ECONOMY

Billions of drachmas saved as collector?s items

Greek drachmas in banknote form are now collector?s items only. This is because the 10-year-period during which they could be exchanged in return for euros at the Bank of Greece expired on March 1 this year.

Prior to this, the period of exchanging drachma coins for euros had come to an end on March 1, 2004.

According to various estimates, the value of drachma banknotes that have never been exchanged comes to about 240 million euros, or 82 billion drachmas. Though the figure might seem high, you might want to consider that the percentage of drachmas which have been withdrawn and exchanged since January 1, 2002 — when the drachma ceased to be the country?s national currency — is over 99 percent.

It is estimated that up to nearly 100 percent of the higher-value banknotes, such as 10,000-drachma bills, have been exchanged, while smaller ones such as 50- and 100-drachma banknotes largely constitute the nearly 82 billion drachmas which have not been. According to various reports, the latter have been kept as collector?s items by both Greeks and the millions of tourists who have visited the country who held onto the bills as mementos.

In the last two years alone, about 30 to 40 people visited the Bank of Greece on a daily basis to exchange banknotes worth about 3 million drachmas. According to data previously published in Kathimerini, only 45.58 percent of drachmas in coin form was withdrawn.

Interestingly enough, the history of drachma banknotes is tied to that of the Bank of Greece itself. The bank opened for business on May 14, 1928, and had to deal with the technical difficulties of replacing notes issued by the National Bank of Greece — which while not government-owned acted as the country?s central bank up until the establishment of the Bank of Greece.

Those banknotes were already in circulation and considering that there was a big enough supply of banknotes issued during the 1923-27 period which had yet to enter the market, a decision was made for the latter to enter the market featuring a distinct red marking.

The first 500- and 5,000-drachma banknotes, printed by the American Bank Note Company in New York, were released five years later, in May 1933, while 1,000-, 50- and 100-drachma bills were subsequently printed in France in 1935.