The Belga  Share

Let’s have a look at this ingenious banknote. Its designer is Constant Montald (1862-1944), a symbolistic artist, who created this banknote in 1929.

Belga

Belga

On the front side we can see two four-in-hands, which are driven by Ceres, godess of the Earth, and Neptunus, god of the Sea. On the left and the right side of the Belgian Lion, feminine figures are displayed who refer to Science (left) and Trade and Industry (right). The back side of the banknote shows other allegories sowing and harvesting corn. With this image the artist wants to emphasize the fertility of the earth and the importance of labour.

More than likely you have already noticed that this banknote is worth 10 000 francs or 2000
belgas. The question one can ask is of course whether Belgium has ever known another unit of account than the franc. Few people know in fact that a new currency was put into circulation from 1926 until 1946, the belga. Why would this new currency have been created?

Belga

Belga

At the start of the First World War the convertibility of banknotes into precious metal was suspended. In October 1914 the mark became legal tender and flooded the Belgian economy. By the end of the war an enormous amount of Reichsmarks was in circulation. With regard to their exchange in Belgian francs, the government maintained the overvalued exchange rate which had been laid down by the occupier. In this way wartime inflation was extended into the peacetime economy. As a result, consumption prices went up and the franc devalued. In the years thereafter, the government kept nursing hopes that the franc would regain its prewar value. In reality however, the franc kept losing its value in proportion to the most important postwar currencies, i.e. the pound sterling and the USdollar.

In October 1926 the Jaspar government, and especially minister E. Francqui, developed a stabilising programme for the Belgian franc. Its value was reduced to one seventh of its former goldparity. Thanks to this measure the franc regained its convertibility and the government debt was consolidated. The introduction of the belga as a new unit of account was also part of the stabilising programme. From this time onwards, all exchange operations had to be realised in belgas in order to differentiate this new currency clearly from the French franc. In 1925 Belgium had withdrawn from the Latin Monetary Union, and this meant of course a clear monetary rift with France.

Belga

Belga

In 1926 one belga was worth 5 goldfrancs. The belga was mentioned on the banknotes of the National Bank of Belgium and the Treasury from 1927 onwards. In 1930 the Royal Mint struck a 5 francs/1 belga nickel piece and in the same year a 10 francs/2 belgas nickel coin was engraved with the portrait of the first three Belgian kings, to celebrate the centenary of the Belgian independence. One year later, the series was completed by a 20 francs/4 belgas piece, which was unfavourably received and was returned in large quantities.

Finally, in 1933, when prices had become fairly stable, a new silver coin – a 20 F piece of low fineness – was issued, this time without indicating the value in belgas. In fact, the belga was never widely accepted, not even on the exchange markets. By habit and for convenience’s sake the Belgians continued to calculate in francs and never wanted to use the new name. Hence it was no surprise that the belga disappeared inconspicuously in 1946.

Marie Lamoureux
 Museum guide

Sources:

  • “Overzicht van de geschiedenis van de Belgische frank”, in Jaarverslag van de NBB, 1998.
  • Buyst E. (e.a.), Anderhalve eeuw Nationale Bank van België. De Bank, de frank en de euro, Brussel, 2005.
  • Collinet Ph., “Le belga: unité monétaire de 1926 à 1946”, in Vie numismatique, dec. 1994, p. 306-317; april 1995, p. 150-162.
  • De fraaie frank. Belgische munten en biljetten sedert 1830, Brussel, 1989.