The East Caribbean States are a currency union that consists of numerous countries in the Caribbean, all of which are a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The East Caribbean Currency Authority first issued bank notes in 1965, and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank began issuing them in 1983.
All bank notes issued from 1965 on feature a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the front, with two different portraits used during this period. Many other bank notes feature more mature portraits of the Queen, but even the most recent of these still feature a middle-aged portrait. In this article we will take a look at this fascinating series of bank notes, which has seen an increase in interest over the past few years, with the rarest issues bringing thousands of dollars at auction.
Before we discuss the individual bank notes of the East Caribbean States, it is not a bad idea to see which nations are members. The East Caribbean Currency Authority replaced the British Caribbean Territories Currency Board, which had issued paper money for its members since 1950. In 1965, the new Currency Authority consisted of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines. Grenada joined in 1968, and in 1974 Barbados left to issue its own currency. These changes are reflected by the countries listed on the back of the first issue, around the watermark area, which come in three different varieties.
That first issue consisted of four denominations: one dollar (red), five dollars (green), twenty dollars (purple), and one hundred dollars (black and red). The obverse shows a map of the region on the left hand side, and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at age 28, by Pietro Annigoni. The design of all denominations is identical, and on the back shows a very Caribbean looking scene with a harbor and palm trees.
For this first issue, there were initially ten signature combinations with three different backs issued between 1965 and 1983. Not all signature combinations have been confirmed for all denominations. For the following few years, the first issue was overprinted with a large letter on the left side, denoting the island for which the notes were issued. This practice would continue for the following issues.
The second series was introduced throughout 1986 and 1987. Issued by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, it featured a new portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and a more colorful appearance overall. The second issue can be divided into two separate varieties — initially the map on the right did not identify the island of Anguilla, while the island is identified on later issues.
It must be noted that all denominations except for the $10 (which was new) exist as both varieties; the $10 denomination is only found as the second variety. The island for which a particular bank note was issued can be identified by the suffix letter in the serial number, although a small number of notes of the first variety were overprinted with a letter “U” for Anguilla, while displaying a “V” suffix letter for St. Vincent.
In October of 1993, a new series was introduced. Featuring a more modern design, the notes include a bar code on the lower left of the front identifying the island for which the notes were issued (this is also still noted by the suffix letter in the serial number). This series introduced the $50 denomination, and is particularly interesting as it was only issued for a brief time. It was found that the numerical denomination was hard to read, as the numbers were put together, partly overlapping each other.
The denomination that was spelled out at the center of the note was also found difficult to read. As a result, this series, which is called the “funny number” series, was replaced after only a few months in 1994 with notes of the same basic design, but with clearer numerals and denominations. With minor modifications, this design continues to be issued to this day, but starting in 2008 the notes can no longer be identified by island, as the bar codes and the suffix letters have been removed from the notes, ending a decades long practice that left collectors with dozens of varieties to collect.
Even though the first bank notes for the East Caribbean States were not introduced until the mid 1960s (quite recent in the grand scheme of things) there are some true modern rarities in the series. In order of rarity, a simple classification of Uncirculated bank notes could be made as follows, with the rarest notes on top, disregarding individual varieties:
- $100 notes from the 1st series
- $100 notes from the 2nd series
- $100 notes from the funny number (1993) series
- $20 notes from the 1st series
- $50 notes from the funny number (1993) series
In my experience, the $100 notes from the funny number series are almost as scarce as the $100 notes from the 1980s, appearing on the market very infrequently. At present, however, the $100 notes from the second series still bring higher prices at auction.
It’s hard to give individual values for these as there are several varieties for each of the denominations. The earliest notes, which were printed in the 1960s, are very difficult to find in Uncirculated condition. An Uncirculated $100 note from the first series with the first signature combination, for example, would easily bring five figures at auction.
Later $100 notes from the same series, although not easy, are more affordable, but these early issues still bring thousands of dollars whenever they appear at auction. The $20 denomination of the first series has seen an increase in interest lately, with recent sales breaking previous records. While a later variety of the $1 note from the first issue can be found in Uncirculated condition for about $25, the earliest signature varieties of even the lowest denomination will cost the collector at least $100.
For the collector on a budget, however, not all is lost. While a complete set of all denominations, including varieties, would easily take a lifetime to complete, a set of $1 and $5 notes of the 1993 and later series is more manageable. Many of these notes can be found for less than $25 each, and if you were to set a maximum budget of $50 for each note, you could probably complete 90% of the collection. This task, however, will still take quite a bit of searching to find some of the varieties, as they tend to be a lot scarcer than the catalog values indicate.
There are people who have collected this fascinating series for years, including the higher denominations, and I know of two or three collectors who are close to completion. To my knowledge, though, nobody has ever completed the series including all the varieties. The scarcest notes seldom appear at auction, and when they do, many are realizing very strong prices compared to their catalog values. Still, there is a lot of variety in these colorful bank notes, and collecting a few from each island, or one of each issue, is an objective that would be in reach for many collectors. Finally, keep in mind that 100 East Caribbean dollars is only about 37 U.S. dollars, so the face value of all of these notes is very reasonable.