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Commemorative notes are all the rage

By Neil Shafer

As Jimmy Durante said long ago, “Everybody wants to get into the act!” At least, that’s the way it seems to be working out insofar as new issues of notes commemorating people or special anniversaries and events is concerned. More and more, governments and banks are realizing that to make and issue a piece of paper currency memorializing some subject is nothing but a sure way to make money, sometimes a considerable amount. I do not mean the act of producing a note. Rather, I refer to the sometimes enormous profit that can be realized through sales to dealers and collectors. If the note in question has significant face value the profit from its being held by numismatists is quite significant.

This is the much-vaunted and quite attractive Fiji $7 made in honor of the Rugby 7s Gold Olympians. Vertical face, horizontal back, most unusual.

At the recent “Memphis” paper money show held in Kansas City, Mo., I was able to find quite a number of new (to me) notes that fit this special category. Many were additions to the listings in the Standard Catalog as they were issued so recently that they had not yet been absorbed into their respective countries’ emissions. The exact total I came across was 15, of which 11 were as yet unlisted.

The Barbados commemorative $50 piece honors the 50th anniversary of independence. The back shows Independence Square in Bridgetown.

Cambodia says Happy 60th Birthday to King Norodom Sihamoni with this new 100,000-riel note issued by the National Bank.

The variety of subject matter covered by these notes is worth analyzing. Are they all so important to the history of their respective places of origin that they really need to be so honored with a commemorative paper money issue? I was informed that in the Philippines, for example, if one pays a certain amount a commemorative note can be made to any specification desired by the payer.

Canada came out with a new $10 for the 150th anniversary of its confederation in 1867. There are raised dots at upper left for the blind. The note is made of polymer.

Is this situation truly occurring in such a manner? I have not yet asked any of my contacts in that nation, but I sincerely hope this is not the case.

Guinea celebrated its 50th year of Guinea currency with a new 5000-franc issue.

Haiti did something entirely different. It used a 10-gourde design from 2004 made of paper and did the same design but on polymer and with a window at right. This note is not in circulation.

Yet the modern series of Philippine commemoratives has grown quite extensively and their subject matter is suspect—to me at any rate. Moreover, the apparently preferred method of producing a commemorative is simply to prepare some sort of overprint instead of a totally new plate with a design specifically made for whatever is being remembered. In fact, I have not been pursuing all the latest Philippine pieces exactly because I dislike so very much the cheapening of the commemorative note idea.

A lot of 50s this time, as Guyana joins the group with an issue in honor of its 50 years of independence.

Of the 15 new pieces, three were for independence remembrances, four honored individuals, four mention banking and currency, two had to do with government, one had no subject (from Kazakhstan), and one was a $7 made for the Fijian gold medal in the Rio Olympics for Rugby Sevens. By and large, the subject matter for these special notes appears legitimate enough—certainly as much so or more than other recent pieces I could mention—but there are a couple that I suspect had more behind them than the mere issuing of a commemorative note.

The Banco de Mexico issued a special 100 pesos in 2016 marking the 100th anniversary of the Mexican constitution of 1917.

The centennial of the death of renowned poet Ruben Dario in 1916 was remembered with a new 1,000-cordobas issue from Nicaragua.

One is the 100-dong piece for the 65th anniversary of the State Bank of Vietnam dated 2016. The current exchange rate is over 22,000 per U.S. dollar. Is such a note a viable circulating issue? Collectors are paying around $6 for each one, thus making a huge profit to the government. The only good thing to say about it is that at least the note uses a design created especially for the event.

Trinidad remembers its 50th anniversary of the establishment of its Central Bank by issuing a new commemorative 50-dollar note designated “Series 2014.”

Then there’s that Fiji issue—whoever needs a $7 note? And the so-called reason it was made we see is for a gold medal for some athletic accomplishment. I should think there are a lot more important things happening in the world than sports, but as everyone knows there is far more emphasis on such things than they deserve—or is that just my opinion?

Ivan Franko (1856-1916) was a famous Ukrainian poet, writer, critic, political activist, and a strong influence on modern Ukrainian life. His country has produced a special 20-hryven dated 2016 for the 160th anniversary of his birth in 1856.

Anyhow, the Fiji note has seen limited circulation I am told, and it also uses a specially prepared design, so those are good things. It is not an inexpensive issue; collectors are paying in the range of at least $12.50 to $13 each, so that gives the treasury of Fiji a very nice profit.

A 100-dong for Vietnam dated 2016 proclaims the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National Bank of Vietnam. Ho Chi-Minh is portrayed on the face, bank on back. This note is of such a low face value that I wonder if it can meaningfully circulate.

Of the new issues discussed earlier, most bear totally new designs as opposed to a simple overprint on an existing design. That is a trend that will help greatly in fostering acceptability of so many modern commemorative notes. Just think of the long periods between any world commems in previous years. From the world’s first such issue in the 1820s until the second there was a span of about 70 years. My, how things have changed.


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• With nearly 24,000 listings and over 14,000 illustrations, the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Modern Issues is your go-to guide for modern bank notes.

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