BANKNOTES OF THE WORLD
Paper money expert Jonathan Callaway continues his globe-trotting adventure, stopping off in Egypt to examine the banknotes of this historic country
Paper money expert Jonathan Callaway continues his globe-trotting adventure, stopping off in Egypt to examine the banknotes of this remarkable and historic country
Egypt’s paper money story starts in 1898 with the founding of what is today the country’s largest commercial bank, the National Bank of Egypt. At this time and until 1922 Egypt was a British Protectorate. In that year Egypt technically became independent but Britain’s control over foreign affairs continued until 1952, when the British-backed King Farouk was overthrown and an Egyptian Republic was declared.
The bank’s first notes were all engraved and printed in Britain by Bradbury Wilkinson & Co. These beautiful, rare and much soughtafter notes circulated from 1898 to 1914. The denominations ranged from 50 Piastres to 100 Egyptian Pounds (E£1 = 100 Piastres). In 1914 Bradburys were asked to redesign the notes and this time a 25 Piastres note was added to the range. This new series was artistically just as attractive and featured numerous historic scenes across Egypt.
From the very beginning two major themes featured on Egyptian banknotes: the archaeological sites of Egypt’s ancient civilisation and the Islamic and historical sites from the 13th century Mameluk Era onwards.
In 1916 the Egyptian Government began the issue of small notes for 5 and 10 Piastres which circulated alongside the National Bank’s notes right through to 2006. The designs were mostly very simple and some were very crudely printed. King Farouk appeared on them from 1944 to 1952 when he was replaced by the bust of Queen Nefertiti on the 5 Piastres note. There were several different issues and many signature
varieties until these small notes were finally replaced by coins.
The lowest denomination notes can still be found at reasonable prices but the earlier higher denomination notes are rare – and expensive as a result. Egyptian notes are keenly collected not just in their own country but by many world collectors who see an opportunity to acquire colourful notes at very little expense given the favourable exchange rate – a note for E£100 is worth about £4.50. Their focus is mainly on notes of the post-Farouk period.
Bradburys remained the printers of the National Bank’s notes right through to 1952. The 1930 E£1 note is worth seeking out as the first to feature the 3,300 years old funerary mask of the famous Boy King Tutankhamen whose ancient burial site had been excavated in 1922. The mask was to become a regular feature of Egyptian notes though more often only appearing in the watermark on more recent issues.
The National Bank’s final issue from 1946 to 1952 featured a portrait of King Farouk on notes from E£1 to E£100. These were the first Egyptian notes where the front of the note was entirely in Arabic script with English relegated to the reverse. On the E£5 Farouk appeared alongside a vignette of Cairo’s famous Alabaster Mosque while on the E£50 the temple ruins of Luxor join him. The equally beautiful E£100 note features the minaret of Cairo’s Qadi Yahya Zein mosque.
The political changes in
1952 resulted in new notes being issued with the mask of Tutankhamun replacing King Farouk, who had fled into exile following mounting opposition to his inefficient government and extravagant lifestyle. His famous coin collection was auctioned off in 1954.
In 1958 the President, Gamal Abdel Nassar, created the United Arab Republic by merging his government with that of Syria. Trial notes were prepared in the name of the Central Bank of the UAR but were never issued while Egyptian
Government small value notes continued to be issued with the text suitably amended. The union did not last and these notes subsequently reverted to the old name.
In 1961 the Central Bank of Egypt was established and any outstanding notes in the name of the National Bank were quickly withdrawn (the bank itself was nationalised). The Central Bank initially continued to use Bradbury Wilkinson but from 1968 opened their own printing works and replaced some of the earlier designs. The highest denomination of their first issues was just E£10.
The 25 and 50 Piastre notes issued by the Central Bank in
1961 were the only Egyptian notes to feature on the front the eagle emblem of Saladin, versions
of which can also be seen on the notes of both Yemen and Libya. It was adopted by the pan-Arabian movement that inspired the creation of the UAR. Saladin had established an Arab sultanate in the 12th century covering much of Egypt and the Middle East and is best remembered for his wars with the Crusaders.
The pattern which emerged after 1968 was to place mosques or minarets on the front of the notes and ancient ruins, carvings and statues on the back. Unlike many countries, Egypt has resisted the temptation to feature current or historic political figures on their notes. What we can see is in any event an increasingly attractive and colourful series of affordable notes with much fascinating detail for the historian.
The 1968 series is particularly attractive with beautiful and elaborate Islamic patterning along the top edge of each note, making a harmonious whole. The E£10 of 1969 sees the first appearance of hieroglyphics on an Egyptian note, here representing the months of the year divided into seasons.
In 1978 new designs were introduced and the currency was now stated simply as ‘Pounds’ rather than ‘Egyptian Pounds’. A new E£100 note was added with the first ever E£200 note following in 2007. This is still the highest denomination despite its relatively low face value. The images featured on the 1978 designs have remained largely unchanged ever since though a couple of the denominations were revamped along the way.
What did change were the colours, the ornamentation and the introduction of enhanced security features. These, along with a dizzying number of different date and signature varieties make the notes fertile ground for the specialist collector. An ability to read Arabic script is certainly an advantage as English appears only on the backs of the notes. The date format (always in Arabic) varies too, from the standard YYYY/MM/DD to an abbreviated and more unusual YDDMMY.
New security features were gradually introduced over this period and include the now widely used Omron rings, i.e. small yellow circles coded to trigger photocopier and scanner software to block the copying of the note. Registration devices on the front and back of some notes (effective when the note is held up to the light) were first introduced in 2001, first using the Eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, and later just the denomination numerals.
Different forms of metal thread were also used, first a simple metal strip, later a so-called ‘windowed thread’ seen only in part until held up to the light. More recent threads are 4mm in width, clearly broader than earlier versions which were 2mm or less.
The £E100 note in circulation from 1978 to 1994 is the only one to use a vertical format, this seen only on the reverse of the note where the mask of Tutankhamen is depicted with a carved frieze of a hunting scene and some hieroglyphics.
The Central Bank has announced that it intends to introduce polymer notes in 2021 starting with the E£10 and then the E£20. The introduction date has however not yet been confirmed and it is not yet known if new designs will be prepared.