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Money - 'The roots of Jamaican currency'

Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
Jamaica's Botanical Gardens
All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
The Capital City: A Historic Look At Kingston
Riots Here: Send Help At Once
A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
Jamaican Coffee - A beverage of distinction
Jamaican Rum - A kill-devil of a drink
Jamaica Festival - What a Bam Bam
Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP
The Founding Of the People's National Party
Lewis Hutchinson: The Mad Master
A Pioneer, A Survivor: Dr. Cicely Williams

Henry Morgan: The Pirate King

Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
Frazier versus Foreman on the Sunshine Island 1973
The Magical Spiderman: Anancy
The Case Of The Shark Papers
Katherine Dunham - Matriarch of Modern Dance
Money - The Roots of Jamaican Currency
Simon Bolivar: El Liberatador
Old Time Tellin's: A Closer Look At Jamaican Proverbs
Recollections of World War II
Place Names - A Window to Jamaica's History & Character: Wnat's In A Name?
The History Of Spanish Town
A Cultural Explication Of Empire: Lady Nugent's Journal
The History Of Falmouth: Boom Town Of The 19th Century
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Chinese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Lebanese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Indians
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Irish
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Africans
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Germans
Colourful Characters - Jamaican Birds
The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
The People Who Came - The English
Old-time Jamaican weddings
In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
Printing in Jamaica
Museums in Jamaica
Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
The history of the Salvation Army in Jamaica CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
Somewhere beyond the sea
A fascination with football
Jamaican Horse racing History
A Time to Live...Jamaican Birth Rituals
A Time to Die Death rituals
Deadly superstitions

Feedback To the Series

"I have found your articles on the Pieces of the Past most entertaining and interesting to read. For me as a historian these pieces come at a time when Jamaicans need to reconnect themselves with their past and the Gleaner's efforts through this medium is quite commendable.

I have found especially today's article on the 1780 hurricane to be quite of interest to me as I am currently involved in bringing to light the role of natural disasters in the development of Jamaica's history, culture, society, economy and politics and the article on the "Hurricane of 1780" has greatly aided in this direction. Keep up the good work and I look forward to more interesting and historically significant pieces from this series." - Kerry-Ann

The First 500 years in Jamaica

We're taking you for a stroll down memory lane for the next six months. Along this journey,we will relive several events which
significantly impacted on the social, political and economic development of Jamaica. As we travel share your experience with us...

Send your comments to:

Pieces of the Past,
The Gleaner Company Ltd.,
7 North Street, Kingston;

E - mail us:

Fax 922-6223.

Photos courtesy of Peter Ferguson, 2 1/4 Works Ltd. 59 Hope Road, Kingston.

By Dr. Rebecca Tortello
Like many cultures, the first Jamaicans, the Taino Indians, used the barter system trading commodities for other commodities. Although there was some gold on the island, the Tainos used it for decorative purposes. When the Spanish arrived in the 1490s and began to trade with the Tainos, they tended to use glass beads and other trinkets. By the early 1500s coins were in use on the island. They were very thin and light, made from copper and called maravedis.

They originated in Santo Domingo. Occasionally they were stamped with markings such as keys and anchors which differentiated their values. During the island's time as a Spanish colony, little was done to develop Jamaica's natural resources, because it was deemed less valuable than other colonies who had deep reserves of gold. Jamaica therefore remained a poor country used chiefly as an agricultural supplier.

By the 17th century, Jamaica had become an English colony after its capture by Cromwell's army and with the rise of the buccaneers, it had become the headquarters of the British naval fleet and in many ways the seat of the English empire. As such it received a large supply of coins, the most popular of which were the familiar Spanish silver dollars or eight-real coins, or pieces of eight as they were more commonly known, first circulated in the 16th century. These pieces of eight had great longevity, staying in circulation until 1839 when, Jamaica adopted official British paper currency.

Spanish gold coins were also in circulation, one of the most popular of which was the doubloon. Gold and silver coins from France (pistole and ecu) and Portugal (moidore and johannes) could also be found. Local colonial authorities set the exchange rates of these coins in terms of British currency ­ pounds, shillings and pence, but the rates were different from those used in England.

In the early 19th century the British tried to introduce a single form of currency for all of its colonies. They minted special silver coins called anchor money due to the inclusion of an anchor design on their reverse sides. Colonial merchants rejected anchor money in favour of the more familiar pieces of eight and anchor money was rendered useful mainly for military transactions. In 1825 the British tried again by sending a coin made from copper and silver ­ again it was rejected, this time mainly by the recently freed slaves who used coins in their Saturday markets. As recently converted Christians, many did not think coins should be made from copper, only from, silver or gold as was traditional. There was, however, a shortage of lower denomination silver coins and so in 1834, British silver three pence and penny ha'penny pieces were imported. The penny ha'penny became known as a 'quartile' or quarter real, or a 'quattie'. Because of the rationale behind their importation, these coins became known as "Christian quatties."

On December 31, 1840, British currency became that of Jamaica by law. In other words money in circulation was to be the lower denomination copper coins, the farthing, half penny, penny ha'penny and penny, as well as the higher denomination silver coins, the three pence, six pence, shilling, florin half crown and crown. Spanish coins were demonetized with the exception of the Spanish doubloon, which remained in circulation until 1901.

In the years following the abolition of slavery there was a need for greater access to money at smaller denominations. The first Jamaican coins known as pennies and ha'pennies were minted from a cupro-nickel alloy (close to silver and therefore more acceptable to the recently freed slaves) in 1869. They contained the Jamaica crest on the reverse (back) side and a British monarch on the obverse (front) side. In the 1880s came farthings, which lasted until the 1950s. The first Jamaican bank, the Bank of Jamaica (no relation to the present bank) was established in 1836 but it did not issue bank notes. The first Jamaican bank notes were released in 1837 coinciding with the opening of the first colonial bank in Jamaica. The Colonial Bank issued notes payable in British pounds, Spanish dollars and local Jamaican currency.

With increasing trade, other banks such as the Planters' Bank (1839), which did issue bank notes and aimed to serve the needs of the sugar planters, began to appear. They, along with the Bank of Jamaica, however, were closed by the mid-1860s. This gave the Colonial Bank a monopoly over the banking system on the island for close to two decades, until with increasing trade with Canada, a number of Canadian banks appeared: Bank of Nova Scotia (1889), Royal Bank of Canada (1911), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (1920) ­ with each issuing their own notes. By the end of the 1930s, a currency law was passed stipulating that the Board
of Commerce was the only officialissuer of paper money. All other notes were demonetized and with-drawn from circulation.

In 1960 the Bank of Jamaica Act came into effect, giving the Bank the sole right to issue notes and coins on the island. Bank of Jamaica notes made their first appearance in 1961. The front bore a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, the Jamaican Coat of Arms and the signature of the first governor of the Bank, Stanley W. Payton. On the back, appeared different images of Jamaican life. When Jamaica became independent in 1962 no change was initially made to the coins and notes in circulation. They remained the British threepence, sixpence, shilling, florin (two shillings) and half crown (two shillings, six pence) along with the Jamaican penny and ha'penny. The notes retained the same colours as the notes issued by the Government of Jamaica in 1940 in that the 5 shilling was red, the 10 shilling, purple, the 1 pound, green and the 5 pound, blue.

In 1969 Jamaica switched to a decimal system of currency. The name of major units was to be dollar and minor units, cents. All pounds, shillings and pence were called in and replaced by notes and coins many of which were in colours as similar as possible to those held previously by the British denominations. The transition from a British to a Jamaican system of currency went smoothly as a result of a successful public education campaign. Then Minister of Finance, Edward Seaga, recalls that, "New Zealand, a country also about to undergo decimalization, sent representatives to Jamaica to ascertain how the process had been implemented." It was strongly felt that Jamaican currency, in addition to depicting aspects of the island's flora and fauna should have as its most striking feature, images that reflect the ideals of the newly independent country. The Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Jamaica therefore decided to have the country's first two national heroes, the Rt. Hon. Sir Alexander Bustamante and the Rt. Hon. Norman Manley, widely regarded as the founding fathers of modern Jamaica, appear on the lower dollar denominations ($1 and $5 respectively) as they were thought to be the ones that would be most widely used. Seaga fondly remembers spending his first Jamaican dollar at the Master's Supermarket (now Hi-Lo) in Barbican.

Other denominations would contain pictures of additional National Heroes (the Order of the National Hero having been created in 1965). In 1986 these were joined by a 100 dollar note with a picture of Sir Donald Sangster (Prime Minister in 1967). In 1988, the 50 dollar note with a picture of Sam Sharpe (commemorated a National Hero in 1975) was also added. In the 1990s with the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar, the form of Jamaican money changed again and the lower denominations, the 1 and 5 dollar bills, once thought to be the most widely circulated and useful, became relatively useless. They, along with the 20 dollar bill, were eventually converted to coins that today hold little purchasing power. In 1994, with increasing devaluation, the 500 dollar note with Nanny (commemorated a National Hero in 1975) arrived and in 2000 came the 1000 note with former Prime Minister Michael Manley.

All Jamaican bank notes are made to a standard size, a practice common also to America. It differs, however, from that found in the European Union and other countries where different denominations can be detected by their differing sizes and markings, which aids those who suffer from extremely poor eyesight or are completely blind. All Jamaican notes bear the signature of the Governor of the Bank of Jamaica and contain special features such as wide, windowed thread, horizontal and vertical numbering, intaglio printing on special paper and a watermark to denote legitimacy. In 2000 the pineapple watermark which had been in use since the 1960s was changed to the doctor bird. The two most recent bank notes have additional special features. The 500 dollar note has iridescent clubs on its front left side and the 1,000 dollar note, a large butterfly printed in gold ink.

Today the use of electronic money (debit and credit cards) is on the rise in Jamaica, as in many countries around the world. Yet, old habits die hard, and worldwide the volume of cash in circulation continues to remain strong, partly owing to the fact that in general people resist change.

For more information on the history of Jamaican currency visit the Bank of Jamaica Money Museum at the Bank of Jamaica, Nethersole Place. Monday ­ Friday 10 a.m. ­ 4 p.m. Admission is free. Call 922-0750 or see www.boj.org.jm

* The Jamaican Coat of Arms appears on the obverse (front) of all coins and notes.

* Cowries (white or yellow porcelain-like shells, between 1 and 3 cm long, first collected on the Maldives, later also in the Philippines and Tonga) were used as a form of money in ancient China from 1500 BC to 200 AD. By the 19th century, as a result of their use by Arab traders, cowries had developed into a key form of currency over an area
ranging from Polynesia to Mauritania
(roughly 20,000 km apart).

Sources: The Bank of Jamaica Money museum, http://www.rich.frb.org/econed/museum/1a.html, http://www.gdm.de/eng/products/01/index. php4?product_id=278

Early forms of currency
What do tea, salt, rice, almonds, grains, shells, weapons, jewellry and tools have in common? In ancient times, they each served as money, as a result of the transition from stone age hunting and gathering to herding and agriculture which led to surpluses. With surplus came the need to trade and barter and the emergence of early forms of commerce. Once wild animals were domesticated, cattle, sheep and camels were also used as forms of currency. Humans too were used as money even after the invention of coinage. In the 16th century, for example, the average exchange value of a slave was 8000 pounds of sugar.

It is believed that coinage was created at around the same time in both China and Turkey (c. 5th ­ 6th Century BC). In some cases items such as shells, weapons and jewellry remained in use even after the invention of coins. In China the coins included images of the objects that had been used as money such as cowrie shells and in Turkey they included punch marks on the back and an image of the King. Malleable metals like copper, bronze and iron were used to make coins and standard-sized metal rings, bracelets, arrowheads and small mythological figures were cast and used for payment. As a result, regular trade routes for tin, copper and bronze emerged like those already in existence for salt. In 680 BC the Greeks minted the first flat, round coins, thereby defining money's physical shape for many centuries. These early coins were made of electrum, a gold and silver alloy, because at that time these metals were found mixed together in Greek mines.

Paper money did not arrive until around 650 AD when a Chinese Emperor issued paper as "value tokens" for general use because with trade expansion it had become increasingly difficult to transport large amounts of bronze and iron coins. So, coins were left with merchants who issued handwritten receipts which traders then used to purchase goods. In the 11th century the Chinese government assumed responsibility for issuing receipts that were given set values and used officially as money. It is not known how this paper money was made but Marco Polo, writing in the 13th century, noted that the paper was made from mulberry bark written in black ink with simple designs engraved on wooden blocks stamped onto paper with signatures, dates and value added by hand. Paper money did not come to Europe until the 17th century when the Swedes took the lead by issuing paper currency with the other countries gradually following suit. Money has been used in different forms all over the world for over 5,000 years.

Coming March 24:
This series explores Simon Bolivar.

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A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted March 10, 2003.
Copyright 2001-3 . Produced by Go-Jamaica.com