Money - 'The roots of Jamaican currency'
Dr. Rebecca Tortello
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.
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
RIGHTS TO ISSUE NOTE
MONEY IS BORN
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
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
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
forms of currency
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted March 10, 2003.
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