From maravedis to Jam-Dex
The evolution of Jamaican currency

Coins from many different countries were widely used in Jamaica across centuries as the history of the local currency unfolded.

Following the use of barter systems by Tainos and other early inhabitants that settled on the island, the Jamaican currency underwent a number of changes up to the time of its Independence and several others thereafter.

The first currency used by the island was of Spanish origin after Columbus brought and established the use of small copper coins known as maravedis. However, after the British Empire took control of the island in 1655, their coinage became the island's official currency. During that time, Jamaican currency consisted of farthings, halfpennies, pennies, three halfpence, threepence, sixpence, shillings, florins, half crowns, and crowns.

After the introduction of the Jamaican dollar (JMD) in 1968-1969, which replaced the British pound sterling, Jamaican money was born. With the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) Act taking effect in 1960, standard regulation of currency operations also took root with the central bank becoming the sole issuer of notes and coins in the country.

Jamaica's banknotes will be refreshed for independence, with some to feature two individuals and the introduction of a $2000 note.

With the introduction of $1 to $500 coins and notes up to 1994 and the addition of a $1000 bill in 2000, portraits of former prime ministers and heroes became features of local money, replacing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth that was previously affixed to earlier notes.

In 2009, the $5,000 note was also introduced, becoming the highest denomination to date. The note bears the portrait of former Prime Minister Hugh Lawson Shearer and is often referred to as Shearer by some citizens.

A maravedis copper coin

As the evolution of the Jamaican currency continues, Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke, in March of this year, announced some impending changes on the horizon for the look and feel of Jamaican money. He indicated that the country, during its 60th year of Independence or diamond jubilee, is to welcome a new series of banknotes made from more durable substrate. A $2000 note is also to be introduced in order to make it easier for the settlement of cash transactions, bridging what is believed to be a considerable gap between the $1000 and $5000 notes.

"We expect to start issuing them in the last quarter of this year, more towards the end of November into early December," Natalie Haynes, deputy governor for banking, currency operations and financial markets infrastructure at the BOJ had told the Jamaica Observer regarding the planned timeline for roll-out of the new notes.

As the wave of technology and digitisation continues to take place across the globe, Jamaica in not being left behind as, since this year, the country has moved to accelerate the pace of entry into digital transactions. The BOJ, through the launch of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) called Jam-Dex, made this a reality. In August 2021, $230 million of the currency was first minted to deposit-taking institutions during a pilot phase.

As legal tender, the digital currency can be exchanged dollar for dollar with physical cash, and households and businesses can use it to make payments and store value, as now obtains with cash.

Though still not enjoying the desired level of take-up by citizens, the digital currency, which has been officially launched, is now offered by the National Commercial Bank through its Lynk wallet, other financial institutions are also in the process of getting themselves ready to offer the currency, which stands as an alternative to Jamaica's predominantly cash-based economy.

"The roll-out of Jam-Dex, and the introduction of the $2000 banknote, and the redesign of the family of Jamaican banknotes are not incongruent as it is anticipated that both Jam-Dex and physical cash will co-exist in the payment space in the near to medium term, and therefore, a cost-effective option is required for those persons wishing to still use cash as a means of payment," the BOJ said.

An assortment of current banknotes.
BY KELLARAY MILES Business reporter milesk@jamaicaobserver.com

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