Rare Banknotes of the Last Caliphate


The capture by the Turks of the strategic Byzantine city of Andrianople in 1362 is generally considered by historians as the starting point of the Ottoman Caliphate which ran until March 3, 1924 when the secularist leader Kemal Ataturk successfully argued for its abolition in the Turkish National Assembly.

The Caliph was revered in the Islamic world as the successor to Mohamed and ruled as Sultan over the vast Ottoman Empire which at its peak at the start of the 17th Century covered the continental mass of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.
The shape of the Empire was continually in flux as the Ottomans seized territory while also battling insurrections and engaging in wars against the Portuguese, Spanish, Austro-Hungarians and Russians whose incursions gradually eroded its borders.

Leading up to World War I the Empire had lost most of its African territories to the Italians and its European territories had either been annexed by its rivals or had broken away. During the war the Arab revolt further loosened its grip on the Middle East.
However it was Turkey’s fateful decision to ally economically and militarily with Germany during World War I, which resulted in the post-war partitioning of its territories under the Treaties of Versailles and Sevres, a process that had been secretly agreed upon by Great Britain, France and Italy as early as 1915. This was to bring the Ottoman Empire to its final end.

The war-era banknotes of the Caliphs, Sultan Mehmed Resad V and Sultan Mehmed Resad VI were printed in Germany from 1915 by Giesecke & Devrient and were backed by German Treasury Bills. After the defeat of Germany and the collapse of Ottoman rule the notes continued to circulate as currency until December 1927 when they were replaced by new notes of the Turkish Republic.
The Ottoman war-era notes were printed on poor quality paper and were heavily circulated. They are all relatively scarce in collectable grades while the larger denominations are extremely rare or virtually unknown outside of museum collections. In high grade many have survived only as specimens.

The key note in the series, the 50,000 Livre of AH1332 (1916) was the highest value note of its time being the equivalent of fifty-thousand 100 Kurush coins. Gold was then around US $21.00 per ounce and so the 1916 50,000 Livre note with a denominated value of almost US $220,000 would have represented a Sultan’s ransom in today’s currency.

In 2016, a hundred years after their issue, a hitherto unknown collection of specimen notes of the late Ottoman era surfaced in Australia. This unique collection had remained secreted in a family’s possession for three generations. How and when the notes actually arrived in Australia is a conundrum as a post-war ban on Turkish migration to Australia was not lifted until 1930.

The collection was housed in a contemporary leather bound presentation album with a gilt title which translates to “the Collection of Specimen Notes of all Notes of the State Ministry of Finance”. A further notation in the album reads “all the notes for which I was responsible”, and so it is obvious that it was compiled for a person of great importance high up in the Ministry who signed off on the issues. A tabulated list at the back of the album also revealed for the first time the definitive numbers of all denominations of war-era Ottoman notes that were printed for circulation.

Only forty of the 50,000 Livre notes were ever printed, and such is this note’s extreme rarity that today only a few specimens survive. Similarly the small numbers printed of the 1,000 Livre (5,210) and the 500 Livre (25,670) accounts for the poor state of surviving circulated notes.

Only in specimen form can the full colour and the intricate calligraphy of these Ottoman notes be revealed.

The State Ministry of Finance Collection was largely purchased intact and these extremely rare notes are now available for viewing at www.osmanlikagitpara.com