Banknotes make up the lion’s share of the National Bank’s numismatic collection. At the beginning of 2019, there were 24,886 notes. Just as with the coins, the emphasis here is again on Belgian notes. The foreign banknotes illustrate milestones in the history of paper money or in financial and economic history in general.

1 kuan note

1-kuan note

We have the Chinese to thank not only for the first paper but also for the first paper money. It is still a mystery exactly when it was first issued in China, but the oldest preserved banknotes date from around 840. This note is from the Ming dynasty and records the name of the founder of the dynasty, Hung Wu, and the value, 1 kuan or 1000 cash coins.

The text at the bottom says that the note is valid throughout the whole empire, that forgery will be punished by death and that informants will be rewarded with the property of the forger.



Modern banknotes first appeared in the 17th century in Sweden as a solution to the acute shortage of suitable means of payment. In 1661, the king granted the private banker, Johan Palmstruch, the sole rights of issue of non-interest-bearing banknotes – kreditivsedlar.

These notes were issued without being backed by metal coinage. The eight signatures, the seals and the stamps are clearly an endeavour to safeguard the banknote and to win the trust of the public.

1,000 franc note

1,000-franc note

When it was set up in 1850, the National Bank was given the sole right of issue of banknotes. The first series of notes was put into circulation one year later and consisted of five denominations 20, 50, 100, 500 and this 1,000-franc note. Today, a note of equivalent value would be for about 6,000 euro! Right from the start, the Bank endeavoured to safeguard the security and reliability of its ‘business sign’. Every note was signed personally by the governor (except for the 20-franc notes) and the numbers were also manually applied. Handwriting was, after all, more difficult to imitate than printed names and figures.

Belgian 100-franc note

100-franc note

This Belgian 100-franc note from 1915, the portrait on which still dates from before the war and was designed by the German, Max Weber, reflects the difficult times then being experienced by Belgium. By a decision of the German occupying power, the National Bank lost its right of issue in 1914, which was acquired by the Société Générale. The latter is therefore also named on the note as the issuing bank. The note bears a portrait of Queen Louise-Marie who, with Marguerite of Austria, is the only woman to appear alone on a Belgian banknote.

emergency money

emergency money

The wartime conditions made it difficult to distribute money over all of Belgium. Therefore, various bodies, such as relief and aid committees, factories and businesses, but, in particular, many local authorities, felt obliged to put their own emergency money into circulation. This money was not always expressed in Belgian francs but also took the form of vouchers for food or goods, such as this example from the Sint-Gillis district that was worth five rations of potatoes. The emergency money was valid only in the district of the authority issuing it.

Belgian 500-franc note

500-franc note

This Belgian 500-franc note forms part of the series which was produced to mark the 100th anniversary of the National Bank in 1950. The notes of the “Centenary” series associate the first three kings of Belgium with an important characteristic or event from their respective reigns: Leopold I with the creation of the National Bank in 1850, Albert I with his role during the First World War, and Leopold II with his colonial ambitions. The designer, Louis Buisseret (1888-1956), used Peter Paul Rubens’s study “Four Negro Heads” for this note.

20-franc note

20-franc note

This 20-franc note is perhaps one of the most popular banknotes of the whole period of Belgian paper money history. Together with the 50-franc note depicting King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola, record numbers were printed. One of the reasons for this popularity was its small, convenient format and its low value, which meant that people found it extremely useful as pocket money.


five million mark note

It is hard to imagine today that notes with a face value of 5 million euro would ever be put into circulation. This German note shows that such huge amounts did in fact appear on paper money. But this inflation note had hardly any purchasing power because the year was 1923, during the period of hyperinflation and the major crisis years following the First World War.


1-yuan note

A banknote is not solely a means of payment but is also very useful for disseminating a message because, as a mass product, it can be used and therefore also ‘read’ by almost everyone. This Chinese note from 1960 is a good example. On the one hand, it glorifies the technical progress in agriculture and, on the other, it emphasises the fundamental role of women in the Chinese economy.