Welcome to part one of the top 10 global currencies and their histories. If your fascination for banknotes extends to the currencies themselves, keep reading to learn a little bit more about some of the currencies we feature in our store. Currencies around the world have rich origin stories and unique history, and we’ve picked some of the most exciting ones to share with you.
Africa – Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean currency famously features the largest denominations ever printed on currency, with the most outrageous note printed being the $100 Trillion Dollar note. After the former European colony of South Rhodesia turned into Zimbabwe in 1980, the country became an economic power with robust exports of wheat and a healthy manufacturing sector.
The government tried to nationalize industry by kicking out local farmers, resulting in a sharp drop in national GDP which led to hyperinflation. Between 1998 and 2007, inflation rose astronomically from 20%, to millions of percent and even as high as 76,000,000,000%! Today, Zimbabwe has demonetized and uses the more stable US Dollar and South African Rand as its main currency.
South Asia – Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s currency was originally the Afghan Rupee until it was replaced and modernized with the introduction of the Afghani in 1925. Afghanistan nationalized all its banks in 1975, and in 1981, the Afghani was pegged to the US Dollar at a rate of 1 USD = 50 Afghanis – many middle Eastern countries do this to peg their currency value indirectly to the value of oil. Things were going well until the Taliban took over in 1996 and immediately declared the Afghani worthless, cancelling the money-printing contract previously held by Russia and leaving national monetary policy in a state of chaos. However, order was restored in 2002 when the government introduced a new Afghan Afghani currency, which has since steadily grown in value along with the Afghan economy.
East & Southeast Asia – China
Paper money was invented in China in the 9th century, so you might expect a rich and fabled history of Chinese banknotes, but strangely, the country used copper coins as its main form of currency from that point until the 19th century, with paper money scarcely in popular usage.
China’s currency has taken many forms over the last millennium, but the latest issuance, known as the Chinese Yuan, or Renminbi, was first issued in 1948 when the Communist Party of China came into power. The currency is exclusively printed by the People’s Bank of China and typically features the likeness of either Mao Zedong or other Communist Revolution Leaders.
Middle East – Iraq
Iraq uses the dinar as its official currency – it was introduced in 1932 and replaced the Indian Rupee that was in common use since the British occupation of Iraq during World War I. The dinar was initially pegged to the value of the British Pound, but the peg later switched to the United States dollar with a value of 1 dinar per 2.8 USD. The dinar was relatively stable until the Gulf War in 1989 crippled the economy and the dinar became virtually worthless, eventually trading at $1 USD for almost 3,000 dinars.
After the deposition of Saddam Hussein, Iraq replaced its entire money supply with brand new notes printed by De La Rue with the latest security features. Trillions of dollars worth of new notes were shipped to Iraq, and old banknotes were exchanged for the new ones at banks around the country. Since Iraq exports little besides oil, which is sold in USD, global demand for dinars is quite low, though the value is pegged to the USD at a rate of 1170 dinars per $1 USD. Because of the dinar’s “exotic” status, scammers now attempt to sell huge volumes of Iraqi dinars as an investment by convincing targets that the currency will soon be “revalued” at a higher price.
East & Southeast Asia – Vietnam
North and South Vietnam had separate currencies up until 1978, when the country reunited and the Northern Dong and Southern “liberation” Dong were unified into what is now called the Vietnamese dong. The dong has struggled with inflation throughout its short life, with its first revaluation coming on September 14th, 1985 and reducing the money supply by a factor of ten. Vietnamese first issued banknotes in 1978, but by 1985 they had all become basically worthless.
In 1985, the State Bank of Vietnam printed banknotes in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50, 100 and 500 dong, but rapid inflation led to the subsequent printing of a 5,000 dong note by 1987, 50,000 dong notes by 1990 and 500,000 dong notes in the year 2003. When the Zimbabwean dollar was revalued in 2006, the Vietnamese dong briefly became the least valued currency for a period of seven months. Today, the dong is the second least valuable currency globally (behind the Iranian rial), with an exchange rate of roughly 23,000 dong for $1 USD.
Check out the next part of the top 10 global currencies series to learn even more about the history of some of your favourite global currencies.