In 1931, the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, formally requested that the international community use the name Ethiopia (as it had already been known internally for at least 1600 years) instead of Abyssinia, and the issuing Bank of Abyssinia also became the Bank of Ethiopia. Thus, the pre-1931 currency could be considered the Abyssinian birr and the post-1931 currency the Ethiopian birr, although it was the same country and the same currency before and after.
The Ethiopian Birr is the second most used currency in Africa with 88 million users, after the Nigerian naira.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Maria Theresa thalers and blocks of salt called ‘amole tchew’ served as currency in Ethiopia.
The talari (thaler, dollar, birr) became the standard unit on 9 February 1893 and 200,000 dollars were produced at the Paris Mint in 1894 for Menelik II. The talari, equivalent to the Maria Theresa thaler, was divided into 20 ghersh (also guerche or gersh, the name coming from the Ottoman Empire’s qirsh) or 40 bessa (a small copper coin).
The Bank of Abyssinia was established in 1905 by Menelik and the European banking group behind the National Bank of Egypt; the bank was officially inaugurated by Menelik on 15 February 1906. The Ethiopian coinage gained acceptance only gradually, and Bank of Abyssinia imported Maria Theresa thalers. By the time World War One broke out, the bank was still importing about 1 200 000 of these coins annually. Bank of Abyssinia put banknotes into circulation in 1915. These notes were denominated birr’ in Amharic and thaler’ in English. They were used by merchants and by foreigners but were not initially accepted generally. However, Note circulation increased considerably after 1925.
Haile Selassie bought out the Bank of Abyssinia in 1931 for £235,000 in order to make it a purely Ethiopian institution. It was reorganized as Bank of Ethiopia.
By the mid-1930s circulation consisted chiefly of Maria Theresa and Menelik talari. Not long after the Italian occupation and the transformation of Ethiopia into Italian East Africa, the Italian lira was introduced (15 July 1936) and Ethiopian banknotes were withdrawn from circulation at 3 lire per talar (birr). In an effort to increase the use of Italian paper money, the exchange rate for silver coin (Maria Theresa thalers) was raised to 4.50 lire, then to 5.00, and eventually, in stages, to 13.50. Still, many people kept their Ethiopian coins and banknotes.
Regular Italian coins and banknotes of Banca d’Italia circulated after 15 July 1936. Special notes with a red overprint were authorized for Italian East Africa on 12 September 1938, and a large quantity was printed. It is not clear, however, when, where, and to what extent these special notes actually circulated.
During the East African Campaign of 1941, British forces brought with them Indian, Egyptian, British, and British East African currency, and all were received in official payments. Italian coins and notes of up to 50 lire were allowed to continue in circulation to serve as small change; higher denominations were withdrawn at a rate of 24 lire per shilling. Maria Theresa thalers were allowed to circulate with a value of 1s 10½d (or 45 lire). The East African shilling became the money of account on 1 July 1942; it eventually became the sole legal tender and remained so until 1945.
Regular notes of the East African Currency Board were used for circulation in Ethiopia.
The birr was reintroduced in 1945 at a rate of 1 birr = 2 shillings. The name Ethiopian dollar was used in the English text on the banknotes. It was divided into 100 santim (derived from the French centime). The name birr became the official name, used in all languages, in 1976.
Few days ago, the circulation coins of Ethiopia were in the denominated form of 1 cents, 5, 10, 25 and 50 Cents(Royal British Mints). But many thanks to the devaluation and to other adjustment works one Birr(Royal Canadian Mint) also has joined the coin group. And soon, it is expected that bigger notes with the value of Birr 200 and Birr 500 will continue their journey to public purse and pocket.
The common obverse and the reverses of all five pieces of the 1969 E.C. dated series were designed by an Australian named Stuart Devlin. Unlike the previous coins the current coin was assumed to be designed by Ethiopian Minster of counsels because of its simplicity, just Lion and scale. The newly arrived one birr coin, the silver-color features a lion’s head on one side while the other depicts a scale. The lion’s head and the scale are imprinted in a golden color with silver sidelines completing the appearance. In plain words, the silver and golden designs are just replica of 2 Euro.
Coins are made generally for monetized use usually for lower-valued units, and banknotes for the higher values; also, in most money systems, the highest value coin made for circulation is worth less than the lowest-value note.
When we tell to our forthcoming children, we will say:
One Birr…….Birr beneberebet gizze…………( ….while one birr has the value of dollar not a coin like today…….. )