The National Bank of Belgium’s collections include numismatic items (commodity money, coins, notes and medals), iconographic documents, valuable books and archives, artefacts and machines.
Together, these collections form a remarkable and unique corpus, used by researchers, writers, museums and other organisers of exhibitions.
They have been constituted from 1950 with a view to setting up a museum. From a thematic point of view, these collections cover the whole field of Belgium’s national history with an emphasis on the economy and the development of money, banking and finance.
People have not always paid with coins or banknotes. Initially, a bartering system was used. The use of commodity money is the next step in the history of means of payment.
Artefacts and machines
In addition to means of payment, medals, paintings and engravings, books and archives, the National Bank Museum also keeps a series of artefacts and machines.
Valuable books and archives
The National Bank museum has a library that documents the museum collection. It contains works on numismatics, the history of money and banking, economic and financial history, and the iconography of Belgium and the Belgian cities.
The subject matter of the iconographic documents of the collection of the National Bank falls into two categories.
Medals are generally coin-shaped but, unlike coins, they have no payment value. They are works of art in a relatively small format, that were produced, in particular, to commemorate a person (portrait medal) or an event (historical medal). In addition, there are also attendance tokens, accounting jettons, commemorative jettons, guild medals, etc.
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.
The National Bank’s coin collection covers over 2500 years: the oldest coins date from the reign of Croesus (560-547 B.C.), the last king of Lydia in Asia Minor, the most recent ones are the euro coins.
The Belgian banknote
The first series of banknotes issued by the National Bank of Belgium (1851) are printed in black ink only, with a discreetly coloured background on the reverse side for security. At the time, the Governor would sign each bank note by hand in a bid to restore the Belgian people’s confidence in paper money. The disastrous episode with the assignats during the French period was still fresh in their memories.