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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Early Ethiopian Banking History

Ethiopian Argument | Wednesday, March 19, 2014
The Bank of Abyssinia, and its Bank Notes
By Dr. Richard Pankhurst
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.
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!
Source: http://www.linkethiopia.org

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