Articles in this series:
Series: Early Ethiopian Banking History
01. Early Ethiopian Banking History
Ethiopian banking history, in its modern sense, began towards the end of the reign of Emperor Menilek. This period witnessed the establishment, as most readers will know, of the country’s first bank. Called the Bank of Abyssinia, or in Amharic “Ye-Ityopya Bank”, it was an affiliate of the National Bank of Egypt, and was founded in 1905.
Ten years later, in 1915, the bank began issuing bank notes. The issue of this paper money was another notable event in the country’s history.
These notes, which are now collectors’ items as they are extremely rare: until a few weeks ago almost no one I know even knew what they looked like!
The present author has been searching for copies of these notes for many years: They are urgently needed for the newly reorganised Institute of Ethiopian Studies Museum, at Siddist Kilo, which has thus far not been able to acquire any.
Through the kindness of my friend Dennis Gill, I have now traced photographs of these beautiful notes, which were issued to supplement the country’s silver currency. The latter consisted of the old Austrian Maria Theresa dollar, or thaler, which had originally been introduced to the country in the eighteenth century; and Menilek’s own currency was first issued in 1894. This latter money consisted of the Menilek thaler, which bore effigies of the monarch and the Lion of Judah, and fractional coins, first struck a few years later, made of both silver and copper.
The Bank of Ethiopia notes, which were printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson and Company, of England, bore inscriptions in both French and Amharic.
They issued five different denominations: five thalers, ten thalers, fifty thalers, a hundred thalers and five hundred thalers.
Each note also carried a representation of the Lion of Judah, bearing a staff surmounted by a cross, and a picture of the Bank’s building (in later years the Ethiopian Treasury building).
Four out of the five Bank of Abyssinia notes featured Ethiopian animals: antelope on the five thaler bill; leopard on the ten, lion on the fifty, and elephant on the hundred. The five hundred thaler note, on the other hand, embodied a representation of a traditional warrior in military dress, and a characteristic Ethiopian shield at the foot of the design.
The notes in question, photographs of which we present this week and next, were traced for us by our friend Dennis Gill, and are copyright of Krause Publications, Iola, Wi, USA.