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Bank notes celebrate lunar New Year

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By Kerry Rodgers

For well over 30 years various world mints have welcomed each lunar New Year with issues of lunar coins. The number has grown such that the lunar commemoratives have become the largest annual coin program on the planet.

It was only a matter of time before someone came up with annual issues of commemorative lunar bank notes. It happened in 2012 in Macau. Both Banco National Ultramarino (BNU) and Bank of China (BOC) produced 10 pataca lunar Year of the Dragon notes.


The 2015 Banco Nacional Ultramarino Year of the Goat bank note.

These were a huge success and were followed by similar 10 pataca notes for Year of the Snake (2013), Year of the Horse (2014) and, now, Year of the Goat/Sheep. The latter will commence on solar date Feb. 19, 2015.

Australian dealer Trevor Wilkin ( has been tracking these issues from Day 1 and has generously made information and images available.

That first 2012 issue led to considerable speculation among Asian-based dealers. Some produced mock-ups of notes in advance of their official release date and promoted these on their websites. In the Year of the Horse unsuspecting punters ended up purchasing such spurious items with one website being closed down by the authorities.

When later that year China’s President Xi Jinping came to power, he embarked on an anti-corruption drive. Among other things he specifically targeted speculation in physical currency and banned the gifting of note and coin sets to officials. His policy has impacted the prices of modern Chinese notes including lunar issues.

Wilkin believes that dealer speculation coupled with corruption crack down contributed to both Macau banks delaying release of their 2014 Year of the Horse notes. Instead of appearing at the time of the new lunar year in January as originally planned, they were first deferred until June and then not issued until Oct. 6 this year.

Too further frustrate speculators the 2015 Year of the Goat/Sheep notes were released at the same time.

The new Year of the Goat/Sheep notes follow the pattern of their predecessors. They are printed mainly in auspicious red and both display closely similar designs.

The 2015

The 2015 Bank of China Year of the Goat bank note.

The face shows a stylized goat decorated with a lotus blossom—the national flower of Macau. Behind is displayed the 12-fold Chinese zodiacal cycle with each of its divisions labelled with its appropriate animal—in Chinese.

The serial number prefix is shown as the official names for the Heavenly Stem and of Earthly Branch associated with the new Year of the Goat/Sheep.

The current head office building of the appropriate bank is shown on each note’s back. At the right is a mirror image of the stylized goat from the note’s face. In the center foreground Chinese children celebrate the New Year with fireworks. Behind stands the Ma Zu Buddhist temple that has been a consistent feature on lower value Macau notes for some 60 years. The Portuguese name of Macau is derived from “Ma Zu.”

The legends on BNU notes is given in both Portuguese and Chinese. On the BOC notes only Chinese is used except for the denomination shown in Portuguese.

Wilkin considers it likely that both were printed in Hong Kong by the former De La Rue security facility now owned by the Hong Kong Government and the three issuing banks there. And as far as he is aware no replacement notes have been used for the lunar issues.

In 2012 both banks issued 10 million 10 pataca bank notes for the Year of the Dragon. Since then they have been authorized to issue up to 20 million lunar notes but the exact number released for each year is not known.

Lest there be any confusion, on its own the Chinese character used for the animal of the upcoming lunar year does not distinguish goat from sheep—or from an antelope for that matter. It simply refers to a large four-footed, ruminant mammal with horns on its head. Hence some folk refer to the new lunar year as the Year of the Goat and others to the Year of Sheep. And, by the way, the sheep of the Chinese zodiac is not some woolly lamp chop but a massive feral mountain critter. Think Bighorn or Mouflon.

The animal on the 2015 lunar notes would appear to be a goat. It has a beard.

And the new notes could prove very popular with Macau children. Each lunar new year the junior relatives of any Chinese household can expect to receive a red envelope containing money. It is called Lai See. Such is the way of the world that these days only the folding stuff will suffice.

Not only is the size of the gift important but it must also be presented in brand spanking new notes. In the days leading up to the lunar holidays local banks are required to lay in stocks of crisp notes to ensure there are sufficient to supply Lai See for all households in a community. In the banks these notes have become known as new year money.

And if you are thinking of giving some Macau Year of the Goat/Sheep 10 pataca in CU next Feb. 19 there are more or less eight to the dollar but, let’s not be stingy, call it 10.

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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