Pound note

Explore New Zealand's economic and banking history

Timelines on the wall of the Reserve Bank Museum.

A sense of time and place

Giant wall displays in the Reserve Bank Museum graphically highlight key events in general economic, New Zealand and Reserve Bank history, along with the development of our notes and coins since the beginning of the European settlement.

By integrating key economic and currency events with wider history and the development of the Reserve Bank you can gain a deeper picture of the way all these historical threads fit together.

Bank of Aotearoa note
A one pound note from the Bank of Aotearoa, founded in the 1880s by Tawhiao Tukaroto Matutaera Potatau Te Wherowhero. The note was never circulated.

Highlights of New Zealand's historic currency

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand owns a small but significant collection of historically important currency, ranging from the first promissory notes issued by Governor Robert FitzRoy in the mid-1840s, to such rarities as the Bank of Aotearoa one-pound note of the mid-1880s. These notes never circulated and just three are known to have survived.

Other highlights include rare trading bank note issues from the 1920s and a fascinating collection of attempted forgeries. Highlights from the collection, are on display in the Reserve Bank Museum.

Stephen A'Court museum vault door pix
Replica vault door on display in the Reserve Bank Museum.

Vaults and currency processing

One of the most obvious public functions of the Reserve Bank is the supply of currency to the people of New Zealand.

The Bank operates a wholesale system, providing notes and coin in bulk to the main banks. Currency is stored and processed in secure vaults beneath the Reserve Bank building. Processing includes inspection to detect forgeries, old or damaged notes.

The Reserve Bank Museum includes a replica safe door, similar in style to the real thing.


The origins of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand

By the early 20th century, the British were eager for New Zealand and Australia to set up their own central banks, modelled after the Bank of England. In 1930, visiting British expert Otto Niemeyer formally recommended a New Zealand central bank to issue currency and fill a number of policy roles.

Some of the currency issues were sharpened by the Great Depression that began in 1930-31. The Finance Minister J. G. Coates, economist Bernard Ashwin and others began developing legislation. This work culminated in the Reserve Bank Act 1934. The Bank itself began operations on the 1st August 1934.

Bank note
Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) is one of New Zealand's best-known explorers. In the early 1990s he was the only living New Zealander selected to appear on a New Zealand bank note.

New Zealand currency

At the Reserve Bank Museum you can see one million dollars on display, a currency timeline, rare notes for viewing and a fantastic giant-sized feature window of New Zealand's $5 note - complete with detailed images of Sir Edmund Hillary, Mount Aoraki (Cook) and a Massey Fergusson tractor.

There is currently a temporary exhibition of the orders, decorations and medals of Sir Edmund Hillary. See the fact sheet on Sir Edmund Hillary and his achievements (PDF 226KB).


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