The history of Trinidad and Tobago’s currency system is interesting. It has adopted several currencies, especially due to colonization and trade within the region. Trinidad was colonized by Spain from as early as 1498. Meanwhile, Tobago was colonized by several European nations including the Spanish, the British, the French, and the Dutch. The two islands eventually became British colonies in 1802 and remained under British rule until 1962.
When the British visited the islands in 1797, they found that Trinidad and Tobago did not have a bank system or a single currency. Instead, the islands used different currencies. The most prominent currency in the islands was the Spanish dollar, also known as the “pieces of eight”. Due to the different currencies that ran concurrently in the islands, the common form of payment between London merchants and colonial landowners was the value of the produce. However, this blend of barter and multiple currencies was unstable and inflationary.
The emancipation of slaves and the abolition of the slave trade in the West Indies led to the establishment of the first bank in Trinidad and Tobago—the Colonial Bank—in 1834. The Colonial Bank initially issued Spanish and Mexican dollar notes. However, the bank often had a shortage of these currencies because payments can still be made using other currencies. Trinidad and Tobago eventually adopted the pound sterling as its currency, though other currencies (mainly Spanish, Mexican, and Colombian currencies) were still legal tender. Other banks also had issuing authority, but the Colonial Bank notes remained the predominant currency.
In 1951, the British Caribbean Currency Board (BCCB) begins operations. The board has the sole rights to issue notes and coins in the British Caribbean region. The British Caribbean dollar circulated the islands until Trinidad and Tobago gained independence in 1962.
Independent Trinidad & Tobago
Two years after Trinidad and Tobago became independent from Britain, the government introduced the Trinidad and Tobago dollar and established the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. By 1967, all BCCB notes and UK coins ceased to be legal tender in the islands.
Currently, the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago has the exclusive right to issue and redeem currency notes and coins in Trinidad and Tobago. The bank issues six denominations of banknotes: the 1 dollar, the five dollars, the 10 dollars, the 20 dollars, the 50 dollars, and the 100 dollars. It also issued four denominations of coins: 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents.
As of writing, Trinidad and Tobago has fully adopted polymer notes. This means that all the banknotes that currently circulate consist of a polymer substrate instead of a cotton-paper substrate. The obverse side of the notes features the Trinidad and Tobago coat of arms and a local bird. Meanwhile, the reverse side of the notes features the Central Bank building and a depiction of economic activity. Each denomination comes in different colors and contains enhanced security features including a dot tactile feature and a clear window.