The first monies used in Singapore were coins from various parts of the world that traded with Singapore. While the silver dollar was the main currency of trade, copper coins were mainly used at the bazaar. Subsequently, the East India Company, and later, the Colonial Office in London, sanctioned the minting of copper coins for the Straits Settlements’ own use. Banks in Singapore also issued paper monies known as banknotes.
The first banknote with the words "Singapore" imprinted on it was issued by the Singapore branch of the Union Bank of Calcutta in 1840. These banknotes became the main paper currencies used by the island’s trading community for several decades.
The Straits Settlements and Malayan Dollars
In 1897, the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Straits Settlements, was formed and two years later in 1899, it issued the first government note, the Straits Settlements dollar. The Straits Settlements dollar also became legal tender in the Malay States and in the territories that came under British influence in Borneo.
In 1938, the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Malaya, was formed after the local authorities assessed that it would be financially and politically more effective for Singapore and the other Straits Settlements to jointly issue a currency with the Malay States. Issuance of the new Malayan dollar began in 1941 but its roll-out was disrupted by the onset of World War II and the Japanese invasion of Malaya. During the Japanese Occupation, Japanese military notes, also known as "banana notes", were introduced.
Towards the Singapore Dollar
The Malayan dollar was reintroduced after the war, although some denominations of Straits Settlements currency continued to be accepted as legal tender. In 1954, Singapore, the Federation of Malaya, Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak came together to jointly issue the Malaya and British Borneo dollar under the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Malaya and British Borneo. These notes and coins were therefore legal tender in all that remained of the British colonies in Southeast Asia.
It was only from 1967 that Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei designed, printed and issued their own national currencies. Singapore dollar notes and coins were issued by the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore, which merged with the Monetary Authority of Singapore in 2002. Since then, Singapore’s currency has been issued by MAS.
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