A handful of dinars (or 500 billion)
Money makes the world go round, and in Central and Eastern Europe – where most countries have not yet adopted the euro – there is a great variety in the design of banknotes.
We’ve picked five of the best – contemporary and historical – most of which will likely be worth much more than face value at some point in the future.
Some already are.
Serbian 500 billion dinar banknote
In 1993, Serbia’s economy collapsed due to a combination of the war in the Balkans and accompanying economic sanctions. Its currency began to depreciate rapidly, so rapidly in fact that the dinar-deutschmark exchange rate was updated on an hourly basis.
The state responded by printing money, and as it increasingly lost value, higher value banknotes had to be created. This culminated in the now infamous 500 billion dinar note, featuring the Serbian poet Jovan Jovanović Zmaj.
Nevertheless, in just fifteen days, as Tim Judah writes in his history of the period The Serbs, the note has lost its value.
Today you can find it at any souvenir stall around Belgrade, where it costs around two to four euros: far more than it was worth when it was in circulation.
Interestingly, this note, while possibly the most well-known hyperinflationary note in the region, does not have the highest face value. That dubious honor goes to the 100 million billion Hungarian pengo (that’s 10 to the 21 power), printed in 1946 during Hungary’s hyperinflationary period.
The Macedonian 10 denar banknote
Most central and eastern European banknotes follow a similar symbolic pattern: a person worthy of history on the front, an interesting architectural piece (in the Western Balkans often a monastery) on the back.
But Macedonia has decided to break with this pattern for its 10 denar banknote, first printed in 1996 and then updated in 2018.
Here the face bears an image of the Egyptian goddess Isis and the reverse is a representation of the famous peacock mosaic found in the ancient Macedonian city of Stobi.
Considering North Macedonia’s love for all things ancient, the patterns are not surprising. At the very least, they are a welcome break from tradition.
The 500 Czech crowns
Women are in the minority in the world when it comes to appearing over money. In the EU countries that have not yet switched to the euro, at least five – Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Hungary and Poland – do not have standard banknotes depicting women in circulation.
Bulgaria made, briefly, on the note of 20 levs, Desislava Sebastokrator, a 13th century nobleman and patron of the Boyana Church in Sofia. But during a monetary reform of 1999, it was replaced by the poet and revolutionary Stefan Stambolov. Poland has also in the past featured women, Dobroawa from Bohemia and Marie Curie, on commemorative numbers of the 20 złoty banknote.
Looking at the banknotes currently in circulation, the Czech Republic does better than most: it has not one but two women adorning the front of its banknotes.
We choose the 500 crown banknote, featuring the writer Božena Némcová.
Némcová was an important literary figure in the Czech national revival movement of the 19th century, writing the influential novel Grandmother.
Romanian commemorative note of 2,000 lei
Another banknote breaking with tradition, this time in commemoration of the 1999 total solar eclipse which was visible from much of Eastern Europe. The eclipse itself had plunged Europe into a frenzy, with many of them taking to the streets armed with special glasses to observe the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.
The Romanian National Bank commemorated the event with this 2,000 lei banknote, featuring a graphic of the eclipse on the face and a stylized map of the eclipse path over Romania. It was also the first polymer banknote in the history of Romania (today all the country’s banknotes are made of polymer).
Following a monetary reform in 2005, the banknote is no longer in circulation but remains a great way to commemorate this cosmic event. And you too can have one, because the ticket sells for about three US dollars on E-bay.
The Bulgarian 20 lev commemorative note
In recent years, many countries have decided to update their ratings with more modern designs. The euros are one such example, with their bright and daring designs, while the most recent overhaul of the Swiss franc is emblematic of this change. It features an attractive and ultramodern vertical design with bold primary colors.
But most of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe keep it traditional. Bulgarian Lev banknotes still look the same as 50 years ago.
This 20 leva polymer commemorative note, issued in 2005, showcases the best of this traditional style in one note. Faded colors, architectural drawing style lines, emphasis on statues and old buildings. Everything is there, and everything is quite old-fashioned: indeed, the back of the note features a replica of the first Bulgarian 20 leva note, issued in 1885.
And that’s exactly why it’s so fascinating, and one of the most valuable on this list: it sells for around $ 25.
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