An open door to the Arab world


Country briefing






Special topics


Arts and culture




The Bank Notes of Yemen

By Peter Symes, Murray Hanewich and Keith Street

Extracted with permission from The Bank Notes of Yemen (Canberra, 1997)

Part two: Bank notes of South Yemen

For many years the currency of Aden was the Indian Rupee, because Aden had been ruled as part of British India; and although indirect rule ceased in 1937 when Aden became a colony, a decision was made to maintain the Indian rupee as its currency. However, over a period of time, it was seen that Aden was much more reliant on trade from Africa than from India, and in 1951 Aden chose to join the East African Currency Board and issue the East African Shilling. The new currency also gained acceptance in the protectorates outside Aden, although in certain areas the Maria Theresa Dollar and other silver tokens continued to be more generally accepted.

In 1962, as part of the preparations for the independence of the Federation of South Arabia, an enquiry into the currency of South Arabia was conducted by J. B. Loynes, an adviser of the Bank of England and a director of the East African Currency Board. His findings led to the establishment of a Currency Authority and the introduction of a new currency, the South Arabian Dinar.

The South Arabian Currency Authority came into existence following the enactment of the Currency Law on 13 October, 1964. Prior to the official establishment of the Currency Authority, many actions had been completed in preparation for the implementation of Mr. Loynes’ recommendations. Mr. J. A. Owen, on secondment from the Bank of England from 2 December 1963, was employed as the Secretary for the Authority and he was responsible for setting up much of the infrastructure of the Authority, as well as training staff and helping to prepare the new currency.

yemen31.jpg (215159 bytes)

Click on image for a larger view

The new South Arabian Dinar (SA£) was divided into 1000 fils, was equivalent to 20 East African Shillings, and maintained the parity with the pound sterling that existed with its East African equivalent. (At one stage in the development of the currency, it was planned to have the dinar divided into 20 dirhams, with each dirham consisting of 50 fils, but this plan was not adopted.)

The first notes issued by the South Arabian Currency Authority, introduced on 1 April 1965, consisted of four denominations: 250 fils, 500 fils, 1 dinar, and 5 dinars. Printed by Thomas de la Rue and Company, the notes have a common front and similar designs on the back. The front of each note carries a view of Aden harbour emphasizing the mountainous skyline, with a dhow in the foreground. The back of each note is dominated by a date palm, and various plants accompany the palm tree on most of the denominations.

The text on the front of the notes consists of English and Arabic writing and includes the issuing authority, the value of the denomination, and the notification of the note being legal tender, all written in both languages. The value of the denomination appears in each corner of the notes on both the front and the back, and appears alternately in Western numerals and Arabic numerals. The higher denomination notes (one dinar and above) also have the "£" symbol preceding the values written in Western numerals and the Arabic letter dal (the first letter of "dinar") following the values written in Arabic numerals.

It is interesting to note that the "£" sign which is used by the British to designate their "pound" is adopted from the first letter of the Latin word libra - which means "pound". However, prior to decimalization, the British referred to their pennies with the letter "d", as in £.s.d (pounds, shillings, pence), and the "d" was derived from the first letter of the Latin word denarius, which is also the base for the Arabic word "dinar".

So while the name of the South Arabian unit of currency has a common link to the British penny, it is in fact the symbol for the "pound" which is used - a unit which has no link to the "dinar". (Although it is apparent that the "£" symbol was utilized due to the parity of the South Arabian Dinar with the pound sterling.)

The notes are signed by two officials, one being the Secretary of the Currency Authority (J. A. Owen) and the other being the Chairman of the Currency Authority (Sheik Bazara). The title "Secretary" is written in English, while the title "Chairman" is written in Arabic. The watermark for all notes is the head of a camel, and a solid security thread passes through the right-hand side of all denominations. (The security thread slightly changes its position on the notes so that when the notes are bundled together the added thickness due to the threads is not concentrated at one point.)

yemen41.jpg (308444 bytes)

Click on image for a larger view

The original order of bank notes was for SA£37.35 million, of which just under SA£4.5 million were initially issued in exchange for notes of the East African Currency Board. By the end of 1965 most of the notes had been delivered and some SA£15.7 million were in circulation. The last SA£10.5 million were delivered from the printer in 1966, at which time preparations were made for ordering more notes.

During the first year of circulation, it had become apparent to the management of the Currency Authority that there was a need for a note of a higher denomination than 5 dinars, so it was decided to introduce a 10-dinar note. Notes were designed and orders were placed with the printer in 1966, with the issue ultimately being made to the public on 1 July 1967. This new note, and the other notes which were ordered for delivery in 1967, carried the new signature of J. L. Ireland as the Secretary. Mr. Owen had completed his term of employment in November 1965, and his replacement, Mr. Ireland (who was also sourced from the Bank of England), immediately succeeded him. Mr. Ireland remained in the position for a number of years and following independence he was still the incumbent when the first report of the new Currency Authority was delivered in 1968.

The Bank of Yemen

The lack of change in the bank notes of South Yemen is one of the more remarkable characteristics of the currency. Despite the move to independence in 1967 and the subsequent changes in name of the currency to the "Southern Yemeni dinar" and the issuing authority to the "Southern Yemen Currency Authority" in August 1968, no change was made to the bank notes. In 1970 the name of the currency changed again to the "Yemeni dinar" and the issuing authority changed to the "Democratic Yemen Currency Authority", but still no new bank notes were issued. Even after the issue of new coins in the early 1970s and the creation of the Bank of Yemen as the central bank responsible for note issue in 1972, no new bank notes were forthcoming. By this stage the South Arabian Currency Authority was long forgotten, but the notes that were issued prior to independence continued to be issued and to circulate unchanged. That this situation occurred in the first place is remarkable enough, but that it should continue for a total of 17 years makes the situation quite exceptional.

The change eventually occurred in 1984 when new notes were issued. They are very similar to the notes of the first issue, although there are obvious differences. With only four denominations in the second issue - 500 fils, 1 dinar, 5 dinars, and 10 dinars - the basic design of the notes remains the same as the first issue. Those elements which remained unchanged were the designs on the fronts and backs of the notes, the colours of the inks, the watermark, and the security thread. The differences between the first and second issues lie in the text written on the front and the back of the notes.

The text on the front of the notes is no longer bi-lingual - it is all Arabic. The title of the Bank of Yemen (as opposed to the previous Currency Board) appears across the top of the note, under which is written the Arabic word for "Aden"; to the right of this, is the declaration in Arabic that "This note is legal tender for (the relevant denomination)". The notes are signed by the Minister of Finance (to the right) and the Governor of the Bank (to the left). The signatories for the first release of the notes were Mahmud Said Mahdi (the Minister of Finance) and Salem Mohamed al-Ashwali (the Governor of the Bank). When the second release of notes was made, the Minister of Finance was Ahmad Nasir al-Danami, while Salem Mohamed al-Ashwali remained the second signatory.

It is interesting to note that the word used for "bank" (masraf) in the title "Bank of Yemen" is different to that used by the Central Bank of Yemen (bank). The word on the South Yemeni notes is more properly translated as "a place for exchanging money", whereas the word on the notes of North Yemen is a straight adoption of the word "bank". (Both terms are used for central banks throughout the Arab world.)

The back of the notes issued by the South Arabian Currency Authority carried no writing at all, but those of the Bank of Yemen carry details of the note in English. The title of the Bank appears at the top of the back, the denomination is written to the left, and the word "Aden" appears just below the watermark.

The other notable feature of the second series is the change in the serial numbers. In the first series, the serial number was five numerals preceded (to the left) by a serial number prefix consisting of a Roman letter and a number consisting of one or two numerals. Thus the serial number had six or seven numerals following the letter. In the second series, the serial number is always six numerals, and to the right (which is the direction from which Arabic is read) are two Arabic letters over a number. All numerals in the serial numbers are Western numerals.

One further change occurs on the front and back of the three higher denomination notes. Whereas the 1-, 5- and 10-dinar notes of the first issue had the symbols "£" and dal accompanying the values in Western and Arabic numerals in the corners of the notes, the notes of the second issue simply have their values stated by a number in Western and Arabic numerals with no symbols representing the currency’s name.

After 1986 only the two higher denomination notes were printed, and in 1988 the 5- and 10-dinar notes were issued with slight modifications. While these new notes, which constitute new varieties, can be easily recognized by the fourth combination of signatures, they display quite a number of differences to the first varieties. The differences are:

  • on the front of the notes, a small vertical line appears in the top and bottom of the white margins to the left and right of the notes;
  • on the back of the notes, extra vertical lines have been added in the white margins to the left and right of the notes (two extra lines for the 5-dinar note and one extra for the 10-dinar note);
  • a line of micro-printing has been added to the back of each note, where the line repeats "Bank of Yemen" in English. The line appears at the base of the palm tree on the 5-dinar note, and below the heads of wheat on the 10-dinar note;
  • the serial numbers, signatures, and titles of the signatories all fluoresce under ultra-violet light; and
  • the denomination in Western and Arabic numerals appears in blocks of golden ink in the centre on the front of the notes when they are submitted to ultra-violet light.

These new varieties were printed by Thomas de la Rue, as had the first notes issued by the Bank of Yemen. The notes of the Bank of Yemen were issued for six years until 1990, when the Bank of Yemen merged with the Central Bank of Yemen. Following the merger in 1990, all stocks of dinars held in South Yemen were shifted to Sana’a and issued from there. The notes of the Bank of Yemen continued in circulation for a number of years, albeit with limited acceptance in the North. While the lower denomination notes were largely removed from circulation by 1996, the 5- and 10-dinar notes were still circulating widely at the beginning of that year. However most of the dinars were withdrawn from circulation within a three month period following the introduction of the 200-rial note in March 1996, and from 11 June 1996 the dinar was no longer legal tender and declared "unacceptable for circulation".

Illustrations on the bank notes

The illustrations on the bank notes issued in South Yemen are quite simple when compared to the many images depicted on the notes of North Yemen. The same illustration is used on the front of all denominations for both series of bank notes produced for South Yemen and the designs on the back are similar for all denominations.

The illustration which is used on the front of the notes for the issues of the South Arabian Currency Authority and the Bank of Yemen is of a dhow on Aden harbour, with a view of the Ma’alla district of Aden (looking towards the south) and the mountainous skyline of the extinct volcano in the background. The majority of the design on the front of the notes was adapted from a photograph of Aden harbour supplied to the bank note designers at Thomas de Ia Rue by the Aden government’s Public Relations Department. The photograph was one of many kept on record by the Aden government for the purpose of publicity, and while it is apparent that this photograph supplied the necessary background for the illustration on the bank notes, it is not known from where the designers copied the dhow.

The photograph of Aden harbour supplied to the bank note designers has been taken from the air and the designers have modified the aspect of the illustration on the bank notes, so that the view appears to be taken much closer to the harbour surface. The designers have also obscured the small island of Sirah, which appears in the centre of the photograph, by the placement of the dhow in the illustration on the bank notes. They have also removed the large ship on the right hand side of the photograph, substituting it with a ship in the distance. The distinctive crane on the ship to the left can be observed in the illustration on some of the denominations, but it is obscured by the circular area reserved for the watermark on other denominations.

The back of each denomination carries a date palm and a number of other plants which are grown in southern Arabia. The plants appearing on the back of each denomination are:

250 fils date palm;
500 fils date palm and heads of wheat;
1 dinar date palm and cotton plant spray;
5 dinar date palm, millet and cotton plant;
10 dinar date palm, heads of wheat, cotton plant and cobs of corn.

The notes of the South Arabian Currency Authority replaced the notes of the East African Currency Board in Aden in April 1965. However the East African Currency Board had released a new series of notes in October 1964, and it is interesting to compare one of the notes of South Yemen with one of the 1964 "Lake Victoria" issue of the East African Currency Board. A number of likenesses can be seen. Firstly, the illustration on the front of both notes is dominated by a boat on a body of water; on the notes of South Yemen it is a dhow on the harbour at Aden, while on the notes of the East African Currency Board it is a native sailing vessel on Lake Victoria. Secondly, the back of the notes in both issues carry various plants; the plants on the notes of South Yemen are described above, and the notes of the East African Currency Board carry three or four vignettes depending on the denomination, with each being an East African plant. In all likelihood both series of notes were prepared by the same designers at Thomas de la Rue and Company.

Interestingly, the Lake Victoria notes of the East African Currency Board were never issued in Aden for circulation prior to the release of the notes of the South Arabian Currency Authority. The authorities in Aden had specifically requested that these notes not be issued in Aden, and it can be supposed that they had no desire for the Lake Victoria notes to be issued in October 1964, only to be followed by a completely new currency just six months later - especially when the design of the notes were so similar. Consequently, any Lake Victoria notes which found their way to the banks in South Arabia by way of trade were returned to Africa.

There is another interesting comparison between the notes of the East African Currency Board and the notes issued in South Yemen: a comparison of colours. When the notes of South Yemen are compared to the notes of the issue which preceded the Lake Victoria issue (i.e. the notes bearing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II), it can be seen that the colours used on the four denominations of the East African Currency Board are exactly the same as the colours used on the first four denominations issued by the South Arabian Currency Authority. The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Because both the East African Shilling and the South Arabian Dinar were tied to the pound sterling, the various denominations had exactly the same exchange value. Thus the 5 shillings of East Africa was equal to the 250 fils of South Yemen, 10 shillings was equal to 500 fils, 20 shillings was equal to 1 dinar (with both being equal to one pound sterling), and 100 shillings was equal to 5 dinars. By making the notes of the South Arabian Currency Authority the same colour as the notes they were replacing, a certain familiarity was able to be assigned to the new notes by the public who were receiving the new issue. Interestingly, while the Lake Victoria issue of the East African Currency Board continued to use the same basic colours as the notes they replaced, the shades differed and they do not match exactly the colours of the Queen Elizabeth H issue of East Africa nor the issues of South Yemen.

While the design of the South Arabian dinars is largely straightforward, there is one mystery concerning the design on the back of the 10-dinar note. Each of the earlier denominations had a number of plants drawn on their back as described above, and while the plants can be readily identified, there is a little confusion over the identity of one of the plants on the 10-dinar note. In the Annual Report of the South Arabian Currency Authority for 1966, the design on the back of the 10-dinar note is described as:

"Central feature of a date palm flanked by ears of wheat with cotton spray at upper left and millet at upper right; all combined in a geometric design."

What is apparent to even the casual observer is that the "millet" which appears on the back of the 10-dinar note is not the same as the "millet" which appears on the back of the 5-dinar note.

On the back of the 5-dinar note the plant described as millet (by the Annual Report) is a type of sorghum (which can be legitimately called millet), and while there are a number of different plants that are called millet, the plants on the 1 0-dinar note cannot be mistaken for any kind of millet, they are cobs of corn (or maize). It would seem that the intention of the designers was to include all the plants used on the lower denominations in the design on the 10-dinar note, which is why "millet" was included in the official description. This merely raises the question as to why the depiction of millet on the 10-dinar note turned out to be cobs of corn, rather than the sorghum that appeared on the 5-dinar notes.

Part one: Bank notes of North Yemen and unified Yemen


In the Yemeni society section


In the Yemen section




View statistics


Last revised on 07 August, 2015