- Ethiopian birr
image_1 = Ethiopia 1Birr Reverse.jpg
image_title_1 = Reverse of a 1 Ethiopian birr
iso_code = ETB
inflation_rate = 10.5%
inflation_source_date = " [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2092.html The World Factbook] ", 2006 est.
subunit_ratio_1 = 1/100
subunit_name_1 = santim
symbol = Br
used_coins = 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 santim
used_banknotes = 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 birr
National Bank of Ethiopia
issuing_authority_website = www.nbe.gov.et
The birr ( _am. ብር) is the unit of
currencyin Ethiopia. Before 1976, "dollar" was the official English translation of "birr". Today, it is officially "birr" in English as well.
In 1931, the
Emperor of Ethiopiaformally requested that the international community use the name "Ethiopia" (as it had already been known internally for at least 1600 years) instead of "Abyssinia", and the issuing "Bank of Abyssinia" also became the "Bank of Ethiopia". Thus, the pre-1931 currency could be considered the "Abyssinian birr" and the post-1931 currency the Ethiopian "birr", although it was the same country and the same currency before and after.
First birr, 1855-1936
In the 18th and 19th centuries,
Maria Theresa thalers and blocks of saltcalled "amoleh" served as currency in Ethiopia. The "thaler" was known locally as the "Birr" (literally meaning " silver" in Ge'ez and Amharic) or "taleri". The Maria Theresa "thaler" was officially adopted as the standard coin in 1855, although the Indian rupee and the Mexican dollar were also used in foreign trade.
The "talari" (thaler, dollar, birr) became the standard unit on 9 February 1893 and 200,000 dollars were produced at the Paris Mint in 1894 for Menelik II. The "talari", equivalent to the Maria Theresa "thaler", was divided into 20 "ghersh" (also "guerche" or "gersh", the name coming from the Ottoman Empire's "
qirsh") or 40 "bessa" (a small copper coin).
A new Ethiopian coinage appeared about 1903. The new silver "birr" maintained the same weight and fineness as the old, but there was now a "quarter-birr" and a silver "ghersh", the latter 1/16th the weight of the "birr". The money of account now became 1 "birr' = 16 "ghersh" = 32 "bessa".
The "Bank of Abyssinia" was established in 1905 by Menelik and the European banking group behind the National Bank of Egypt; the bank was officially inaugurated by Menelik on 15 February 1906. The Ethiopian coinage gained acceptance only gradually, and Bank of Abyssinia imported Maria Theresa "thalers". By the time World War One broke out, the bank was still importing about 1 200 000 of these coins annually. Bank of Abyssinia put banknotes into circulation in 1915. These notes were denominated "birr' in Amharic and "thaler' in English. They were used by merchants and by foreigners but were not initially accepted generally. However, Note circulation increased considerably after 1925.
Haile Selassie bought out the Bank of Abyssinia in 1931 for £235,000 in order to make it a purely Ethiopian institution. It was reorganized as "Bank of Ethiopia". At the same time, the currency was decimalized and token nickel and copper coins were introduced, the "birr" becoming equal to 100 "metonnyas" (often written "matonas"). The text on the bank's notes appeared in Amharic and French.
By the mid-1930s circulation consisted chiefly of Maria Theresa and Menelik "talari".
Italian Lira, 1936-1941
Not long after the Italian occupation and the transformation of Ethiopia into
Italian East Africa, the Italian lirawas introduced (15 July 1936) and Ethiopian banknotes were withdrawn from circulation at 3 lire per talar (birr). In an effort to increase the use of Italian paper money, the exchange rate for silver coin (Maria Theresa thalers) was raised to 4.50 lire, then to 5.00, and eventually, in stages, to 13.50. Still, many people kept their Ethiopian coins and banknotes.
Regular Italian coins and banknotes of Banca d'Italia circulated after 15 July 1936. Special notes with a red overprint were authorized for Italian East Africa on 12 September 1938, and a large quantity was printed. It is not clear, however, when, where, and to what extent these special notes actually circulated.
East African Shilling, 1941-1945
During the East African Campaign of 1941, British forces brought with them Indian, Egyptian, British, and British East African currency, and all were received in official payments. Italian coins and notes of up to 50 lire were allowed to continue in circulation to serve as small change; higher denominations were withdrawn at a rate of 24 lire per shilling. Maria Theresa thalers were allowed to circulate with a value of 10s 1/2d (or 45 lire). The
East African shillingbecame the money of account on 1 July 1942; it eventually became the sole legal tender and remained so until 1945.
Regular notes of the
East African Currency Boardwere used for circulation in Ethiopia.
econd birr, 1945-
The "birr" was reintroduced in 1945 at a rate of 1 "birr" = 2 shillings. The name "Ethiopian dollar" was used in the English text on the banknotes. It was divided into 100 "santim" (derived from the French "centime"). The name "birr" became the official name, used in all languages, in 1976.
Between 1894 and 1897 copper coins were introduced in denominations of fraction|1|100 and fraction|1|32 birr, together with silver 1 "ghersh", ⅛, ¼, ½ and 1 "birr", and gold ¼, ½ and 1 "werk". In 1931, a new series of coins was introduced consisting of copper 1 and 5 metonnyas, and nickel 10, 20 and 50 metonnyas.
In 1944 (EE1936 in the
Ethiopian calendar), coins were reintroduced, with copper 1, 5, 10 and 25 santim and silver 50 santim. A second series was issued in 1977 (EE1969) consisting of aluminium 1 santim, brass 5 and 10 santim, and cupro-nickel 25 and 50 santim. The most recent issues are:
*5 "santim" EE1998
*10 "santim" EE1996
*25 "santim" EE1996 (also called "semuni")
*50 "santim" EE1996
The dates, like the rest of the legend, appear in
Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.
Identification and appearance
Besides having almost all the legends in Amharic, there are two features which help to immediately identify an Ethiopian birr. Early dated coins, those dated before EE1969, feature a crowned rampant lion holding a cross. This can be seen in the picture to the right. Later dated coins, those dated EE1969 or after, picture the head of a roaring lion, with a flowing mane.
Coins were struck at several mints, including Paris, Berlin, and Addis Ababa. Coins without mintmarks were generally struck at Addis Ababa. The coins struck at Paris have either the mintmark "A" with the cornucopia and fasces
privy marks, or the cornucopia and torch privy marks without the "A".
The Bank of Abyssinia introduced notes for 5, 10, 100, and 500 talari in 1915. 280,000 talari worth of notes was printed. The text on the notes was in Amharic and French. A 50-talari note was added in 1929, by which time over 1.5 million talari in notes were circulating.
The Bank of Ethiopia issued notes in 1932 in denominations of 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 talari. A 2-talari note dated 1 June 1933 was issued in honour of the Imperial couple. By the end of 1934 some 3.3 million talari in notes were circulating.
In 1945, notes were introduced by the "State Bank of Ethiopia" in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 birr. The "National Bank of Ethiopia" took over note production in 1966 and issued all denominations except for the 500 birr. Banknotes have been issued in the following series:
Economy of Ethiopia
Standard numismatics external links
world_coin_gallery_1_url = Ethiopia
world_coin_gallery_1_name = Ethiopia
banknote_world_1_url = ethiopia
banknote_world_1_name = Ethiopia
dollarization_1_url = et
dollarization_1_name = Ethiopia
dollarization_2_url = er
dollarization_2_name = Eritrea
gfd_1_url = Ethiopia
gfd_1_name = Ethiopia
gfd_data_1_url = 5541
gfd_data_1_name = Ethiopia Birr
show_gfd_excel = Y
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