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Articles in this series:
Series: Early Ethiopian Banking History
02. The Bank of Abyssinia’s Bank Notes
We saw last week that the founding of Ethiopia’s first bank, the Bank of Abyssinia, in 1905, was followed, in 1915, by that institution’s issue of bank notes.
This issue of paper money was something of a revolution in Ethiopian currency hisotry.
The Bank of Abyssinia bank-notes took time to be accepted by the population at large. Charles Rey, a British businessman, claimed, in the 1920s, that paper money was not used outside Addis Ababa. A decade or so later the scholarly French diplomat, Maurice de Coppet, declared that paper money was not even accepted at the customs or post office.
Merchants and other nevertheless increasingly recoginzed that paper money had an important advantage over coins: you could put a note for 500 thalers in your pocket, without feeling it, but a sack of coins to that value weighed at least fourteen kilos!
Visitors to the Bank of Abyssinia in those days recall seeing long convoys of mules carrying bag after bag of silver dollars to bank.
Ethiopia’s circulation of bank notes was put by de coppet at a value of 214,765 thalers in 1921, but had risen, by 1931, to 1,740,000 dollars, according to the Greek authro Adrien Zervos.
The Bank of Abyssinia’s notes provided the basis for the later notes of Ethiopia’s second pre-war bank. This was the Bank of Ethiopia, whoch came into existence on the Bank of Abyssinia’s liquidation, in 1931. These latter notes bore identical designs to those of the old Bank of Abyssinia: based for the most part on animal motifs.
These early Ethiopian notes, published here, and last week, for the first time, deserve a unique place in the hisotry of Ethiopian art.
For the moment the new Numismatic and Monetary Department of the Insitute of Studies Museum, at Siddist Kilo, does not have examples of these fine old notes but the hunt for them is on; and there are many other interesting things to see!