The Cayman Islands are known for 3 things – being a great beach vacation island, turtles (tortugas) and being a financial haven for the rich and famous. It also is one of the last British Overseas Territories that continues to have Queen Elizabeth II prominently on all its banknotes.
Origins of the Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands were barren of people when Columbus visited the islands for the first time in 1503. He was met by lots and lots of turtles, so he called it Tortuga, which means turtles. Those turtles must have been tasty because they were nearly hunted to extinction. With fewer turtles, the name was changed to Cayman for the alligator like reptiles by the same name.
The Islands became a common location for pirates for the first hundred years after discovery. In time, the English took control of the islands along Jamaica in 1670. Jamaica being the larger and more important colony managed the Cayman Islands. Jamaica won its independence in 1962 which made the Cayman Islands its own colony of the United Kingdom. The Cayman Islands used Jamaican banknotes until 1972, co-circulating with Cayman Dollars which were issued first in 1971.
Cayman Island banknotes are designed exactly as one would expect. They have a traditional and elegant portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and the country crest on the front. On then reverse there are large images of beach scenes or underwater coral reef scenes. AN unusual aspect of their currency is that they issue a $25 denomination. The first one (P-4) was issued in 1972. The theme was that of a treasure map, referring to its history as a pirate hideout. The front has a treasure chest, and the back image looks like a pirate’s treasure map although the “X” must be hidden.
In 1981, the Monetary Authority issued a $40 note. Also in 2003, it issued a commemorative highlighting 500 years since its original discovery. In 1991 the design was changed to a more recent portrait of the Queen, and then again it was updated in 2010. The overall designs have not changed much over the years. The 2010 $1 is interesting because on the reverse there is an image of a mountain which appears higher than any location on the island. The view of this landscape is also framed as if one is viewing it from inside a set of oval windows. It is an unusual design choice, but certainly makes it different.