Since I’ve always been interested in numismatics, and collected banknotes ever since I was a little boy, I find the history of the Dutch guilder incredibly fascinating. I think the main reason for this is because I haven’t come across banknotes of a more beautiful design than the series designed by Ootje Oxenaar. But to give a clear overview of the entire history, I’ll take you to the beginning.
Before the European Union was founded, and before the euro was introduced, the Dutch had their own currency; the ‘gulden’—or guilder in English. The name ‘gulden’ was first internationally accepted in 1517, and derives from ‘golden’. The Netherlands had minted gold coins since 1378, and the guilder was initially a bimetallic standard, which meant the guilder was worth a certain weight in either silver or gold. The Netherlands often flip-flopped between the silver and gold standard, until finally adopting the gold standard in 1875 and abandoning it in 1936.
In the early days, one guilder was divided into 20 stuivers, each stuiver was worth 8 duiten, or 16 penningen. The guilder gradually replaced other money denominations in the Netherlands: the florijn, the daalder, the rijksdaalder, the silver ducat, and the silver rider ducaton. The symbol ƒ or fl. for the Dutch guilder derived from the florijn.
After the decimalization of the guilder in 1817, one guilder was equal to 100 cents, and one stuiver was worth 5 cents rather than 8 duiten, or 16 penningen. The smallest denomination of coins of the Dutch guilder were the centen, but ‘cent’ became the accepted plural form in 1948. After the cent came the stuiver, worth 5 cents. Then a ‘dubbeltje’, worth 10 cents. Then a ‘kwartje’—a diminutive of the American quarter—worth 25 cents. Then a guilder, colloquially ‘piek’, then a rijksdaalder, colloquially ‘riks’, or ‘knaak’. And finally a ‘vijfje’, a diminutive of five.
Banknotes were first introduced in 1794, under the name ‘recepis’, derived from receipt. Certain cities and provinces had their own banknotes, and it wasn’t considered a nationally accepted form of currency until 1814. By then, the name ‘muntbiljet’ (coin note), and ‘zilverbon’ (silver receipt) were used. It wasn’t until 1904 when the Netherlands Bank recommended the issuance of paper money. By 1911, the Netherlands was issuing banknotes for 10, 25, 40, 60, 100, 200, 300 and 1000.
In 1964, the United States sadly quit minting dimes, quarters, and half dollars in silver, just minting those coins out of a nickel and copper alloy. The Netherlands followed in their footsteps in 1967 and minted guilders from nickel instead of silver.
From 1964 to 1987, a series of banknotes was printed with an extraordinarily beautiful design, designed by ‘Ootje Oxenaar’. The series consisted of a 5 guilder banknote, depicting Joost van den Vondel. A 10 guilder banknote depicting Frans Hals, known as a ‘joet’ or a ‘tientje’—a diminutive of ten. A 25 guilder banknote depicting Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, known as a ‘geeltje’—a diminutive of ‘geel’ (yellow). A 50 guilder banknote depicting a sunflower, and consequently named ‘zonnebloem’. A 100 guilder banknote depicting a snipe, and consequently named ‘snip’, other names included: ‘meier’, and ‘honderdje’—a diminutive of hundred. A 250 guilder banknote depicting a lighthouse, and consequently named ‘vuurtoren’. And finally, a 1.000 guilder banknote depicting Baruch de Spinoza, named ‘rooie’, ‘rooie rug’, ‘rootje’, and ‘duizendje’—a diminutive of thousand. Eventually, all these banknotes got replaced with abstracts designed by Jaap Drupsteen. Both series could still be used as currency by then, but banks only gave out the new banknote series.
In 1979 the European Currency Unit ‘ECU’ was introduced, which never became a circulating currency, though banknotes and coins were printed. In 1999, the euro replaced the ECU. The euro was officially a national subunit of the guilder between 1999 and 2002, though, physical payments could only be made in guilders, since euro coins and banknotes weren’t available yet. In 2002, all Dutch citizens were given one coin of each euro denomination in a special holder called: “Mijn eerste kennismaking…”—which I may still have laying around someplace. The one and two euro cents were never supposed to be taken out of circulation, but the Dutch government quickly decided to do this anyway.
Many people miss the old guilders and their beautiful designs, and even though I was 8 years old when the euro was introduced, I miss guilders too. Their design was beautiful, it was something to be proud of. My grandpa once gave me the torn corner of a ‘joet’, or ‘tientje’, which I’ve kept to this day. I often wonder where the rest of that little corner would be. And I wonder if the guilder will ever return, but I doubt it.