The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has just announced that the new set of Singapore coins will be introduced in mid-2013. Belonging to the Third Series since independence, the designs of the new coins feature five of Singapore’s most iconic landmarks: the Merlion, Port of Singapore, Changi Airport, HDB Flats and the Esplanade.
MAS was given the right to issue Singapore dollar notes and coins in October 2002 after its merger with the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore (BCCS). Previously, the BCCS, set up in 1967 under the Currency Act, was the main body of currency issuance. Before the circulation of the first series of Singapore notes and coins, Singapore had been using a common currency issued by the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Malaya and British Borneo between 1953 and 1967. The new currency system of Singapore signified the full independence of the nation from the British.
The Singapore Mint
In 1968, to maintain a high standard of precision engineering and security, the Singapore Mint was established by the former Minister for Finance Dr Goh Keng Swee for the minting of Singapore coins. The following year, it issued Singapore’s first commemorative coin to celebrate the 150th year of the founding of Singapore (in 1819). It was a 22-carat gold coin that featured the Raffles Lighthouse.
The high quality of the Singapore Mint became internationally well-known in the seventies. Other countries and regions, such as the Philippines, Nepal, the Western Samoa, and later Macau, Cook Islands and Brunei, approached Singapore for the minting of their own circulation coins. In 1975 and 1977, two sets of commemorative coins were launched to mark the 10th year anniversaries of Singapore’s independence and its membership to the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) respectively.
Other than the core business of coin minting, the Singapore Mint also took on other businesses such as minting of military medals and memorabilia for private companies. Entering privatisation in the eighties, the Singapore Mint began to focus in production, design, packaging and marketing.
More commemorative coins were launched to mark the important milestones in the progress of Singapore, such as the official opening of the Changi Airport (1981), the completion of the Benjamin Sheares Bridge (1982), 25th anniversary of HDB (1985) and the success of MRT (1989).
One popular collection of commemorative coins introduced was the lunar coin series, first started in 1981 with the Year of the Rooster coin. Since then, it had become one of the longest series, with an animal of the Chinese Zodiac (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig) designed, minted and sold to the public every year.
The Singapore Coins – Marine Series
Singapore’s first set of coins was launched in 20 November 1967, about five months after the introduction of its first set of dollar notes. The denomination of the coins ranged from 1-cent to $1, with designs of public housing (1-cent), snake-bird (5-cent), sea horse (10-cent), swordfish (20-cent), lionfish (50-cent) and a Singapore-styled lion ($1).
In 1971, the Singapore Mint also issued a limited edition of a FAO 5-cent coin to the public. It was to mark Singapore’s participation in the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and the coin was designed with a fish and wordings of “INCREASE PRODUCTION” and “MORE FOOD FROM THE SEA”. Made of aluminum, the 1.24g coin was even lighter than the normal 5-cent coins, even though it was almost as large as the 20-cent coin. Due to its limited quantity, light weight and a large size for a 5-cent coin, many people thought it was a counterfeit coin.
The Singapore Coins – Floral Series
In December 1985, the Singapore Mint introduced Singapore’s second coin series. New 5-cent to 50-cent coins were issued with designs of flowers and plants on the faces. The fruit salad plant, star jasmine, powder-puff plant and the yellow allamanda were chosen for the 5-cent, 10-cent, 20-cent and 50-cent coins respectively.
The 1-cent and $1 coin of the ‘flora series’ were issued only almost two years later, in September 1987, with face designs of Singapore’s national flower Vanda Miss Joaquim (1-cent) and the periwinkle ($1). The $1 coin was also the first design of a Singapore coin with an octagonal frame, which led to the famous feng shui and bagua rumours.
The current ‘flora series’ coins are expected to be phased out by 2017, replaced by the new third series coins. Interestingly, the design of an octagonal frame is retained on the new $1 coin.
The Singapore Notes – Orchid Series
The ‘orchid series’ Singapore dollar notes were the first set of currency notes issued by Singapore. Six denominations of $1, $5, $10, $50, $100 and $1,000 were launched first, in June 1967, followed by $25, $500 and $10,000 denominations in August 1972 and January 1973.
Various types of orchids were chosen as designs for the faces of the ‘orchid series notes, whereas the back designs consisted of public housing ($1), Singapore River ($5), four grasped hands ($10), Supreme Court building ($25), Clifford Pier ($50), Singapore waterfront ($100), Government Offices ($500), Victoria Theatre ($1,000) and The Istana ($10,000).
The $10 design had perhaps the most iconic design, with its striking red background and the four grasped hands that represents the racial harmony and unity among Singapore’s four main races. It signified the importance of a stable society that was much needed in the sixties just after the country’s independence.
Till date, the $25 ‘orchid series’ note was the only denomination of its kind in Singapore currency.
The Singapore Notes – Bird Series
Between August 1976 and February 1980, Singapore’s second note series were issued. The ‘bird series’, as its name suggested, involved a range of bird designs on the faces on the dollar notes, including kingfisher, sunbird, oriole and eagle.
At the back, there were designs of National Day Parade ($1), cable cars ($5), Garden City ($10), Changi Airport and Concorde ($20), school music band ($50), ethics group dancers ($100), oil refinery ($500), container terminal ($1,000) and the Singapore River ($10,000). The new back designs of the ‘bird series’ notes demonstrated the rapid progress enjoyed by Singapore in the seventies.
The previous $25 denomination note of the ‘orchid series’ was replaced by a new $20 denomination ‘bird series’ note.
The Singapore Notes – Ship Series
The third series of the Singapore dollar notes was introduced between October 1984 and August 1989. Boats and ships ranging from tongkangs and twakows, used to be commonly found at the Singapore River in the eighties, to the huge cargo container “Neptune Garnet”, were used for the face designs of the dollar notes.
The $20 denomination was disused in the third series, but a new $2 denomination was added to the ‘ship series’ in January 1991. Designed with reddish orange background, the new $2 dollar note caused confusion among the public, due to the similarity in the colour with the $10 note. In December 1991, a purple variation of the $2 note was issued.
The likes of Changi Airport, Benjamin Sheares Bridge, PSA Container Terminal and Sentosa Satellite Earth Station were featured in the back designs of the third series notes to reflect the economic success of Singapore in the eighties.
In 1990, Singapore issued its first polymer dollar note to celebrate its 25 years of independence. It was only two years after Australia became the first country in the world to introduce polymer currency. The $50 polymer notes, however, were for commemorative purpose and printed in limited quantities. It was not until the mid-2000s before polymer currency was widely used for circulation in Singapore.
The Singapore Notes – Portrait Series
In conjunction with the Millennium celebration, Singapore issued its fourth and current series of dollar notes in September 1999. Known as the ‘portrait series, it features the portrait of Singapore’s first president Encik Yusof bin Ishak (1910-1970) on the face designs of every denomination.
Some significant changes made to the new series are the discontinuation of the $1 dollar note and the introduction of polymer currency. By the mid-2000s, the polymer notes in the denomination of $2, $5 and $10 portrait series notes became available for circulation. The higher denomination, however, remained printed in paper forms.
The Early Currency
When Sir Stamford Raffles established Singapore as free port in 1819, trading flourished rapidly, with the Chinese, Indian, Arab and European merchants preferring to deal mainly in the Spanish and Mexican silver dollars due to their high silver content.
The first coin in circulation in Singapore was minted in 1824 by the Calcutta Mint of India. The valuation was fixed at 1/3-cent and 1/30-dollar, but the quality of the coins was poor, resulting in a brief circulation before they were gradually phased out.
After the establishment of the Straits Settlements in 1826, the British East India Company, which also administrated the Indian subcontinent, enforced the Indian silver rupee as the sole legal currency in Singapore and Malaya. Meanwhile, in the 1850s, private banks such as Asiatic Banking Corporation, Oriental Bank Corporation, Chartered Mercantile Bank of India, London & China and Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) began to issue their own currency notes. These were the first paper currency used in Singapore.
In April 1867, the Straits Settlements were placed under direct British rule as the Crown Colony. The Indian silver rupee was abandoned and replaced by the silver dollars as the legal tender currency. This lasted until 1903 when the standardised Straits Dollars were issued.
The British Malayan Currency
In October 1938, the Commissioners of Currency, Malaya was established. British financial administrator Sir Basil Blackett (1882-1935) had earlier published a report, later known as the Blackett Report, on the feasibility of the Straits Settlement currency.
Legalised by the government of the Straits Settlement, the Malay states and Brunei, the board started issuing a common currency for circulation within Malaya and Brunei. The currency system would later extend to Sarawak and North Borneo in 1953.
The Banana Notes
The Japanese forces began their invasion of Malaya at the end of 1941, and by February 1942, the conquest of the entire peninsular was completed with the surrender of Singapore. At the start, the Japanese invasion currency, officially known as the Southern Development Bank Notes, were serial-numbered dollar notes in denominations of $1, $5 and $10, and were intended to be circulated together with the existing British Malayan currency.
After the Japanese strengthened their foothold in Malaya, the British Malayan currency were forced to be obsolete, and replaced by new Japanese notes ranging from 1-cent to 50-cent. In the later years of the Second World War, the Japanese authorities printed large amount of money to support their military causes. Serial numbers were abandoned, resulting in hyperinflation and steep depreciation of the currency.
By August 1945, the Japanese invasion currency became worthless due to an imminent surrender of Japan. Tens of thousands of locals rushed to dump their money in exchange of the old currency, provisions or other assets. Many became bankrupt, while others who had secretly kept their old Malayan money benefited by the return of the British.
The Japanese invasion currency used in Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei would later popularly known as the banana notes, due to the designs of banana trees on the face of the $10 dollar note.
The Common Currency
With Sarawak and North Borneo established as British crown colonies after the Second World War, the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Malaya, was restructured in 1952 to become the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Malaya and British Borneo, and was given the sole right to issue dollars and coins for Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, British North Borneo and Brunei.
Bearing the image of the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, the common currency lasted until 1967 and signified the British influence over Malaya and Borneo, even though the Federation of Malaya achieved independence in 31 August 1957.
In June 1967, the currency used commonly by the Federation of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei was discontinued with each country’s establishment of its own currency system, although the common currency remained legal tender for a further two years. The Board of Commissioners of Currency, Malaya and British Borneo, finally ceased its operation in November 1979.
In order to boost trade relations and economic ties, an Interchangeability Agreement was adopted by the three countries, in which the currencies of the three countries were allowed to interchange at a fixed rate.
This tripartite agreement, however, lasted until 8 May 1973 when Malaysia decided to opt out, but Singapore and Brunei continued the agreement till present day.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the Interchangeability Agreement between Singapore and Brunei, a set of commemorative $20 dollar notes was launched in 2007.
Published: 24 February 2013
Updated: 30 May 2021