A banknote (often known as a bill, paper money, or simply a note) is a type of negotiable instrument known as a promissory note, made by a bank, payable to the bearer on demand. Banknotes were originally issued by commercial banks, who were legally required to redeem the notes for legal tender (usually gold or silver coin) when presented to the chief cashier of the originating bank. These commercial banknotes only traded at face value in the market served by the issuing bank. Commercial banknotes have primarily been replaced by national banknotes issued by central banks.
- Early Chinese paper money
- European explorers and merchants
- Modern banknote
- Permanent issue of banknotes
- Central bank issuance of legal tender
- Advantages and disadvantages
- Intelligent Banknote Neutralisation System IBNS
- Dynamic Intelligent Currency Encryption DICE
- Confiscation and asset forfeiture
- Displacement by electronic currency
- Paper money collecting as a hobby
National banknotes are generally legal tender, meaning that medium of payment is allowed by law or recognized by a legal system to be valid for meeting a financial obligation. Historically, banks sought to ensure that they could always pay customers in coins when they presented banknotes for payment. This practice of "backing" notes with something of substance is the basis for the history of central banks backing their currencies in gold or silver. Today, most national currencies have no backing in precious metals or commodities and have value only by fiat. With the exception of non-circulating high-value or precious metal issues, coins are used for lower valued monetary units, while banknotes are used for higher values.
The idea of using a durable light-weight substance as evidence of a promise to pay a bearer on demand originated in China during the Han Dynasty in 118 BC, and was made of leather. The first known banknote was first developed in China during the Tang and Song dynasties, starting in the 7th century. Its roots were in merchant receipts of deposit during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), as merchants and wholesalers desired to avoid the heavy bulk of copper coinage in large commercial transactions. During the Yuan Dynasty, banknotes were adopted by the Mongol Empire. In Europe, the concept of banknotes was first introduced during the 13th century by travelers such as Marco Polo, with European banknotes appearing in 1661 in Sweden.
Counterfeiting, the forgery of banknotes, is an inherent challenge in issuing currency. It is countered by anticounterfeiting measures in the printing of banknotes. Fighting the counterfeiting of banknotes and cheques has been a principal driver of security printing methods development in recent centuries.
Paper currency first developed in the Tang Dynasty China during the 7th century, although true paper money did not appear until the 11th century, during the Song Dynasty. The usage of paper currency later spread throughout the Mongol Empire. European explorers like Marco Polo introduced the concept in Europe during the 13th century. Napoleon issued paper banknotes in the early 1800s. Paper money originated in two forms: drafts, which are receipts for value held on account, and "bills", which were issued with a promise to convert at a later date.
The perception of banknotes as money has evolved over time. Originally, money was based on precious metals. Banknotes were seen as essentially an I.O.U. or promissory note: a promise to pay someone in precious metal on presentation (see representative money). With the gradual removal of precious metals from the monetary system, banknotes evolved to represent credit money, or (if backed by the credit of a government) also fiat money.
Notes or bills were often referred to in 18th century novels and were often a key part of the plot such as a "note drawn by Lord X for £100 which becomes due in 3 months' time".
Early Chinese paper money
Development of the banknote began in the Tang Dynasty during the 7th century, with local issues of paper currency, although true paper money did not appear until the 11th century, during the Song Dynasty. Its roots were in merchant receipts of deposit during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), as merchants and wholesalers desired to avoid the heavy bulk of copper coinage in large commercial transactions.
Before the use of paper, the Chinese used coins that were circular, with a rectangular hole in the middle. Several coins could be strung together on a rope. Merchants in China, if they became rich enough, found that their strings of coins were too heavy to carry around easily. To solve this problem, coins were often left with a trustworthy person, and the merchant was given a slip of paper recording how much money he had with that person. If he showed the paper to that person he could regain his money. Eventually, the Song Dynasty paper money called "jiaozi" originated from these promissory notes.
By 960 the Song Dynasty, short of copper for striking coins, issued the first generally circulating notes. A note is a promise to redeem later for some other object of value, usually specie. The issue of credit notes is often for a limited duration, and at some discount to the promised amount later. The jiaozi nevertheless did not replace coins during the Song Dynasty; paper money was used alongside the coins.
The central government soon observed the economic advantages of printing paper money, issuing a monopoly right of several of the deposit shops to the issuance of these certificates of deposit. By the early 12th century, the amount of banknotes issued in a single year amounted to an annual rate of 26 million strings of cash coins. By the 1120s the central government officially stepped in and produced their own state-issued paper money (using woodblock printing).
Even before this point, the Song government was amassing large amounts of paper tribute. It was recorded that each year before 1101 AD, the prefecture of Xinan (modern Xi-xian, Anhui) alone would send 1,500,000 sheets of paper in seven different varieties to the capital at Kaifeng. In that year of 1101, the Emperor Huizong of Song decided to lessen the amount of paper taken in the tribute quota, because it was causing detrimental effects and creating heavy burdens on the people of the region. However, the government still needed masses of paper product for the exchange certificates and the state's new issuing of paper money. For the printing of paper money alone, the Song court established several government-run factories in the cities of Huizhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Anqi.
The size of the workforce employed in these paper money factories were quite large, as it was recorded in 1175 AD that the factory at Hangzhou alone employed more than a thousand workers a day. However, the government issues of paper money were not yet nationwide standards of currency at that point; issues of banknotes were limited to regional zones of the empire, and were valid for use only in a designated and temporary limit of 3-years' time.
The geographic limitation changed between the years 1265 and 1274, when the late Southern Song government finally produced a nationwide standard currency of paper money, once its widespread circulation was backed by gold or silver. The range of varying values for these banknotes was perhaps from one string of cash to one hundred at the most. Ever since 1107, the government printed money in no less than six ink colors and printed notes with intricate designs and sometimes even with mixture of unique fiber in the paper to avoid counterfeiting.
The founder of the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan, issued paper money known as Chao in his reign. The original notes during the Yuan Dynasty were restricted in area and duration as in the Song Dynasty, but in the later course of the dynasty, facing massive shortages of specie to fund their ruling in China, they began printing paper money without restrictions on duration.The Venetian merchants were impressed by the fact that the Chinese paper money was guaranteed by the State.
European explorers and merchants
According to a travelogue of a visit to Prague in 960 by Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, small pieces of cloth were used as a means of trade, with these cloths having a set exchange rate versus silver.
In the 13th century, Chinese paper money of Mongol Yuan became known in Europe through the accounts of travelers, such as Marco Polo and William of Rubruck. Marco Polo's account of paper money during the Yuan Dynasty is the subject of a chapter of his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, titled "How the Great Kaan Causeth the Bark of Trees, Made Into Something Like Paper, to Pass for Money All Over his Country."
All these pieces of paper are, issued with as much solemnity and authority as if they were of pure gold or silver... with these pieces of paper, made as I have described, Kublai Khan causes all payments on his own account to be made; and he makes them to pass current universally over all his kingdoms and provinces and territories, and whithersoever his power and sovereignty extends... and indeed everybody takes them readily, for wheresoever a person may go throughout the Great Kaan's dominions he shall find these pieces of paper current, and shall be able to transact all sales and purchases of goods by means of them just as well as if they were coins of pure gold
In medieval Italy and Flanders, because of the insecurity and impracticality of transporting large sums of cash over long distances, money traders started using promissory notes. In the beginning these were personally registered, but they soon became a written order to pay the amount to whoever had it in their possession. These notes are seen as a predecessor to regular banknotes by some but are mainly thought of as proto bills of exchange and cheques. The term "bank note" comes from the notes of the bank ("nota di banco") and dates from the 14th century; it originally recognized the right of the holder of the note to collect the precious metal (usually gold or silver) deposited with a banker (via a currency account). In the 14th century, it was used in every part of Europe and in Italian city-state merchants colonies outside of Europe. For international payments, the more efficient and sophisticated bill of exchange ("lettera di cambio"), that is, a promissory note based on a virtual currency account (usually a coin no longer physically existing), was used more often. All physical currencies were physically related to this virtual currency; this instrument also served as credit.
The shift toward the use of these receipts as a means of payment took place in the mid-17th century. The goldsmith-bankers of London began to give out the receipts as payable to the bearer of the document rather than the original depositor. This meant that the note could be used as currency based on the security of the goldsmith, not the account holder of the Goldsmith-banker. The bankers also began issuing a greater value of notes than the total value of their physical reserves in the form of loans, on the assumption that they wouldn't have to redeem all of their issued banknotes at the same time. This pivotal shift changed the simple promissory note into an agency for the expansion of the monetary supply itself. As these receipts were increasingly used in the money circulation system, depositors began to ask for multiple receipts to be made out in smaller, fixed denominations for use as money. The receipts soon became a written order to pay the amount to whoever had possession of the note. These notes are credited as the first modern banknotes.
The first short-lived attempt at issuing banknotes by a central bank was in 1661 by Stockholms Banco, a predecessor of the Bank of Sweden. These replaced the copper-plates being used instead as a means of payment. This banknote issue was brought about by the peculiar circumstances of the Swedish coin supply. Cheap foreign imports of copper had forced the Crown to steadily increase the size of the copper coinage to maintain its value relative to silver. The heavy weight of the new coins encouraged merchants to deposit it in exchange for receipts. These became banknotes when the manager of the Bank decoupled the rate of note issue from the bank currency reserves. Three years later, the bank went bankrupt, after rapidly increasing the artificial money supply through the large-scale printing of paper money. A new bank, the Riksens Ständers Bank was established in 1668, but didn't issue banknotes until the 19th-century.
Permanent issue of banknotes
The modern banknote rests on the assumption that money is determined by a social and legal consensus. A gold coin's value is simply a reflection of the supply and demand mechanism of a society exchanging goods in a free market, as opposed to stemming from any intrinsic property of the metal. By the late 17th century, this new conceptual outlook helped to stimulate the issue of banknotes. The economist Nicholas Barbon wrote that money "was an imaginary value made by a law for the convenience of exchange." A temporary experiment of banknote issue was carried out by Sir William Phips as the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1690 to help fund the war effort against France.
The first bank to initiate the permanent issue of banknotes was the Bank of England. Established in 1694 to raise money for the funding of the war against France, the bank began issuing notes in 1695 with the promise to pay the bearer the value of the note on demand. They were initially handwritten to a precise amount and issued on deposit or as a loan. There was a gradual move toward the issuance of fixed denomination notes, and by 1745, standardized printed notes ranging from £20 to £1,000 were being printed. Fully printed notes that didn't require the name of the payee and the cashier's signature first appeared in 1855.
The Scottish economist John Law helped establish banknotes as a formal currency in France, after the wars waged by Louis XIV left the country with a shortage of precious metals for coinage.
In the United States there were early attempts at establishing a central bank in 1791 and 1816, but it was only in 1862 that the federal government of the United States began to print banknotes.
Central bank issuance of legal tender
Originally, the banknote was simply a promise to the bearer that he could redeem it for its value in specie, but in 1833 the second in a series of Bank Charter Acts established that banknotes would be considered as legal tender during peacetime.
Until the mid-nineteenth century, commercial banks were able to issue their own banknotes, and notes issued by provincial banking companies were the common form of currency throughout England, outside London. The Bank Charter Act of 1844, which established the modern central bank, restricted authorisation to issue new banknotes to the Bank of England, which would henceforth have sole control of the money supply in 1921. At the same time, the Bank of England was restricted to issue new banknotes only if they were 100% backed by gold or up to £14 million in government debt. The Act gave the Bank of England an effective monopoly over the note Issue from 1928.
Advantages and disadvantages
Prior to the introduction of banknotes, precious or semi-precious metals minted into coins to certify their substance were widely used as a medium of exchange. The value that people attributed to coins was originally based upon the value of the metal unless they were token issues or had been debased. Banknotes were originally a claim for the coins held by the bank, but due to the ease with which they could be transferred and the confidence that people had in the capacity of the bank to settle the notes in coin if presented, they became a popular means of exchange in their own right. They now make up a very small proportion of the "money" that people think that they have as demand deposit bank accounts and electronic payments have negated the need to carry notes and coins.
Banknotes have a natural advantage over coins in that they are lighter to carry but are also less durable. Banknotes issued by commercial banks had counterparty risk, meaning that the bank may not be able to make payment when the note was presented. Notes issued by central banks had a theoretical risk when they were backed by gold and silver. Both banknotes and coins are subject to inflation. The durability of coins means that even if metal coins melt in a fire or are submerged under the sea for hundreds of years they still have some value when they are recovered. Gold coins salvaged from shipwrecks retain almost all of their original appearance, but silver coins slowly corrode.
Other costs of using bearer money include:
- Discounting to face value: Before national currencies and efficient clearing houses, banknotes were only redeemable at face value at the issuing bank. Even a branch bank could discount notes of other branches of the same bank. The discounts usually increased with distance from the issuing bank. The discount also depended on the perceived safety of the bank. When banks failed the notes were usually partly redeemed out of reserves, but sometimes became worthless. The problem of discounting within a country does not exist with national currencies; however, under floating exchange rates currencies are valued relative to one another in the foreign exchange market.
- Counterfeiting paper notes has always been a problem, especially since the introduction of color photocopiers and computer image scanners. Numerous banks and nations have incorporated many types of countermeasures in order to keep the money secure; however, extremely sophisticated counterfeit notes known as superdollars have been detected in recent years.
- Manufacturing or issue costs. Coins are produced by industrial manufacturing methods that process the precious or semi-precious metals, and require additions of alloy for hardness and wear resistance. By contrast bank notes are printed paper (or polymer), and typically have a higher cost of issue, especially in larger denominations, compared with coins of the same value.
- Wear costs. Banknotes lose economic value by wear, since, even if they are in poor condition, they are still a legally valid claim on the issuing bank. However, banks of issue do have to pay the cost of replacing banknotes in poor condition and paper notes wear out much faster than coins.
- Cost of transport. Coins can be expensive to transport for high value transactions, but banknotes can be issued in large denominations that are lighter than the equivalent value in coins.
- Cost of acceptance. Coins can be checked for authenticity by weighing and other forms of examination and testing. These costs can be significant, but good quality coin design and manufacturing can help reduce these costs. Banknotes also have an acceptance cost, the costs of checking the banknote's security features and confirming acceptability of the issuing bank.
The different disadvantages between coins and banknotes imply that there may be an ongoing role for both forms of bearer money, each being used where its advantages outweigh its disadvantages.
In the United States, banknotes last an average of three years until they are no longer fit for circulation, after which they are collected for destruction, usually recycling or shredding. A banknote is removed from the money supply by banks or other financial institutions because of everyday wear and tear from its handling. Banknote bundles are passed through a sorting machine that determines whether a particular note needs to be shredded, or are removed from the supply chain by a human inspector if they are deemed unfit for continued use – for example, if they are mutilated or torn. Counterfeit banknotes are destroyed unless they are needed for evidentiary or forensic purposes.
Contaminated banknotes are also decommissioned. A Canadian government report indicates:
Types of contaminants include: notes found on a corpse, stagnant water, contaminated by human or animal body fluids such as urine, feces, vomit, infectious blood, fine hazardous powders from detonated explosives, dye pack and/or drugs...
These are removed from circulation primarily to prevent the spread of diseases.
When taken out of circulation, Australian Plastic/Polymer bank notes are melted down and mixed together to form plastic garbage bins.
In the US, the nickname "Fed Shreds" refers to paper money which has been shredded after becoming unfit for circulation. Although these shredded banknotes are generally landfilled, they are sometimes sold in small bags as souvenirs.
Intelligent Banknote Neutralisation System (IBNS)
Intelligent Banknote Neutralisation System (IBNS) is a security system which renders banknotes unusable by marking them permanently as stolen with a degradation agent. Marked (stained) banknotes cannot be brought back into circulation easily and can be linked to the crime scene. Today's most used degradation agent is a special security ink which cannot be removed from the banknote easily and not without destroying the banknote itself, but other agents also exist. Today IBNS are used to protect banknotes in ATM's, Retail Machines and during cash-in-transit operations.
Dynamic Intelligent Currency Encryption (DICE)
Dynamic Intelligent Currency Encryption (DICE) is a security technology introduced in 2014 by British company EDAQS, which devaluates banknotes remotely that are illegal or have been stolen. The technology is based on identifiable banknotes - that could be an RFID chip or a barcode - and connects to a digital security system to verify the validity of the banknote. The system claims that the banknotes are unforgeable and contribute to solve cash-related problems as well as fight crime and terrorism. In another note, the DICE benefits cover and solve almost all cash-related issues that are seen by governments to be a motivation for the progressive abolition of cash.
Confiscation and asset forfeiture
In the United States there are many laws that allow the confiscation of cash and other assets from the bearer if there is suspicion that the money came from an illegal activity. Because a significant amount of U.S. currency contains traces of cocaine and other illegal drugs, it is not uncommon for innocent people searched at airports or stopped for traffic violations to have cash in their possession sniffed by dogs for drugs and then have the cash seized because the dog smelled drugs on the money. It is then up to the owner of the money to prove where the cash came from at his own expense. Many people simply forfeit the money. In 1994, the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, held in the case of UNITED STATES of America v. U.S. CURRENCY, $30,060.00 (39 F.3d 1039 63 USLW 2351, No. 92-55919) that the widespread presence of illegal substances on paper currency in the Los Angeles area created a situation where the reaction of a drug-sniffing dog would not create probable cause for civil forfeiture.
Displacement by electronic currency
Banknotes have increasingly been displaced by credit and debit cards and electronic money transfers. Some governments, such as Canada, are considering replacing paper notes and coins with digital currency. Sweden has begun implementing digital currency.
Paper money collecting as a hobby
Banknote collecting, or Notaphily, is a slowly growing area of numismatics. Although generally not as widespread as coin and stamp collecting, the hobby is slowly expanding. Prior to the 1990s, currency collecting was a relatively small adjunct to coin collecting, but the practice of currency auctions, combined with larger public awareness of paper money, has caused more interest in and valuation of rare banknotes.
Since 2007 Sanjay Relan, of Hong Kong, has held the Guinness world record for collecting 221 banknotes representing 221 different countries. For a short period in 2007, he also held the Guinness world record for collecting 235 coins representing 235 different countries.
For years, the mode of collecting banknotes was through a handful of mail order dealers who issued price lists and catalogs. In the early 1990s, it became more common for rare notes to be sold at various coin and currency shows via auction. The illustrated catalogs and "event nature" of the auction practice seemed to fuel a sharp rise in overall awareness of paper money in the numismatic community. The emergence of currency third party grading services (similar to services that grade and "slab", or encapsulate, coins) also may have increased collector and investor interest in notes. Entire advanced collections are often sold at one time, and to this day single auctions can generate millions in gross sales. Today, eBay has surpassed auctions in terms of highest volume of sales of banknotes. However, rare banknotes still sell for much less than comparable rare coins. This disparity is diminishing as paper money prices continue to rise. A few rare and historical banknotes have sold for more than a million dollars.
There are many different organizations and societies around the world for the hobby, including the International Bank Note Society (IBNS) which currently assert to have around 2,000 members in 90 countries.
The universal appeal and instant recognition of bank notes has resulted in a plethora of novelty merchandise that is designed to have the appearance of paper currency. These items cover nearly every class of product. Cloth material printed with bank note patterns is used for clothing, bed linens, curtains, upholstery and more. Acrylic paperweights and even toilet seats with bank notes embedded inside are also common. Items that resemble stacks of bank notes and can be used as a seat or ottoman are also available.
Manufacturers of these items must take into consideration when creating these products whether the product could be construed as counterfeiting. Overlapping note images and/or changing the dimensions of the reproduction to be at least 50% smaller or 50% larger than the original is one way to avoid the risk of being considered a counterfeit. But in cases where realism is the goal, other steps may be necessary. For example, in the stack of bank notes seat mentioned earlier, the decal used to create the product would be considered counterfeit. However, once the decal has been affixed to the resin stack shell and cannot be peeled off, the final product is no longer at risk of being classified as counterfeit, even though the resulting appearance is realistic.