In the sacred halls of money: The world’s first banknote

Munich – The world’s first banknote was made from fibers of the mulberry tree in China in 1024. In Germany, the history of paper money only begins in 1705.

One of the first banknotes is kept in a security room in downtown Munich. The note is so rare and valuable that it is vacuum packed in foil and may only be touched with gloves. For BILD, the Giesecke+Devrient Foundation for banknote collection opens the hallowed halls of money.

“Our banknote collection is the world’s largest and most important collection in the field of paper money,” says foundation board member Kirsten Peter (40). The XXL collection includes more than 300,000 banknotes.

The showpiece of the collection China bill, dates from the 14th century, from the Ming Dynasty. Shown on it: Coins (1000 “Käsch”). “The value of the banknote is represented in coins so that even illiterate people could recognize it,” explains Katharina Depner (38), research associate at the G+D Foundation banknote collection.

A penal sentence is also emblazoned on the money sheet: “Anyone who counterfeits will be beheaded.” And: “Anyone who reports a forger or hands it over to the authorities will receive 250 taels of silver as a reward and also the criminal’s entire fortune.”

The oldest surviving paper money dates from the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century

Photo: Giesecke+Devrient Foundation bank note collection

The bills are four times the size of today’s banknotes (approx. DIN A4). Only around 20 copies of the China notes have survived the centuries.

On the obverse is the inscription “Generally valid state paper money of the Great Ming Dynasty. Valid for circulation throughout the Reich”. The red stamp (seal of the Office of State Paper Money of the Ming Dynasty) gives the note its value.


You have the license to print money! The technology company Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) prints banknotes for more than 100 countries. Passports also come from G+D and contain special security technology. Around 11,500 employees work for the group, which is headquartered in Munich. Sales 2020: 2.31 billion euros.

The banknote collection was founded as a private collection by Albert Pick and handed over to the Bayerische Hypotheken- und Wechselbank in 1964. Today the collection includes more than 300,000 banknotes, ranging from Chinese banknotes from the 14th century to banknotes currently issued worldwide. Including unique items.

“All states are represented in our collection, including those that used to exist, such as Yugoslavia and Austria-Hungary. A bank note tells a lot about the political history of a country,” says Katharina Depner.

The valuable notes are stored in special albums made of age-resistant and acid-free paper – like an XXL stamp album. “The albums are on the shelves so that there is no pressure on the bills,” says the research assistant. Temperature: 18 to 20 degrees. Humidity: 40 to 50 percent. Darkened. “Certificates can never be issued for a long time because light is harmful. In museums, our certificates are only awarded for a certain period of time or not at all. Sometimes the transport alone is harmful,” explains Katharina Depner.

The solution: a Digital Museum!


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