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Posters with banknotes from many countries
ES2 series euro banknotes

A banknote is a document that serves as a means of payment (usually legal , as pure credit money guaranteed by the state) in a certain country or currency area, is issued by an authorized institution ( central bank , central bank ) and is denominated in a round nominal value of a currency unit .

Colloquially, banknotes are referred to as paper money or bank notes due to their nature . In addition to coins, banknotes count as cash .


Each currency area has its own banknotes, which are issued by a central bank. Usually a currency area is identical to the territory of a state. Exceptions are currently the euro banknotes as well as the banknotes of the Eastern Caribbean and the West and Central African countries, which are issued and used jointly by several countries. In Hong Kong , the right to issue banknotes - unique in the world - lies with the three commercial banks Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation , Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China . Today banknotes are only issued in Scotland , Northern Ireland and Macau as well as in various dependent areas (e.g. St. Helena and Ascension ) also by "pure" private central banks .

The most valuable banknotes in circulation are the 10,000 Brunei dollar bill and the 10,000 Singapore dollar bill. Since their currencies are linked 1: 1, both have a value of 6,172 euros or 6,641 francs (as of August 24, 2020). The Singapore dollar bill has not been produced since 2014, but is still in circulation. They are mainly used for interbank business. This is followed by the 1000 franc note (929 euros) from Switzerland, until 2013 the 500 Latu note (711 euros or 872 francs as of December 31, 2013) and the 500 euro note (538 francs).

On the other hand, the highest denominations of many currencies badly hit by inflation have comparatively low purchasing power. Until the introduction of the 5,000 So'm note (0.47 euros or 0.51 francs) in 2013, the 1,000 So'm note was the highest banknote in Uzbekistan with a value of 0.30 euros. In particular, the cash payment of larger amounts in local currency is therefore cumbersome in these countries.

If one also includes the notes that are not in circulation, the 1 million and 100 million pound notes (market values) of the Bank of England should be mentioned. The 100 trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe can also be described as a curiosity. The country's inflation had risen to 79.6 billion percent shortly before the currency's total devaluation.

Legal tender

As the issuer , the central bank guarantees the banknote holder a legal claim to consideration. Depending on the design, this can be a right to exchange for material assets (e.g. gold coins, as in the case of the Reichsmark) or the right to retain their value (e.g. German marks, euros). Since the issuing central bank is not obliged to redeem it under current currency law, it is therefore not bound by a right to exchange for goods or services. Every debtor has the right to settle his debts with banknotes. Every creditor of monetary debts is obliged to accept banknotes in unlimited numbers and amounts (mandatory acceptance). Banknotes do not represent an independent right to claim, but represent a value based on trust in the issuing central bank or the maintenance of the banknote's payment function.

Legal tender is the state's banknotes (and coins) that are legally required for the legally effective settlement of economic credit and are therefore circulating in large quantities. The state "had through its legislation ... in the hand to stipulate what should be used as a means of payment in exchange transactions ..." With a legal tender "everyone has to be satisfied if he has been paid in it." With the legal tender the state uses its sovereign Task to determine the currency of the state within the monetary constitution , to organize it and to prescribe it as a means of payment. The resulting obligation for creditors to accept is unlimited for banknotes, while in most countries it is administratively limited for coins.

Legal issues

According to Art. 128 (1) TFEU (implemented in Germany by Section 14 (1) BBankG ), banknotes denominated in euros are the only unrestricted legal tender for member states of the European Union whose currency is the euro . It is issued by the ECB and the Deutsche Bundesbank . Since national laws assume that financial debts are settled with legal tender - and thus in cash - they are to be paid in euro notes (or coins). In Germany, all financial debts arising from contracts (such as from a sales contract ) must be paid in cash. The fact that most transactions in a modern economy are cashless is legally constructed through the so-called obligation to deliver.

Banknotes are also used as legal tender in almost all other countries. The US dollar is designated as the legal tender for all debts, government fees and taxes in Title 31 Section 5112 of the United States Code . According to Art. 2 of the Federal Act on Currency and Means of Payment (WZG) , banknotes in Swiss Francs are the legal means of payment in Switzerland , but also sight deposits in Francs with the Swiss National Bank . The banknotes issued by the Bank of England are legal tender under Chapter 12 Section 1 (2) of the Currency and Bank Notes Act of February 10, 1954 , but only in England and Wales . In Scotland and Northern Ireland there is no pro forma legal tender in paper form, there are also so-called private central banks .

As legal tender, banknotes generally have the highest marketability. You are in Germany to § 935 para. 2 BGB the bearer securities equivalent and can therefore simply by agreement and handing over is to be ( § 929 BGB). This even applies if the banknotes were stolen , lost or otherwise lost from the previous owner (Section 935 (2) BGB).

In order to be considered a means of payment, banknotes must be genuine. They are only authentic if they have been put into circulation by the authority authorized to issue them (central bank). All other banknotes are considered counterfeit , which is punishable in Germany according to § 146 StGB (see counterfeit money ). Counterfeiting of money is severely punished internationally. Counterfeit banknotes cannot function as a means of payment; they are worthless. This also applies to the innocent citizen who unconsciously passes on counterfeit banknotes. According to Article 6 (1) of Regulation (EC) 1338/2001, credit institutions undertake to disclose all euro banknotes and coins they have received and of which they know or have sufficient reasons to believe that they are counterfeit to be withdrawn from circulation. They shall immediately forward the banknotes and coins concerned to the competent national authorities.

In order to prevent counterfeiting, banknotes are now mostly produced in special security printing plants whose processes and technologies meet the requirements of the customer, for example through certified processes according to CWA 14641: 2009 or ISO 14298.


Reichsbanknotes from 1910

Banknotes were originally made of paper - sometimes made of fine material - and are still printed on paper in many countries, but other materials can also be used (e.g. plastic , polymer ). The material of the euro banknotes consists of security paper based on cotton fibers .

Bank notes made of polymer have the advantage of a longer shelf life, but are more expensive to produce than paper notes. Exposure to heat above 120 ° C (e.g. when ironing laundry) can damage them and shrink considerably, with aging they become brittle and can easily tear. Polymer banknotes were first issued in Europe in Romania . In Northern Ireland , the Northern Bank issued a five pound plastic banknote to celebrate the new millennium. In September 2016, the Bank of England issued a plastic banknote with a 15% smaller “Fiver” for the first time.

Outside of Europe, polymer banknotes are mainly found in tropical and subtropical countries. Australia, as a pioneer, as well as New Zealand , Papua New Guinea , Brunei , Vietnam , Romania and Canada have switched completely to plastic banknotes . Numerous other countries have only changed some or individual nominal values ​​or issued special commemorative certificates made of plastic. In some countries, polymer banknotes were only in temporary use, for example in Zambia (see Zambian Kwacha ).

One of the leading manufacturers of banknote and security paper is the Louisenthal paper factory , a subsidiary of Giesecke + Devrient , with production facilities in Gmund am Tegernsee and Königstein (Saxon Switzerland) .


Banknote issuers try to make their banknotes difficult to copy. Counterfeiters have always tried to copy banknotes and place them on the market. Modern banknotes therefore contain graduated security features which make counterfeiting of banknotes more difficult and support the verification of real banknotes.

The first security level comprises properties that can be recognized visually or tactilely without aids. These include the substrate, the watermark , the steel engraving - intaglio printing , the see-through register, the embedded security thread, optically variable inks ( Optically Variable Ink ) and holograms , can not be reproduced by color copying machines. In 1988/1989, a foil application ( kinegram ) on a paper note was used for the first time in the history of banknote printing with the Austrian 5000 Schilling banknote . This sets the course in the direction of the use of optical features, because this example is now being followed around the world (for example euros ).

The second level of security consists of procedures that are difficult to copy, but can be verified with simple tools. This includes microwriting (detection with a magnifying glass), guilloche patterns - patterns made up of fine lines that partially overlap or form gaps and thus create a spatial impression (detection with a magnifying glass) - and fluorescent or phosphorescent patterns (detection with a UV test device ) . For machine tests using sorting machines or deposit machines ( vending machines ), there are also invisible security features that are either incorporated as part of the substrate (paper or polymer) or the printing inks . This includes the physically measurable properties of the security thread or the printing inks.

The highest security level uses materials whose composition and verification method are known only to the manufacturer and the central bank. The Swiss franc is considered the banknote with the highest level of security in the world .

History of the banknote

With the boom in trade and the increasing value of individual transactions, increasingly larger quantities of coins were required. Due to the relatively high risk of forgery, coins could not be given an arbitrarily high face value. With large amounts of money, the use of coins was unwieldy because of the large number of individual coins required, so that the need for a more convenient means of payment arose. Both this necessity and the financial worries of princes initiated the development of paper money as a new form of payment, which is now increasingly being adopted by electronic current accounts, cash and credit cards .

Hongwu- era paper money , ca.1380
Swedish banknote, 1663


China is the first country in the world to use paper money. In the western Chinese city of Chengdu , paper money was already issued in the early Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127). By 1024, paper money was used as emergency money to finance a war when coins became scarce. Marco Polo discovered imperial paper banknotes, which were used as a general currency , on one of his trips in 1276 . The acceptance of paper money as a means of payment was enforced by the ruler Kublai Khan : Those who refused paper money as a means of payment were punished with death .

In 1402, paper money was abolished again in China, as it often happened that emperors had huge quantities of banknotes printed without paying attention to their cover. As a result, there had been repeated high inflation in China .

First banknotes in Europe

Paper money was not introduced in Europe until much later. The first paper money issue took place in Spain in 1483 . At that time, however, these siege notes were (temporary) replacements for missing coins .

The Bank of Amsterdam began creating book money in 1609 , but proceeded very carefully in this process, with the financial institution ensuring that there was sufficient cover at all times with coins for decades .

On July 16, 1661, the Bank of Stockholm , a private central bank, issued the first official banknotes in Europe - but with moderate success due to a lack of trust.

In England, in 1694 , King William granted the Scottish merchant Paterson, in exchange for a large loan, the approval to establish the Bank of England and the right to issue (initially handwritten) banknotes.

In Germany, the first "Bancoicket" appeared in Cologne, issued by the local "Banco di gyro d'Affrancatione", which was founded on March 2, 1705 on the proposal of Elector Johann Wilhelm II . The Cologne court banker Johann Heinrich Sybertz (or Siebertz) issued the first German paper money in Cologne in 1705 and redeemed it at "Cölln auf der Hohen Pforten ". As early as 1713 the Reich Chamber of Commerce ruled that state “banco notes”, which in this case had been issued by the Electoral Palatinate Bank in Cologne, had to be accepted as a means of payment.

In the 16./17. In the 19th century, banks took coins into custody against receipts. The receipts were used as a means of payment. They gave their owners the right to ask banks or jewelers who were obliged to do so at any time to return the appropriate amount of coins. The receipts were called “banknotes” or “notes” - and the corresponding banks were called “ central banks ” or “ note banks ”.

During the development of the modern banknote, which is only allowed to be issued by a central bank, historically there were very different paths and types of banknotes:

  • Receipt slips with and without interest on coins or precious metal bars deposited with banks or jewelers. Names were, for example, safe and cash register receipts.
  • Commercial bills of exchange or share certificates traded like banknotes (e.g. shares , Kuxen )
  • Private or (de facto) state banknotes ("slips"), with and without (debt-discharging) mandatory acceptance and very different coverage regulations.
  • In times of need, stamps and pieces of leather also took on the function of banknotes.

Further developments

Paper money was first used on a large scale in France under Treasury Secretary John Law in the brief period from 1718 to 1720; however, this episode ended in fiasco (see Mississippi Bubble ). Further stages in Europe were, for example, the Saxon and Prussian state paper and vault certificates of the 18th century; in Austria in 1762 were first called Bancozettel of Vienna, Banco output. The assignats appeared in France during the French Revolution around 1791 .

From the intensification of trade, especially from the 19th century, the requirement to expand the means of payment developed, which led to the establishment of various central banks. From the 19th century, the banknote was generally accepted as a means of payment in Germany alongside the coin. Citizens saw the benefits of large payments. For example, 1000 silver Zollvereinstalers weighed around 18 kg, two banknotes of 500 talers each weighed perhaps 5 grams.

Since paper money - based on the face value - can be produced inexpensively and it is often neither covered by existing assets nor by enough purchasable goods, it can easily be spent in excess. This always leads to price increases and a loss of purchasing power for money ( inflation ). Due to the combination of paper money with war and inflation, paper money was felt to be worthless well into the 20th century and viewed with suspicion. In Bavaria Emil von Schauß expressed his first doubts in 1856.

Saxon "1 thaler note" from 1855

The Saxon cash register from 1772 is an example of the possibility of long-term value retention .

Change in coverage

The trust in paper money was originally based on the fact that anyone could exchange it for coins at any time. This trust was based on sufficient stocks of coins in the publisher's treasury. In addition, the exchange for coins on the banknote was usually guaranteed in text form. As a historical holdover of no practical significance, such assurances can still be read today on the banknotes of numerous countries. An example from England: Bank of England : I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of 5 pounds (here meant in sterling silver ).

Initially, there was an obligation to cover: the banknotes issued had to be secured ("covered") by stocks of Kurant coins or precious metal bars. In the course of the 19th century, with the change from the silver standard to the gold standard , the obligation to cover mostly changed from silver to gold. The cover requirement should increase confidence in the banknotes issued.

Over time, however, the amount of "paper money" clearly exceeded the amount of coins and precious metals, which was made possible by the fact that not all banknotes are usually presented for exchange in currency coins. During the imperial era, for example, the German Reichsbank only needed to cover a third of its banknotes with gold, although theoretically every note should have been covered (see mark ). There were no cover requirements at all for deposit money (see, however, minimum reserve ).

Today the obligation to cover banknotes with stocks of Kurant coins or other silver or gold stocks has generally been abolished. The lifting of the cover requirement for most banknotes worldwide probably began around the beginning of the First World War, although at that time there were uncovered banknotes at the compulsory exchange rate in some less industrialized countries even before 1915.

Some historical German names for state banknotes

Reich cash
receipt October 6, 1906
Loan receipt
February 20, 1918

Banknote collections

The largest banknote collections in the world are owned by the HVB Foundation in Munich (300,000 banknotes), the Deutsche Bundesbank's Money Museum (260,000 banknotes), the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and the British Museum in London .

There are around 3000 registered private collectors worldwide. Compared to collectors of postage stamps or coins, there are very few, but their number is increasing continuously. The banknote collectors have come together to form the International Bank Note Society (IBNS, founded in 1961) based in the USA. The association publishes an information journal four times a year as well as an address book for all members at regular intervals so that the collectors can send each other information and banknotes.

Smaller collections of banknotes are still e.g. B. in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (15,000 banknotes and emergency notes), the Städtisches Museum Braunschweig (16,000 banknotes) and in the Foundation German Historical Museum (60,000 banknotes).

Anti-theft devices

Anti-theft devices make stolen banknotes unusable and therefore worthless. In this way, they reduce the risk of retailers, banks and other people who work with cash becoming victims of crime. According to ECB guidelines, exchanging banknotes that have been damaged by an anti-theft device requires a written statement on the cause.

Intelligent banknote neutralization system

IBNS (Intelligent Banknote Neutralization System) is a security system that protects banknotes from unauthorized access by rendering them unusable in the event of an attack by applying a substance (ink, adhesive). This technology is mainly used in the transport of valuables and in ATMs to mark stolen banknotes and make it difficult and prevent them to be redeemed. Country-specific laws stipulate whether the use of IBNS is subject to certain rules (e.g. in Germany and Belgium) or not regulated (e.g. in Austria and Switzerland). The Deutsche Bundesbank sees this as an opportunity to "increase the probability of detection after the theft of banknotes and at the same time reduce the financial value of the loot [..] and protect the personnel and property of the cash handlers", but leaves the decision to the commercial banks and valuables transport companies .

Security package

A security package or alarm package is a passive measure against bank robberies. The security package is hidden in a prepared wad of money and is supposed to explode during the robber's escape and release paint (paint bomb ), tear gas or other chemicals.

End in the shredder

Banknotes wear out in circulation due to manual and mechanical handling. In the commercial banks, soiled or damaged banknotes are regularly sorted out and returned to the central bank as no longer fit for use, which destroys them under strict supervision with a special demolition shredder that works similar to a document shredder . The snippets are typically 1.5 mm × 15 mm in size and correspond to security level P-5 according to DIN 66399-2. They can be pressed into round pellets with a diameter of approx. 65 mm or into briquettes with a cross-section of approx. 120 × 50 mm² (breaking off, density 0.55 g / cm³) with a briquetting press, so that the emissions can be better disposed of and burned or can be composted. Another possibility is to add snippets to the raw mass of brick production so that small insulating cavities are created during firing. Some central banks also issue the snippets as souvenirs.

In Germany at the time of the D-Mark 1000 to 2400 tons of banknotes were shredded per year. During the switch to euro banknotes in 2002, a particularly large number of DM banknotes were withdrawn from circulation. In 2017, the Deutsche Bundesbank destroyed around 1 billion euro banknotes corresponding to a weight of around 1000 tons.

See also


  • Klaus W. Bender : Geldmacher: The most secret trade in the world . Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2004, ISBN 978-3-527-50113-7 (305 pages).
  • Helmut Kahnt, Bernd Knorr: Old measures, coins and weights. A lexicon. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1986, licensed edition Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-411-02148-9 , p. 381 f.
  • Michael Krätke  : Banknote (pdf), in: Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism , Vol. 2, Argument-Verlag, Hamburg, 1995, Sp. 22-27.
  • Karl Erich Born : The development of the banknote from "slip" to legal tender. In: Academy of Sciences and Literature (Ed.): Treatises of the humanities and social science class. No. 1. 1972.
  • Albert Pick : Paper money - A manual for collectors and enthusiasts. Klinkhardt & Biermann, Braunschweig 1967 ( library for lovers of art and antiques 47)
  • Deutsche Bundesbank (Ed.): German paper money 1772–1870 . Overall design of the Typographisches Institut Giesecke & Devrient GmbH, Munich. 1963 (128 pp., [PDF; 11.3 MB ]).
  • Georg Obst , Otto Hintner: Money, banking and stock exchange . Financial System Manual. Ed .: Norbert Kloten . 40th edition. Schäffer-Poeschel, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 978-3-7910-1246-9 (1772 pages).

Web links

Commons : Banknotes by country  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Banknote  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: paper money  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Money  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. Helmut Kahnt, Bernd Knorr: Old dimensions, coins and weights. A lexicon. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1986, licensed edition Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-411-02148-9 , p. 398.
  2. Paper money: originally a collective term for all types of banknotes that could not be exchanged for a currency metal. See Helmut Kahnt, Bernd Knorr: Old measures, coins and weights. A lexicon. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1986, licensed edition Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-411-02148-9 , p. 393 f.
  3. Robert Millbrandt, History of Economics , 1924, p 59
  4. ^ Cornell University Law School, USC 31 § 5112
  5. Federal Act on Currency and Means of Payment (WZG)
  6. ^ Currency and Bank Notes Act 1954 , (PDF; 73 kB)
  7. Regulation (EC) 1338/2001, ABl. L 181/6 of July 4, 2001 (PDF)
  8. ↑ Practical test for plastic money: advantages outweigh central banks, September 13, 2016, accessed September 13, 2016.
  9. Great Britain gets plastic money bills, from December 19, 2013
  10. ^ Chengdu - An Ancient City with Flourishing Industry and Commerce
  11. John Lanchester : About Money - The Invention of Money. Deutschlandradio, accessed on November 17, 2019 (German).
  12. Calendar sheet - DW-World
  13. Illustration of the first European banknotes, with the handwritten signatures of the bank's founder Johan Palmstruch and his colleagues, alvin-record: 47808
  14. ^ Historical archive of the city of Cologne (Best. 310G Reichskammergericht, A 91 [loss on March 3, 2009]); In it print: Brief information about the Banco di Affrancatione , Düsseldorf 1711, introduced by her electoral highness in Palatinate in the Holy Roman Empire instead of Cöllen
  15. Goethe processed the fiasco in Faust. The tragedy part two , first act, scene Kaiserliche Pfalz, Lustgarten , 1831. See also: (a) the commentary by Albrecht Schöne on the topics: paper money, money creation , coverage of money and bonds , guarantee (signature of the emperor), (b ) the commentary by Heinz Hamm (1978/1997), pp. 143-145 and (c) the commentary by Theodor Friedrich and Lothar J. Scheithauer (1959/1980, Reclam 7177) on v. 6066 ff, p. 227.

  16. Stable paper money in the 18th century. The Saxon cash register tickets. @ (PDF 4.7 MB, p. 36ff), with ill. "1 Reichs-Thaler" from 1772, accessed January 26, 2018
  17. ↑ Collection of banknotes. HVB Foundation, Munich, accessed on May 24, 2019 .
  18. ↑ Collection of coins and banknotes. Deutsche Bundesbank, accessed on May 24, 2019 (German, English).
  19. Klaus W. Bender: Geldmacher - The secret most secret trade in the world , p. 286
  20. ^ Website of the International Bank Note Society
  21. ^ Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Münzkabinett. Accessed December 31, 2017 .
  22. Collections . ( [accessed December 31, 2017]).
  23. ^ German Historical Museum: Numismatics. Accessed December 31, 2017 .
  24. Banknotes with ink stains. with picture examples for discolored or stuck banknotes. Deutsche Bundesbank, accessed on May 22, 2019 .
  25. Decision of the European Central Bank of April 19, 2013 on the denomination, characteristics and reproduction as well as the exchange and withdrawal of euro banknotes. (PDF; 839 kB) ECB / 2013/10. Official Journal of the European Union, April 30, 2013, accessed on May 22, 2019 (Article 3, exchanging damaged genuine euro banknotes).
  26. Stefan Hardt: Intelligent banknote neutralization systems. A report from the Deutsche Bundesbank. (PDF; 4.49 MB) In: The Security Service (DSD). December 1, 2015, pp. 10–11 , accessed on May 22, 2019 .
  27. Hungarians burn money to keep warm. (Video 1:01 min) In: AFP news agency. February 8, 2012, accessed on May 2, 2019 (English): "The Hungarian Central Bank has begun recycling banknotes withdrawn from circulation by turning them into fire briquettes and donating them to the poor who can use them for burning."
  28. Composting of DM notes. In: Deutschlandfunk. October 18, 2001, accessed May 2, 2019 .
  29. ^ Compost of banknotes from intensive rotting , first publication: "Der Tagesspiegel", Berlin, from April 15, 1999