Evolution of Currency


Pre-Founding of Modern Singapore (Pre-1819) PreFounding of Modern Singapore Pre 1819

Local Money

Coins found from sites such as Fort Canning Hill and the new Parliament House Complex, dating back as early as the 10th and 11th centuries, proved that Singapore was already a busy trading centre long before the establishment of the British East India Company in the region. Research has shown that from 8th century AD, Chinese copper cash imported by Chinese merchants became the main currency for trade in the Malay Peninsula. A local indigenous version, pitis, cast from tin, eventually evolved from this model during the last two decades of the 18th century.

Figure 1: Local Money 

By the 15th century, currencies made from native materials such as gold, tin and pewter were used. These included tampang or money cast in shapes of pagodas and pyramids and tin-animal money. The tampang developed into the lighter hollow 'tin-hat' shape and was used up to 1893. Some states such as Johore, Kelantan and Trengganu also issued gold coins from the 15th to 18th centuries, while conventional shaped tin coins appeared in Malacca in the 15th century. Pewter coins were issued in Trengganu and Kelantan in the 18th century. 

Foreign Coins used in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo

The Malay Peninsula was a central emporium of trade between the Chinese merchants in the east, and the Indian as well as Arab traders. A variety of other currencies were issued in the Malay Peninsula by the 15th century. There was no dominant native currency. The Spanish dollar was the main unit of account and other coins were also in circulation. The early days of the Straits Settlements of Singapore were marked by an acute shortage of currency. Indian and Penang coinage were the official standards, but merchants preferred the Spanish and Mexican silver dollars because of the high quality silver in these coins.

Figure 2: Foreign Coins used in the Malay Peninsular and Borneo 

Owing to the wide and varied trade in the island, a much greater range of silver dollars such as the Peruvian, Bolivian, Hong Kong and American dollars, and the Japanese Yen were also in circulation. Under those circumstances, a problem of an established exchange medium arose.

Trade Coinages- Portcullis Money

The Portcullis trade coins were struck at the command of Queen Elizabeth I to be used for trade by the East India Company in the East Indies in the same way as the British Trade Dollar circulated in the Far East some 300 years later. These were the first coins issued for the British Empire outside the normal coinage that were issued for England. These coins show no denomination, but they were issued to be equivalent to the 1, 2, 4 and 8 Spanish reale coins. Their denominations were usually referred to as testerns.

Figure 3: Trade Coinages - Porcullis Money 

The coins were struck for the first and last time in January 1601 and they formed a part of the money supply in the East Indies in 1602. However, the East Indies did not readily accept these English trade coins.

Founding of Modern Singapore (1819 - 1826) Founding of Modern Singapore 1819  1826

Singapore was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, and was administered from Fort Marlborough, Bencoolen, Sumatra, until June 1823. Under British colonial rule, it grew in importance as a centre for both India-China trade and entrepot trade in Southeast Asia, rapidly becoming a major port city.

First Coin in Singapore

In 1824, the Calcutta Mint in India designed a copper 1/3-cent and silver 1/30th dollar for circulation in Singapore. The 1/30th dollar was not produced as the dies were damaged. The silver and copper coins were struck from the pair of 1/3-cent dies. However, as a result of certain objections and difficulties raised by the Calcutta Mint master, the coinage failed to mature.

Figure 4: First Coin in Singapore

Straits Settlements (1826 - 1942) Straits Settlements 1826  1942

Singapore was a dependency of Bengal until 1826, when it was amalgamated with Malacca and Penang to constitute the Presidency of the Straits Settlements.

Japanese Occupation (1942 - 1945) Japanese Occupation 1942  1945

Japanese forces invaded Malaya on 17 December 1941 and completed their conquest of the Peninsular in Febuary 1942 when Singapore surrendered.

Japanese Invasion Currency

The Japanese Army brought with them serially numbered $1, $5 and $10 notes. These notes, with a code letter 'M', bore the inscription 'The Japanese Government Promises To Pay The Bearer On Demand'. The currency notes were intended to circulate at par with the existing British Malayan currency notes. Later, when the British Malayan currency notes were withdrawn, minor notes in denominations of 1¢, 5¢, 10¢ and 50¢, were issued in place of coins.

Figure 14: Japanese Invasion Currency

Post-War Period and Merger with Malaysia (1945 - 1965) Post War Period and Merger with Malaysia 1945  1965

When the war ended, Singapore reverted to British control, with increasing levels of self-government being granted, culminating in Singapore's merger with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963.

Republic of Singapore (1965 - Present) Republic of Singapore 1965 to Present

Singapore obtained political independence from Malaysia in 1965. On 12 June 1967, the currency union which had been operating for 29 years came to an end, and the three participating countries, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei each issued its own currency. Singapore issued its own currency, by the newly established Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore (BCCS) under the Currency Act of 1967. However, to maintain some degree of currency cooperation, the three countries agreed on the Currency Interchangeability Agreement of 1967, which allowed the new Bruneian, Malaysian and Singapore Dollars to be used as customary tender in all three countries.  This meant that the currencies of the 3 countries were interchangeable at par value.

In 8 May 1973, the Malaysian government decided to terminate the agreement, however Brunei and Singapore continued with the Agreement until the present day.

 The Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore, was dissolved on October 1, 2002 and its functions, property and liabilities have been transferred to the MAS Currency Department.

Last Modified on 31/01/2018