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Hong Kong currency exhibition reveals story of city's evolution (with photos)

     "Hong Kong Currency", the largest exhibition of its kind ever held in Hong Kong, will be open to the public from tomorrow (March 14) until June 4 at the Hong Kong Museum of History.

     The exhibition has brought together about 700 artefacts. In addition to displaying coins and paper money from the museum collection, the exhibition features a large quantity of artefacts being showcased for the first time, including pattern coins, hubs and dies for coins circulated in Hong Kong, plaster models for commemorative gold coins, draft banknote designs, specimen notes, steel plates for note printing and more, making it the largest show in the history of Hong Kong in terms of the number and variety of exhibits. Also featuring valuable historical pictures and videos, the exhibition allows visitors to read stories of the development of different types of currency that have been used in Hong Kong across different eras, as well as how the purchasing power of the local currency has changed over the years in relation to Hong Kong people's everyday lives.

     Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department in collaboration with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the exhibition is organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History with Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited and Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited as supporting organisations.

     The exhibition was officially opened today (March 13) by the Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Raymond Young; the Deputy Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Mr Peter Pang; the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited, Mr Benjamin Hung; the Chief Executive Officer Hong Kong of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Ms Anita Fung; the Chief Financial Officer of the Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited, Mr Zhuo Chengwen; the Chairman of the History Museum Advisory Panel, Dr Philip Wu; the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mrs Betty Fung; and the Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, Ms Susanna Siu.

     After Hong Kong opened its ports to foreign trade in 1841, the city used silver sycees and Chinese cash coins as its main currency. Hong Kong only got its own paper money in 1846 when the city's first bank, the Oriental Bank, began issuing Hong Kong dollar banknotes and bearers of the notes could exchange them for silver dollars. As the demand for subsidiary coins continued to increase over the next decades, the Hong Kong Government began ordering coins in denominations of 10 cents and below from Britain in 1863. Then, in 1866, the Hong Kong Mint was founded to produce silver coins in denominations from five cents to $1 locally, thus establishing the dollar as the city's unit of currency. China, Japan and Korea later followed suit.

     After the British trade dollar was abolished in 1937, the city's coinage was standardised and issued exclusively by the Hong Kong Government. Entering the 20th century, the number of note-issuing banks in Hong Kong fell from six to two: the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) and the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. The Mercantile Bank of India Limited resumed issuing notes in 1912. Later, the establishment of the Exchange Fund in 1935 required note-issuing banks to keep silver in the Fund in exchange for a Certificate of Indebtedness. This marked the point when the requirement imposed on the note-issuing banks to pay the bearer in silver upon presentation of the notes was consigned to the history books. Banknotes have also been listed as legal tender in Hong Kong since that year.

     During the Second World War, when the Imperial Japanese Army occupied Hong Kong, Hong Kong dollar coins and notes continued to circulate for a time at different exchange rates in the city alongside Japanese military notes. From 1943 onwards, the Japanese military notes were made the only currency of exchange, which meant the Hong Kong dollar was no longer accepted as legal tender. When the British resumed administration of Hong Kong after the Japanese surrendered, new notes printed in Britain were delivered to Hong Kong again.

     In 1955, the bust of the then newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II started appearing on the new coins. In the 1970s, the Mercantile Bank issued its last banknotes, and HSBC and the Standard Chartered Bank first issued $1,000 notes. In the 1980s, the two banks issued $20 notes and these new banknotes entered the history books as the first to be printed locally by the Hong Kong branch of the De La Rue Company Limited (now Hong Kong Note Printing Limited).

     The signing of the Joint Declaration in 1984 marked a transitional period for Hong Kong's return to China. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority was established in 1993, and a series of new coins was introduced in the same year with the image of the bauhinia, Hong Kong's floral emblem, to replace the bust of Queen Elizabeth II. The Government began issuing $10 coins in 1994. Also in 1994, the Bank of China issued Hong Kong banknotes for the first time, bringing the total number of note-issuing banks in Hong Kong to three again. For a time, there were five denominations of banknotes issued in Hong Kong, ranging from $20 to $1,000. However, as demand for $10 notes remained high during the Chinese New Year, the denomination was brought back in 2002 in the form of Government-issued notes, which have been printed on polymer since 2007.

     Nowadays, it is very common for Hong Kong people to use debit and credit cards. The increasing acceptance of personal loan services also helped push Hong Kong into the credit card age. The 1990s witnessed our embrace of electronic money, which has turned Hong Kong into one of the most successful cities in its implementation. The drop in public demand for paper money and coins indicates that Hong Kong's currency is moving from tangible to intangible forms, with the definition of money gaining a new meaning.

     Apart from learning more about the birth of Hong Kong currency and appreciating Hong Kong's delicately minted coins and colourful banknotes, visitors may also be able to gain, through this exhibition, a better knowledge of the value and usage of different Hong Kong coins and notes in different periods, and how changes in purchasing power have influenced Hong Kong people's daily life.

     The 700 exhibits featured in the exhibition cover a wide array of relics, and some of them have been rarely seen. Among the items on display are hubs and dies for coins, silver coins stamped in Hong Kong from 1866 to 1868, banknotes issued by the Oriental Bank Corporation (the first note-issuing bank in Hong Kong), the HSBC $1 note from 1926 with a watermark window for the first time, the Chartered Bank banknotes from 1959 with the first use of a metallic security strip, the first batches of Certificates of Indebtedness issued to the note-issuing banks by the Hong Kong Government in 1935, the printing plate of the HSBC $500 note bearing the portrait of Sir Thomas Jackson, commemorative coin plaster models with the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac from 1976 to 1987, and the Bank of China un-prefixed commemorative banknote set from 1994.  

     To supplement the exhibition, a new edition of the "Hong Kong Currency" catalogue has been published by the Hong Kong Museum of History. This catalogue is a comprehensive record of the development of the coinage and paper money of Hong Kong from 1841 to the present with detailed descriptions and invaluable historical photographs. Priced at $150, the catalogue is available at the gift shop of the Hong Kong Museum of History.

     The Hong Kong Museum of History is also organising a lucky draw for the exhibition. Each visitor will be given a lucky draw voucher along with the purchase of an admission ticket during the exhibition period. Upon answering the questions on the voucher correctly, they will then qualify for the lucky draw. A total of three winners will be drawn and each winner will receive an exquisite paperweight set valued at $3,000 sponsored by the Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) Limited, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited and Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited. The lucky draw will be conducted on June 8 at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The results will be posted at the museum's Main Lobby on the first floor and on the museum's website at

     The Hong Kong Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm on Mondays to Saturdays and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission to the museum is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For details of the exhibition, please visit the Hong Kong Museum of History's website,, or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Issued at HKT 20:12


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