Collection Inspiration: Large-Denomination Notes

Posted on 7/20/2021

These fascinating notes with eye-popping numbers help to tell their nations' histories.

Paper money collectors often focus on a particular nation or even a particular series. This column is designed to offer ideas for building a collection of notes from around the world based on a common element. This month, we will look at large-denomination notes from around the world.

Large-denomination notes are fascinating collectibles that tell the story of hyperinflation, which often forces governments to issue them for their citizens’ everyday use. They are often printed amid adversity brought on by war, economic turbulence or government instability.

During the 1990s, the European Union required all members to implement criteria to begin converting to the euro currency. These requirements combined with other policies drove Italy into a recession, and the 500,000 Lire is one of the high-denomination notes that was created during that transitional time.

Italy, Banca d'Italia 1997 500,000 Lire graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Vietnam has experienced its own economic turbulence in the past few decades. The Asian nation faced bouts of severe inflation in the early 1990s and again from 2004 to 2012, when large state-owned enterprises went bankrupt. A 500,000 Dong note is worth about $22 USD, though the one pictured here with a super radar serial number has additional numismatic value.

Vietnam, State Bank 2019 500,000 Dong graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Decades of conflict left the Chinese economy in ruins after World War II. This 1949 5 million Yuan is a testament to the uncertainty of that era, as the Chinese Civil War culminated in a transition of government for the world's most populous country.

China, Central Bank of China 1949 5,000,000 Yuan graded PMG 65 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

In the 1990s, Zaire was going through a massive depression. Due to poor infrastructure and other policies, currency continued to depreciate and large notes, like the 5 million Zaires, were created. In 1997, a new government emerged, and the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zaire, Banque du Zaire 1992 5,000,000 Zaires graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

There were many changes throughout Europe after World War I. For instance, Poland gained independence and new lands, but prosperity and unity were elusive. Poland’s struggles are reflected in notes like this 1923 10,000,000 Marek.

Poland, State Loan Bank 1923 10,000,000 Marek graded PMG 58 Choice About Uncirculated
Click images to enlarge.

What happens when two heads of state have an argument over the supervision of the banking system? In Turkey’s case, an economic crisis ensued, and their currency lost half its value. In 2001, the heated argument between the prime minister and president caused the Lira to sink in value. As a result, this 20 million Lira would have been equal to about $19 USD during that time.

Turkey, Central Bank 2001 20,000,000 Lira graded PMG 58 Choice About Unc EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Germany suffered greatly after World War I because they had funded the war by borrowing 132 billion gold marks ($33 billion USD). When Germany lost, not only did they have massive debt but they also had to pay war reparations. This caused an economic crisis, as reflected in this 1923 100 Millionen Mark.

Germany, Republic Treasury Note 1923 100 Millionen Mark graded PMG 64 Choice Uncirculated
Click images to enlarge.

In 1992, the end of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia led to a time of reform in both the infrastructure and economy. Several programs instituted to bolster the economy were detrimental in the long term. This 1993 5 Billion Dinara is an example of what Yugoslavia printed at the time, when much of eastern Europe was emerging from the shadow of the Soviet Union.

Yugoslavia, National Bank 1993 5,000,000,000 Dinara graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

World War II devastated many nations, including Greece, which was occupied by Axis forces from 1941 to 1944. Amid the occupation, the value of Greek currency declined precipitously, leading to extremely large denominations such as this 100 Billion Drachmai note.

Greece/German & Italian Occupation World War II 1944 100,000,000,000 Drachmai
graded PMG 58 Choice About Unc
Click images to enlarge.

For Zimbabwe, currency instability began in 2007 following a decade of land reforms that caused food production to plummet. Amid massive unemployment and Western sanctions on the Mugabe regime, a long period of extremely high hyperinflation set in. With Zimbabwe’s inflation rate peaking at 98% per day in November 2008, this 100 Trillion Dollar note rapidly lost whatever buying power it had.

Zimbabwe, Reserve Bank 2008 100 Trillion Dollars graded PMG 65 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Hungary, an Axis power, was occupied by Russia’s Red Army in 1944, paving the way for a communist takeover. Inflation was so mind-bogglingly high that Hungarian notes of 1946 hold the records for highest-denomination ever issued and highest-denomination ever printed. The 100 Million B.-Pengo is equivalent to a 100 quintillion (1020) note, while the 1 Milliard B-Pengo is equivalent to a 1 sextillion (1021) note.

Hungary, National Bank 1946 100,000,000 B.-Pengo graded PMG 65 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Hungary, National Bank 1946 1 Milliard B.-Pengo graded PMG 58 Choice About Uncirculated
Click images to enlarge.

Sometimes, a nation will try to avoid the indignity of extremely large denominations by replacing its currency. For instance, Venezuela did this in 2008 and 2018, and is expected to do so again this year by knocking six zeros off the end of its denominations.

You might be wondering what the largest US bill is. During the Great Depression, $100,000 Gold Certificates were issued, though the public did not see them because they were used exclusively for transferring large sums of money between Federal Reserve Banks. Learn more here.

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