The biggest banknotes in the world

By on February 15th, 2017 in Editorial, Money Facts

THE LARGEST:
Most obviously, we could be talking about the dimensions of the cash. Banknotes by their nature tend not to be very large, because you need to put them in your pocket. It would be impractical to have to fold a banknote the size of a duvet into a rucksack every time you went somewhere. And so it follows that the world’s largest banknotes are not intended for practical, everyday use.

100,000 Philippine pesos
This slightly-larger-than-A4 sized banknote printed by the Philippine government in 1998 is claimed to be the largest piece of paper money in the world. It marked 100 years of Philippine independence from Spanish rule (as evocatively depicted on the front of the note) and was only offered to collectors, as if tacitly admitting to its own impracticality. The commemorative note was put on sale for 80,000 pesos more than its face value.

£100,000,000 Bank of England ‘titan’
Photo by James Oxley, from Bank of England Flickr account.

The Bank of England keeps two seriously massive denominations on hand for fairly abstract reasons. The £1m note is called a ‘giant’, and the £100m pictured here is called a ‘titan’. Printed in the BoE itself, they display a confident minimalism, and the titans are surprisingly even less ornate than the giants.

These notes never enter circulation, staying locked up in bank vaults where they can play the vital role of backing the value of notes issued by commercial banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As of 2013, there were 4,040 giants and titans in existence with a total value of £8bn. Only slightly smaller than the 100k Philippine pesos note, is it is unusually large as well as being of extremely high value. Which leads us nicely onto…


THE HIGHEST VALUE:
Countries with normal levels of inflation generally steer clear of printing high denomination banknotes because they are particularly useful for criminals, allowing them to launder large quantities of money with ease.

Nevertheless, some countries seem to have been drawn to the grandiosity of high-value currency, and the banknotes that follow have all – at one point or another – been in circulation.  

$10,000 US dollars
The most common iteration of the $10,000 bill was printed in 1928, and featured the evocatively-named Salmon Chase, who was Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of Treasury and oversaw the federal government’s issuance of greenback notes in 1861. Although they did briefly enter circulation, the public for some reason had little use for a $10,000 bill and it was mostly used for large transfers between banks. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 350 £10k bills remain in circulation, and their scarcity means they are sometimes worth over ten times their face value.

$10,000 Singaporean dollars / $10,000 Bruneian dollars

These two have been lumped together because Singapore and Brunei’s currencies are pegged to one another and have exactly the same value (£5,656.76, at time of writing). This is the result of a Currency Interchangeability Agreement made by Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia in 1967, which aimed to foster closer economic and trade relations by making all the currencies involved equal. Malaysia opted out of the agreement in 1973, but Singapore dollars can still be spent at parity in Brunei and vice versa. These are likely the two most valuable banknotes that remain in circulation.


THE HIGHEST DENOMINATION:
Get strapped in for some numbers you might never have heard of, and which will propel you into a state of mathematical confusion usually reserved for contemplating the size of the universe.

Once inflation gets out of control, it’s rather difficult to reverse it without just starting a whole new currency and saying “ten trillion of that is now worth one of this.” What happens before then is the government keeps printing more money as the notes in circulation become increasingly worthless, which has the unfortunate side effect of making the notes in circulation even more worthless. And so you end up with…

1 sextillion Hungarian pengő
What the hell is a sextillion? No, get your mind out of the gutter (until the end of this paragraph, at least). A sextillion is one millard billion, or – to be more numerical about it – 100,000,000,000,000,000,000. Even though it never entered circulation, this is the largest denomination banknote ever printed. Post-war Hungary exhibited the world’s worst case of hyperinflation, and it continued apace until the forint was introduced in 1946, at which point one forint could be exchanged for 400 octillion (don’t ask) pengő. Surprisingly, Hungarians couldn’t be bothered to exchange industrial quantities of pengő for miniscule quantities of forints, and redundant banknotes were swept into the gutter.

100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars
Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation came about as a result of staggering political corruption and short-sighted monetary policy that can best be summarised as way, way too complicated to go into here. Suffice to say, the economy had collapsed to the point that when this $100 trillion note was printed it wouldn’t have paid for a bus ticket in Harare (according to the Wall Street Journal). The public abandoned their national currency and instead switched to bartering with those of other countries. The government has since done the same; they gave up on printing Zimbabwean dollars and have instead used US dollars for the last 6 years.

All images courtesy of banknotesworld.com, except where stated otherwise.


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James is freemarket’s Chief Commercial Officer. He has a history of finding new ways to solve age-old financial challenges and was responsible for launching some of the first online money transfer and prepaid card initiatives in Europe.


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