|Joined: 09 Mar 2007
Location: Jbeil Byblos
| Lebanese Paper Money and Coins from their origins
|Preface (Extracts from the book "Lebanon - Paper Money and Coins from their origins to the present day")
Imagine what our lives would be like if money did not exist.
It is a good thing that humans abandoned barter as a means of exchange and developed money instead as a way to facilitate payment and trade.
Today, money has become the way to measure the performance of an economy.
Its value and purchasing power have become indicators of a society's affluence.
The trust we have in it is fused with the credibility of the state and those who govern it.
Money has evolved at the same rate as humankind: sea shells, coins, banknotes, banker's logs, and now computer"bits".
The mission of the Banque du Liban is to issue Lebanese money, ensure its transferability using the most advanced technical methods, protect its value and purchasing power, supervise banking institutions in order to protect people's savings and stimulate growth and development.
Money generates more money through work, investments, and interests. The stability of a currency in terms of its conversion value to another currency determines the fortune of a nation.
The job of a central bank in a financial world without barriers is to ensure the consistency and value of money that it issues so as to enhance the quality of life of those who possess it.
This book tells the story of the Lebanese currency in an exceptional manner. Its thoroughness entitles it to be a valid piece of reference for years to come.
It will serve bankers, collectors, and historians and will preserve a feel of nostalgia of an epoch that is slowly fading; an epoch where art and history were reflected on an engraved coin or on a printed bill.
Indeed, metallic coins and paper seem to be slowly disappearing making way for electronic currency.
Whatever its shape or form, money will always make us dream.
Riad Toufic Salamé – Governor of the Banque du Liban
Once upon a time, there was the Lebanese pound.
Whether a blessing from heaven or a curse from hell, who could deny loving money? Even at a very young age, a child will long for the coin we give him but directly after puts it in his mouth.
Later, as he grows into an adult, he will crave bills as well, but will quickly learn that it takes a lot of effort (and maybe even luck) to earn them.
The history of the Lebanese pound dates back to the beginning of the XXth century. Its early development is closely linked to the mandatory power that first produced it and the events of its time. It is the privileged witness of our past, of our conflicts and economic crises, and of our days of peace and prosperity.
Far beyond what it represents and the fetishism that has always been attached to it, the national currency would not have survived until today had it not been an effective means of exchanging commodities and an abstract representation of value. An object that became the source of numerous problems and that shattered our vision of time, space and life.
It was very late and only due to foreign invasions, that money made its way to the Middle East. Being marchants since ancient times, the people of the region exercised barter. Sheep were exchanged for wheat, wood for gold, and labor for bread. How inconvenient this mode of exchange was! Animals and everyday products are difficult to divide and transport. Hence, as trade developed, it became essential to create money, a token of value that could easily be used everywhere.
In the meantime, while it is true that pure barter was supplemented by various tokens to measure the value of goods, these tokens were ill-matched. Depending on the regions and eras, we could find shells, cereals, salt, cattle, and even slaves.
Throughout the centuries, and under the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the Mediterranean basin witnessed the spread of this kind of trade. It took a long time for the wealthy to begin using small precious ingots as tokens for commercial exchange. The innovation was that these metal ingots were of a constant weight and value, and the engraved seal of the issuer certified their worth.
Initially employed as a practical measure to compensate for the lack of metallic currency, the first forms of paper money in Lebanon and Syria were printed at the request of the French; the mandatory power at that time. Since then, the use of paper money has become an everyday norm and carries a vital significance in trade.
Despite the fact that its recent history remains generally tied to financial crises, the Lebanese pound remains an eminent symbol of the country of the cedars.
This piece of work intends to retrace the history of our money from its origins to the present day. The money that we touch, the one we pocket or the one we lose; the currency that makes and breaks fortunes. A journey through the heart of a fascinating world; the world of an everyday yet abstract object; an object whose iconography feeds our dreams.
It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important (The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
This book does not have the space to show all the banknotes that circulated in the present territory of Lebanon from 1919 until 2005. An exhaustive presentation would have produced a book of 600 pages containing some 250 banknotes in front and back, comprising more than 500 photos with very small differences between them, notably ones concerning banknotes bearing the lettering "SYRIE", but otherwise identical to Lebanese banknotes. These nuances can only interest the professionals and would have rendered the present edition considerably heavier.
One should not be misled by the qualifications"very common," "common, "rare" and "very rare," by mixing different periods. One should consider these terms in the context of the period to which the banknote belongs. To compare a banknote deemed to be rare from the Banque du Liban dating from 1964, to a rare banknote from the Banque de Syrie dating from 1919, would be absurd. It is obvious that a common banknote of the first period is much more difficult to find than a rare banknote from the early years of the Banque du Liban.
This book gives us a general panorama of the history of our money since its first appearance until the present, and even the future. May it satisfy both the public at large and professionals.
Banque de Syrie (1919 – 1924)
World War I has just ended. The Turks, allies of the Germans, were in the losers' camp, and with a classic war goes a classic rout. The Sublime Porte lost its pride and the territories that go along with it. The Ottoman Empire was ruthlessly hacked to pieces. In accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreement, Lebanon and Syria went to the French, while Palestine, Jordan and Iraq were awarded to the British.
Still a Syrian province, Lebanon had just emerged from the famine that war had caused. After the rout of the Turks, the arriving French had to above all, manage the state of the country. Therefore, a currency became a must for trade as well as for purchases of sugar and flour. Banknotes were something new, something different; a revolution. We should remember that at that time, Turkish coins of gold and silver were still in circulation. The mentality of that era, and especially the mentality of the Lebanese peasants, did not accept banknotes. They preferred hard, shiny coins. Even in Turkey, the introduction of banknotes was going to take time.
Since the Turkish coins went out of circulation after the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, something else had to be found. This "something else", namely the Egyptian pound, would be brought by the British, who came north from the Nile and were first to arrive in the cities of the Levant. This is the reason the word "lira" (livre in French) was adopted as a name for the new currency instead of "franc".
The Lebanese needed six full months to adjust to the concept of the"lira". This did not make the task any easier for the French who arrived later. Things got back to normal soon enough. In compliance with the resolutions of the Versailles and San Remo conferences, the French Republic took charge of the administration of Syria and Mount Lebanon.
As a symbolic gesture, the new mandatory power took possession of the headquarters of the Banque Imperiale Ottomane, a superb, imposing building located in Ain-Mreisseh. As a main-spring of Turkish financial policy, the Banque Imperiale Ottomane had played the roles of state bank and public treasurer for many years. Apart from funding many infrastructural projects in the Empire, the bank proved itself as a commercial one by strengthening its relations with the market, thanks to its widespread network of branches. This was how the bank helped create the Companie du Port de Beyrouth in 1888. It was also interested, in association with other partners, in the Beirut-Damascus rail-way (1892), which was later extended to Homs, Hama and Aleppo (1900).
The bank was compelled to close most of its branches after the war, especially in the territories managed by France.
Upon their arrival, the victors, who undoubtedly expected to get their hands on some veritable spoils of war, found the coffers empty. The rumors of the era, although never confirmed, told the fantastic stories of sunken gold treasures spread out across the sea; treasures that were aboard Turkish ships that had been attacked by the Austrians. As early as 1912, during the Italian-Turkish war, stories navigated about two Ottoman cruisers that had been sunk by the Italian navy in the bay facing the bank.
As soon as the French settled in, they issued the first currency of the mandate: the Syrian pound, a bill guaranteed by France and more precisely by the Banque de France. Writing on the bill clearly stated that "it could be exchanged against a check issued from Paris or Marseilles for the existing exchange value of 20 francs". Needless to say that the Syrian pound never recovered its value after the departure of the French.
Paradoxically, the very first bills issued by the Banque de Syrie during the period between 1919 to 1924 were printed in England. The English were also emerging from the war, but unlike the French, their territory had not been devastated by the Germans. Therefore, it was perfectly normal that small services like printing currency could be rendered by one's allies, especially for a partner in the occupation of a region, regardless of the inevitable conflicts between the two mandatory powers in the Levant.
With Syrian bills issued by the French and printed by British presses, the modern but complicated Middle East started to appear.
In those blessed times, inflation, the scourge of currency, had yet to rear its ugly head, so not a lot of currency needed to be printed. In any case, people's needs were so limited, that their purchases were restricted to bare necessities. Decisions were simply made, decrees were followed, and afterwards, banknotes were printed in the quantities agreed upon.
The concession given to the Banque de Syrie was extended until 1924, and even though the State of Greater Lebanon was proclaimed in 1920, the Lebanese found themselves carrying Syrian pounds during a short period of time. Small metallic coins of that period were curiously minted with the cedar and mentioned "Etat du Grand Liban" but… their value was in Syrian piasters. Syrian and Lebanese banknotes were quite similar, the main difference being the mention of the note's origin: "Etat du Grand Liban" (State of Greater Lebanon) or "Syrie" (Syria).