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Bank notes of Tanzania


The name Tanzania derived from Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia, the latter being the three islands off the coast of Tanzania., Dodoma becoming the official capital instead of Dar-es-Salaam.

The early history includes the oldest known footprints (Laetoli 3.6 million years ago)
of the immediate ancestors of human beings. The Olduvian gorge in Northern Tanzania has been called the cradle of mankind. Only 10,000 years ago the Khoisan speakers, (hunter gatherers) where absorbed into the Cushitic-speaking groups and basic farming of crops and cattle began. Later, Nilotic people arrived (eg Maasai)in the first centuries BC and AD. These are only a fraction of the comings and goings, of course.

In the nineteenth century, Burton ad Speke investigated the area from the U K and the famous meeting of David Livingstone (the antislavery missionary) with H.M Stanley, a reporter for Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald occurred at Ujiji. The Germans established what grew into German East Africa. The British “nabbed” it during the First War “for safe-keeping”until 1961 when full independence was achieved.

The Banknotes of Tanzania are comprised of a simple and straightforward series;
The whole Tanzanian issue from 1961 to 2003 has come from Thomas De La Rue
(Loud cheers from his birthplace, Guernsey, where they have erected a bronze stature of this fine British entrepreneur) and therefore the notes are of the standard that we would expect from the current printers of the Bank of England notes. From 2003 and then on, the notes are from the German firm, Gevrient & D who, although fine printers themselves, have placed the obligatory extra security features on the notes in an unsympathetic way, detracting from the fine engravings of the President Julius Nyerere, and the native animals, not forgetting the House of Wonder on the reverse of the 5000 shillings.

Admittedly, the security devices serve their purpose as the cost of forgeries would be prohibitively high. They also left off the off the head of the giraffe which featured on the previous De La Rue issue. I believe that the only type of giraffe in Tanzania appears to be the Rothschild’s giraffe; did you know there are only just over half a dozen varieties of giraffe which enjoy only a few minutes sleep each day?

The 1966 issues have a fine balance with a younger portrait of President Julius Nyerere on the right, the watermark of the giraffe’s head at the left and the national coat of Arms betwixt them. This started with the five shilling note which was optimistic; at that early stage President Nyerere was sure his Socialist revolution would change the economy; he “encouraged” the isolated tiny farm to group into villages ( from 1962 onwards) eventually incorporating the Army in the effort of ‘friendly persuasion’ where ‘pure reason’ was insufficient to..

However, it transpired, the Tanzanian farmers were, at heart, independent subsistence farmers and eventually (1973) although Nyerere announced that all rural Tanzanians would have to live in villages by the end of 1976, the emphasis on group farming was dropped in favour of villagers planning their productions in concert.

Eventually, by 1976 the whole experiment was “buried” as a failure and the Government started unravelling the process quietly.

The five shilling note stopped at signature one, whereas the next two notes (10/-, 20/-), ran up to signature (e). “Aha”, you cry triumphantly, “But what about the first 100 shilling note – that could not be a victim of inflation!”

Nor was it – however many Tanzanians were irked that a Maasai herdsman was featured on the reverse. The Maasai were the only people allowed to cross freely over the border with Kenya and it was reckoned that there were slightly more Maasai in Kenya. To many Tanzanians, these people were not proper citizens: the Maasai spoke an ancient Nilotic tongue and in their verbal history, claim to have left the Nile delta area seven hundred years before; to many Tanzanians they seemed more akin to gypsies than committed Tanzanian citizens. So in came the new 100 shilling note with the lion, leopard and, (you’ve guessed it!), with Rothschild’s giraffes in the background. Everyone was happy, including the giraffes which were wont to stray across the border with Kenya!

Eleven years since the first issues and thirteen years from the year of independence, it was considered time to drop the English translation of the Bank’s name. It had probably been considered as an implication of a financial backing, real or imaginary from the ex-colonial power to maintain the confidence in the issue but, by this time, somebody thought it was an anachronism; Tanzania was not a wealthy nation and the inhabitants were aware of the fact but it did not prohibit them from having their own currency. So, through 1977-1978, the new issues rolled out with a slightly older and somewhat perplexed-looking Nyerere but with more African-style patterns, lively and looser, and showing more confidence. The five shilling note was dropped and replaced by coinage and the notes were now titled in Swahili.

The notes trotted out three signatures and then dropped back to the signature three pairing.

The 1985 issues show an older and wiser Nyerere looking astounded because the printers did not include the islands of Mafia, Pemba and Zanzibar on the map although there was a tyre factory scene on the reverse of the purple and brown twenty shilling note, a brick-making scene on the deep orange fifty shilling note, and a graduation scene on the reverse of the blue & purple shilling note. This was an unfortunate mistake as this made it a Tanganyikan series rather than a Tanzanian series so it was hastily replaced by the 1986 issues, (Pick 12-14) with the missing islands included. The series again reverted to the signature 3 pairing; signature three is ‘on a roll’ but can it come back yet again?

And yes, on the series 1986 to 1990 (Pick 15 to 18) the signature 3 pairing is back again.
This series carries President Mwinyi’s portrait but Rothschild’s giraffe haunts the watermark looking slightly sleepy but we all know why now! The designs of the notes are very similar to 12-14, apart from the portrait; one point you would spot is that the 20 shilling comes only in the early issues and is dropped for the signature 7 pairing in favour of a coin. (Retirement comes to us all!)

The World Paper Money Catalogue suggests there was an overlap when the 1989 to 1992 series was issued which seems odd; generally one does not want two fairly similar note issues competing as there could be a loss of confidence if the populace consider one or other issue a forgery. It’s a puzzle. The 1989 to 1992 issue gives Mwinyi’s portrait improved engraving round the eyes and a sharper hair style but retains the dear old Rothchild’s giraffe in the watermark; it also extends the series to 500 and 1,000 shillings.

The 1993 and 1995 series are smaller notes with the 100 shillings being used to honour
Nyerere’s birth date.The 50 and 100 shillings have, exclusively, the signature pair. 9.

The 1997 series is very important as it realises the giraffe motif “has legs” and long ones at that! You could be forgiven for thing that Rothschild’s giraffe was now the President as he occupies that spot on the note. The denominations run from 100 shillings to 10,000 shillings; we are also treated to the Peoples Bank of Zanzibar. Year 2000 gives a Nyerere return, now looking older and white-haired.

The 2003 issue runs from 500 shillings to 10,000 shillings; Nyerere fronts the 1000 shilling note with beautiful animals such as water buffalo, lion, rhinoceros and elephant fronting the 500, 2000, 5,000 and 10,000 shilling notes, respectively. The five security features are intaglio printing, a security window thread with “BOT 2003”, a stripe, 3 dimensional watermark with highlight and a perfectly transparent register.

Tanzania is an excellent country to study. Not all of the notes are easy to locate, but, when you find them, the price is very reasonable considering the scarcity of each note. With the majority of issues, the prices range up to £20, with the exception of the elusive 100 shillings from 1966 which catalogues at approximately £170.

View some notes from Tanzania on the site here:


Kate Gibson

Last updated 21/08/2015