Century, most countries allowed private banks, or local governments, to issue banknotes, or even coins. Local governments in Germany, China and other countries issued coins and banknotes at various points in the past. In general, issues of banknotes and coins by private corporations or local governments were meant as media of exchange, not as separate currencies from the ones issued by the central government. Private issues are only treated as being separate currencies if they were independent issues.

For example, a number of local German governments and banks issued Mark coins and banknotes between 1871 and 1914, but they were not intended to be independent currencies. Moreover, the German Mark Banknotes were redeemable in Marks issued by the Reichsbank, and the value of the locally-issued coins depended upon their silver or gold content.

On the other hand, China had multiple currencies during the 1930s and 1940s--one issued by the Nationalist government, and three issued by the Japanese puppet governments, as well as the Hong Kong Dollar, the Taiwan Yen, the Military Yen, and Chinese Communist banknotes. All of these were independent currencies, and they fluctuated in value relative to one another. The Chinese currencies were not redeemable in other Chinese currencies, and were legal tender in separate geographic regions. The German issues were only redeemable in Marks.

Unfortunately, the historical facts are not always clear for some more obscure currencies, and there may be differences of opinion as to what constitutes a currency, but we have tried to make our history as complete and accurate as possible. Special appreciation goes to Alexander Ganze, who has reviewed the political histories to point out mistakes in the descriptions.

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