Like all nations, Jamaica has seen its fair share of change and success in its 60 years as an independent country.
One of the most intriguing changes is that of currency. If one were to take a sample of the notes or coins used over the six decades, it would provide an insightful and historical picture of the island.
To fully appreciate the evolution of the Jamaican currency, you have to go back to where it all began. Until the early 16th century, when the Spanish colonized Jamaica, there was little need to use real currency. What was used instead was a barter system.
The Spaniards exchanged with the natives (the Tainos), trinkets, scissors, mirrors or glass beads. From there, the mediums of exchange changed as copper coins came into play. The small circulation of copper coins or maravedis that were used were described as very fine and light.
According to the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) Money Museum, these coins were brought to Jamaica from Santo Domingo. They sometimes bore various stamps of anchors or keys, which seemed to show their value.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, currency had evolved, in part because trade had become more coherent with territory. Major coins were minted in Spain or Spanish-American countries, such as Mexico and Peru, due to their durability and accessibility.
The currency that was the basic Spanish monetary unit in silver was the real. According to the BOJ Money Museum, eight reales made a dollar or a “piece of eight”, as it was commonly called.
In the 19th century, Jamaica was entirely under British rule, and the Crown got its start with silver and copper coins known as anchor money.
In 1840, a law was passed stipulating that the currency of Great Britain was to be that of Jamaica. This meant halfpenny, penny ha’penny, farthing and penny, which were the lower denomination of copper coins, as well as the higher denomination silver coins, threepence, sixpence, shilling, guilder, halfpenny. crown and crown were to be used.
A selection of pre-decimal English coins and notes, including pennies, sixpences and farthings. (Photo: iStock)
The pennies and half pennies minted in 1869 were the first truly Jamaican coins. Between this period and near Independence, these coins were in circulation. The cupronickel penny and halfpenny were authorized for use in Jamaica by the Crown. They weighed the same as English coins of similar value but had the Jamaican coat of arms on the reverse.
The first banknotes used in Jamaica were issued by private commercial banks in the mid-19th century.
Two years before Jamaica’s independence (August 6, 1962), the Bank of Jamaica Act came into effect. Passage of the law allowed the BOJ to be the sole issuer of banknotes and coins. These notes debuted on May 1, 1961, in denominations of five and 10 shillings and one and five pounds.
Simple in design, they had the image of Queen Elizabeth II. The five shilling note was red, the 10 shilling was purple, and the 1 and 5 pounds were green and blue respectively. They all bore the signature of the first BOJ Governor, Stanley W Payton.
Pamela Simpson, a 67-year-old retired seamstress, told how the money was used during this time.
“When you take five shillings and go to the store, you can hardly take things home. You could get cooking oil, flour, rice, kerosene oil, cornmeal, butter, salted fish…the essentials. Two bars of soap were sixpence,” Simpson said.
Another retiree, Coralee Hylton, 76, also shared fond memories of using the currency. A shopkeeper, she remembers a train ride costing five pence.
“On the Kalamazoo from May Pen to Frankfield to Clarendon, that was the cost,” she noted.
Hylton said you could also buy beef, yams and potatoes in heaps for sixpence.
Despite the changing of the guard, the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of Jamaica’s national flag in 1962, the nation chose to retain British currency as legal tender.
A retired professor of sociology and ethics at the University of Leeds in northern England, Albert Powell, remembers living in Jamaica during this time.
“A pound was worth 20 shillings, and the shilling was made up of 12 pence…. A penny is divided into two halfpenny or four farthings…. Thus, a farthing was worth a quarter of a penny and the penny was worth a twelfth of a shilling and a shilling was worth a twentieth of a pound. Now a penny could get you a candy called a paradise plum, which is now equivalent to a mint ball,” he said.
“A penny was a regular gift you got from your parents to buy candy, which now equals around $20,” the 81-year-old added.
Seven years after independence, Jamaica changed course, switching to a currency with a decimal system, eventually removing British coinage from legal tender.
On September 8, 1969, under the decimal system, Jamaica began using dollars and cents. Coins were issued in denominations of one, five, 10, 20 and 25 cents. Notes were issued in denominations of 50 cents, one, two and 10 dollars.
With the introduction of the decimal system, Jamaica could have a design that reflects its own identity.
According to the BOJ Money Museum, the decision was made to replace the portrait of the ruling British monarch (which featured on the obverse of all coins) with that of the Jamaican coat of arms. National symbols were to appear on the reverse.
The one dollar bill bore the image of Jamaica’s first prime minister and national hero, Sir Alexander Bustamante, the two dollar bill bore the image of national hero, Paul Bogle and the $10 bill bore the image of the national hero, George William Gordon. .
Bank of Jamaica five dollar note (top) featuring national hero, Norman Manley and Bank of Jamaica ten dollar note featuring national hero, George William Gordon (Photo: JIS )
On the 25-cent piece was the national bird, the fork-tailed hummingbird or doctor bird; the 20 cent featured the national tree, the blue mahoe; the 10 cent, the national flower, which is the lignum vitae, the five cent had the crocodile and the one cent, the national fruit, the ackee.
Between 1970 and 1990, a series of changes and amendments were made to Jamaican currency.
A The $5 bill was introduced with the likeness of the national hero, Norman Washington Manley and the penny was changed from copper to bronze. The 50-cent note, which bore the image of Jamaica’s first national hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, was replaced by a coin and the $20 note entered circulation.
Bank of Jamaica 50 cent note featuring national hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey (Photo: JIS)
In 1978, new $10 and $20 bills were introduced and the old bills were demonetized. The $20 note used the image of Noel N Nethersole, who served as Jamaica’s first finance minister. In 1986, the $100 note was introduced using the image of Jamaica’s second Prime Minister, Sir Donald Sangster. Just two years later, another note was introduced to the existing batch. The $50 note bearing the image of the national hero, Samuel Sharpe, entered circulation, and in 1990 the $1 note was replaced by a coin.
The 25 and 10 cent coins were then introduced in 1991. The 25 cent coin now bore the portrait of the national hero, Marcus Garvey, and was made of nickel-plated steel. Additionally, the shape of the coin changed from round to seven-sided. The new 10-cent coin, also in nickel-plated steel, now bore the portrait of national hero, Paul Bogle.
One of the most popular banknotes was introduced in 1994. The $500 note or the “Nanny”, as it was widely known, bore the portrait of Jamaica’s only national heroine, Nanny of the Maroons. The note was rarely called by its value, and often in conversations people would ask their friends for money by asking for a “nanny”.
In 1999, the old fives, 10s, 20s, 25s, 50 cents and one dollars, which were issued in 1994, were demonetized with new designs in circulation. New 25 cent and 10 cent coins were introduced. It was also decided to replace another bill with a coin and the $10 was now a coin.
The new $10 coin had a unique design with the circumference of the coin having a serrated edge.
Another of Jamaica’s former prime ministers has been placed on a new note. In the year 2000, the new $1000 bill bore the image of Michael Manley. On the back was the image of Jamaica House, which was built in 1962 and now serves as the Prime Minister’s office.
Jamaican coins and banknotes (Photo: iStock)
In 2009, the $5,000 note was introduced. The note bears the portrait of another former prime minister, Hugh Lawson Shearer. However, in 2018 it was announced that the one, 10, and 25 cent coins were being demonetized, leaving the $1 to be the smallest coin denomination.
One of the most constant things in life is change, and in March 2022, while contributing to the budget debate for the financial year 2022/23, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke announced that the currency would undergo yet another change.
He noted that research had shown that there was a need for a monetary denomination between the $1,000 bill and the $5,000 bill.
“The BOJ has informed me that the introduction of a $2,000 note will bring greater efficiency to the currency structure, allowing cash transactions to be settled more easily,” Minister Clarke said.
He noted that the nation would reshuffle its banknotes for financial, technical and historical reasons.
“In this 60th year of our Independence, this aspect of the national project must be restored. Our national heroes must, once again, appear on our banknotes,” said Minister Clarke.
The redesigned notes will contain the images of Jamaica’s seven national heroes and four deceased prime ministers.
Specimen of the new banknotes which will be put into circulation towards the end of this year.
With the newly designed banknotes, national heroes Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, who appeared on the original Jamaican banknotes but do not appear on any of our banknotes today, will appear together on the banknote $50 upgraded.
Marcus Garvey, who was on the Jamaican 50 cent note but is not on any banknote today, will be restored and will appear alone on the upgraded $100 note. Nanny of the Maroons and Sam Sharpe will appear together on the upgraded $500 bill. The two men noted as the nation’s founding fathers, Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley, will appear together on the upgraded $1,000 note.
Former prime ministers Michael Manley and Edward Seaga will appear together on the new $2,000 note and Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer will appear together on the upgraded $5,000 note.
Jamaica, after 60 years as an independent nation, has seen several changes in its currency, but with each change a new chapter in the nation’s history is written.
The tickets will serve as a reminder of where we have been and where the nation intends to be, and will honor national heroes and great leaders who have helped shape the country’s future.
By Lisa Rowe, JIS News