Currency changes over the years
Like all nations, Jamaica has seen its fair share of changes and successes in its 60 years as an independent country.
One of the most intriguing changes is that of the currency. If one should take a sample of the notes or coins used over the course of the six decades, it would give an insightful and historical picture of the island.
Despite the changing of the guard, the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of Jamaica’s national flag in 1962, the nation opted to keep the British currency as legal tender.
Seven years after Independence, Jamaica changed course, moving to a decimal system currency, finally removing the British currency from legal monetary tender.
On September 8, 1969, under the decimal system, Jamaica started 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 was given the opportunity to have a design that reflected its own identity.
According to the BOJ Money Museum, the decision was made to replace the portrait of the ruling British monarch (which had appeared 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 note bore the image of Jamaica’s first Prime Minister and National Hero, Sir Alexander Bustamante, the two-dollar had the image of National Hero, Paul Bogle and the 10-dollar note had the image of National Hero, George William Gordon.
On the 25-cent coin was the National Bird, the swallow-tailed hummingbird or doctor bird; the 20-cent featured the national tree, the blue mahoe; the 10cent, 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 raft of changes and amendments were made to the Jamaican currency.
A $5 note was introduced bearing the image of National Hero, Norman Washington Manley and the one cent 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 came into circulation.
By 1978, new 10 and 20-dollar notes were introduced, and old notes were demonetised. The $20 note used the image of Noel N. Nethersole, who was 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 National Hero, Samuel Sharpe, came into circulation, and by 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 National Hero, Marcus Garvey, and was made of nickel-plated steel. In addition, the shape of the coin was changed from round to seven-sided. The new 10-cent coin, also made of nickel-plated steel now carried the portrait of National Hero, Paul Bogle.
One of the most popular notes was introduced in 1994. The $500 note or the ‘Nanny’ as it was widely called bore the portrait of Jamaica’s only National Heroine, Nanny of the Maroons. The note was seldomly called by its value, and often in conversations, people would ask their friends for money by asking for a ‘Nanny’.
By 1999 the old five, 10, 20, 25, 50 cent and one dollar, which were issued in 1994, were demonetised with new designs in circulation. New 25 cent and 10-cent coins were introduced. It was also decided to replace another note 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 was placed on a new note. In the year 2000, the newly introduced $1,000 note bore the image of Michael Manley. On the reverse was the image of Jamaica House, which was constructed in 1962 and now serves as the offices of the prime minister.
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 demonetised, leaving the $1 to be the lowest coin denomination.
One of the most constant things in life is change, and in March 2022, while making his contribution to the Budget Debate for the 2022/23 fiscal year, 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 currency denomination between the $1,000 note and the $5,000 note.
“The BOJ has advised me that the introduction of a $2,000 note would bring greater efficiency to the currency structure, allowing cash transactions to be settled easier,” Clarke said.
He noted that the nation would be redesigning its bank notes 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,” Clarke said.
The redesigned notes will have the images of Jamaica’s seven national heroes and four deceased prime ministers.
With the newly designed banknotes, national heroes Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, who were on Jamaica’s original banknotes, but who today are on none of our banknotes, will appear together on the upgraded $50 banknote.
Marcus Garvey, who was on Jamaica’s 50 cent banknote, but who is on no banknote today, will be restored and will appear alone on the upgraded $100 banknote. Nanny of the Maroons and Sam Sharpe will appear together on the upgraded $500 note. The two men noted as the founding fathers of the nation, Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley, will appear together on the upgraded $1,000 banknote.
Former Prime Ministers Michael Manley and Edward Seaga will appear together on the new $2,000 banknote and Donald Sangster and Hugh Shearer will appear together on the upgraded $5,000 note.
Jamaica, after 60 years as an independent nation, has gone through several changes of its currency, but with each change a new chapter of the nation’s history is being written.
The banknotes will serve as a reminder of where we have been, where the nation intends to be and pay homage to the national heroes and great leaders who helped to shape the country’s future.