by Abdullah Beydoun
Throughout history, banknotes have always been designed in a way that matches consumer need. When a country develops a monetary policy that includes the circulation of banknotes, those notes must be practical for their intended purpose – to facilitate cash transactions and the flow of goods and services in the economy. With that in mind, it’s no coincidence that today’s banknotes are designed to fit into a typical wallet, or that some countries print them in slightly different sizes to help the visually impaired distinguish them.
Sometimes, however, our requirements for bank notes can change, and this can lead to innovations that we might not expect, such as exceptionally large or small notes. This article looks at some of the largest and smallest bank notes ever printed throughout the history of paper money, providing insight into when and why these notes were created.
Morocco’s 1944 Banknotes May Be the Smallest Ever
World War II led to many changes in currency policy around the world, as the war effort placed stressed on economies and the availability of materials. In India, for example, the British stopped printing coins entirely due to a metals shortage – all production of metals had been rerouted to support the war effort – and printed banknotes instead.
A similar thing happened in 1944, the height of the second World War, in Morocco. Metal shortages led to a situation where no materials were available for the country to mint coins. As a result, Morocco initiated an emergency issuance of small-denomination cardboard banknotes in miniature sizes to address the lack of coinage that was bringing the economy to a standstill.
The little banknotes were released in denominations of 50 cents, 1 franc, and 2 francs, with the littlest one measuring just 31mm in height and 42mm in length. Today, Morocco has established a much more typical and stable monetary system with normal-sized notes, but the tiny banknotes of 1944 remain a popular collector’s item.
Romania’s 10-Bani 1917 Banknote is Officially the Tiniest Banknote
Although Morocco’s miniature notes of 1944 may have had smaller dimensions, the Guinness World Records book of 2008 listed Romania’s 10-Bani banknote, printed in 1917, as the tiniest banknote ever printed. Although there have been conflicting reports about the dimensions of the 10-Bani note, the actual dimensions are 38mm length and 27.5mm tall – these banknotes are so small!
Like the Moroccan notes, Romania printed these after World War I as a response to metal shortages. Not only were they the smallest ever banknotes in terms of physical size, they also represent the lowest-denomination notes ever printed in Romania. The notes were printed to replace small coins, and they are divisionary notes (100 bani = 1 leu), so you would have needed ten of them to make up a dollar at the time.
The Romanian 10-Bani note from 1917 features the likeness of King Ferdinand of Romania, who reigned from 1914 until 1927. The reverse side displays the coat of arms of Romania. The notes can be purchased today for around ten dollars each and make a great novelty addition to any collection.
Philippines Celebrates Independence by Printing Enormous Banknote
The largest banknote ever printed originates from the Philippines, where, in 1998, government officials wanted to do something extra special to commemorate independence from more than 300 years of Spanish rule. The world’s largest banknote was issued, with a face value of 100,000 pisos and impressive dimensions of 355.6mm length and 215.9mm height.
The front of the note depicts the historic “Cry of Pugadlawin” – an historic act of defiance against the Spanish oppressors which signalled the start of the revolt against Spain in 1896. Led by Andres Bonifacio, a group of Filipino patriots gathered in Pugadlawin and tore up their Spanish-issued residence certificates in protest of Spain’s dominion over their land.
The reverse of the note depicts Filipino General Emilio Aguinaldo displaying a Phillipine flag and proclaiming independence from Spain, as he did on June 12th, 1898. Therefore, the two sides of the bill symbolize the inception and success of the independence movement. Just 1,000 such notes were issued, and were originally offered to collectors for 180,000 pisos ($4175 USD) each.
Banknotes may be specially sized out of necessity, or to commemorate an important event, but either way, they convey meaningful information about our societies and shared history. That’s why these banknotes, which may seem like novelties, are very special, and highly valuable to collectors.