The drachma has been Greece's national currency since 1833. Upon the establishment of the Bank of Greece, the issuance privilege was handed over by the National Bank to the Bank of Greece, which, until the introduction of euro banknotes and coins, issued drachma banknotes and coins that circulated as legal tender in Greece.
The drachma was the national currency of Greece up to 1 January 2002. On 28 February 2002, drachma banknotes and coins ceased to be legal tender and were replaced by euro banknote and euro coins.
The Bank of Greece launched its operations on 14 May 1928. In order to deal with the technical problems concerning the replacement of the National Bank of Greece banknotes already in circulation and, given that there was a large stock of non-circulated banknotes issued in 1923-1927, it was decided to put them in circulation after overprinting them with "Bank of Greece". Five years later, on 3 May 1933, the first 500- and 5,000-drachma banknotes were put in circulation, printed by the American Bank Note Company in the United States.
In 1935, 1,000-, 50- and 100-drachma banknotes were printed in France in very different aesthetics, rich in colour and without heavy outlines and decorations. They depicted a woman from the island of Spetses holding a jar (1,000 drachmas), a female harvester holding a sheaf of wheat (50 drachmas) and the god Hermes (100 drachmas). When the issued banknotes were put in circulation, the overprinted series of the National Bank of Greece were withdrawn from circulation.
The Printing Works of the Bank of Greece (IETA) was established by virtue of a decision of the General Council as of 7 June 1938, which was entrusted with the task of preparing and issuing banknotes. The construction works at Holargos, Athens, began immediately and the first printing machines were ordered. However, because of the war, the operation of IETA started after Greece's liberation.
In 1939, 50-, 100-, 500- and 1,000-drachma banknotes were issued (2nd series), printed in England and France. The pre-1935 aesthetic perception returned, with ancient themes and heavy decorative frames. In order to meet immediate circulation needs, the 100-drachma banknotes were overprinted to denominate 1,000-drachmas, without this counting as a new series. The 50-drachma banknote, the last banknote issued in the pre-war era, was printed in 1941 and circulated in the Middle East.
During the German occupation, banknotes were issued both in occupied Greece and abroad. Banknotes issued abroad do not bear the issue date, but only the series. 100-drachma (3rd series), 500-drachma (3rd series), 100-drachma (3rd series), 5,000-drachma (2nd series), 20,000-drachma (1st series) and 50,000-drachma (1st series) banknotes were issued.
The 5,000-, 10,000- and 20,000-drachma banknotes issued in the Middle East are intriguing because they have different sizes and colours for the same denomination, without any change in the issue series.
Many banknotes were printed between 1941 and 1944 by various lithographers in the country in huge denominations, due to the galloping inflation; the last one, 100 billion drachmas, was printed on 5 November 1944.
Emergency Law 18/11 November 1944 established the first monetary reform, stating that one postwar drachma would equal 50 billion war drachmas.
The first postwar banknotes that were put into circulation on 11 November 1944 were those of 50 and 100 drachmas and depict the Nike of Samothrace and the portrait of captain Konstantinos Kanaris.
In 1947 the Bank of Greece Printing Works (IETA), which had in the meantime been equipped with modern machinery and staffed with excellent artists, painters, engravers and specialised personnel, printed the 1,000-drachma (Theodoros Kolokotronis), 5,000-drachma (maternity and Thetis bringing Achilles' armour), 10,000-drachma (Aristotle and the Charioteer of Delphi) and 20,000-drachma (head of Athena and Medusa) banknotes.
In 1950 the first banknote designed, prepared and printed entirely in IETA was that of 5,000 drachmas (4th series), depicting the Greek poet Dionysios Solomos.
The 5,000-drachma banknotes (1st series) were issued in 1950, showing the head of the Kore of Thrace and the temple of Poseidon at Sounion. Chalcography was used for the very first time in banknote printing.
Law 2824/20 June 1954 (Government Gazette 79 A) determined that the new drachma would equal 1,000 old ones and removed three zeros from the denomination of banknotes. Thus, in 1954 the 10,000-, 20,000- and 50,000-drachma banknotes were put in circulation as 10, 20 and 50 drachmas. In 1955 the following banknotes were put into circulation: 10-drachma (head of King George (I) and the Church of the Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki), 20-drachma (Demokritos and Plato's Symposium), 50-drachma (Pericles and Pericles orating on the Pnyx) and 500-drachma (Socrates and St. Paul on the Areopagus).
In 1956, the 1,000-drachma banknote was printed with Alexander the Great wearing a lion's pelt on one side and Alexander the Great at the battle of Issos on the other. From the launch of IETA operations until 1956, banknotes were designed by A. Matsoukis, G. Velissaridis, S. Yiannaris, A. Koroyiannakis and F. Mastichiadis.
The 50-drachma banknote was printed in 1964 depicting the head of Arethusa and a composition of an old and a modern shipyard, the 100-drachma banknote in 1966 (Demokritos and the Academy of Athens) and the 500-drachma banknote in 1968 (goddess Demeter, Triptolemos and Persephone). The banknotes were designed by G. Velissaridis and I. Stinis and engraved by L. Orphanos and G. Angelopoulos. Since 1964 IETA has launched a new practice for its banknotes, sorting them by denomination and defining a specific feature and colour for each denomination. Thus, the 50-drachma banknote is smaller in size, blue and comes under the "shipping" theme; the 100-drachma banknote is red and comes under the "education" theme; the 500-drachma banknote is green and relates to "agriculture"; the 1,000-drachma banknote is brown and relates to "tourism"; the 5,000-drachma banknote is blue and comes under the "1821 Revolution"; the 10,000-drachma banknote is violet and relates to "science-health"; and, finally the 200-drachma banknote is orange and relates to "enlightenment" .
The 1,000-drachma banknote printed in 1970 depicted Zeus, a girl from Hydra in local costume and a view of the island. The 50-drachma banknote issued in 1978 depicted the head of Poseidon and the construction of the Argo on the front and Laskarina Bouboulina in the castle of Nafplion on the back. The 100-drachma banknote printed in the same year depicted the head of Athena Promachos and the building of the University of Athens on the front and Adamantios Korais and the Monastery of Arkadi on the back.
In 1983 a 500-drachma banknote was issued, showing Ioannis Kapodistrias and the fortress of Corfu. The first 5,000-drachma banknote since 1950 was issued in 1984, depicting Theodoros Kolokotronis and the Church of the Holy Apostles at Kalamata. A 1,000-drachma banknote was issued in 1987, depicting the head of Apollo and the Discus-thrower by Myron on the one side and the temple of Hera at Olympia on the other. It read "Δραχμές" instead of "Δραχμαί" and "πληρωτέες με την εμφάνιση" instead of "πληρωτέαι επί τη εμφανίσει" for the first time ("drachmas" and "payable on sight" in old and modern Greek, respectively). The last copperplate banknote, 10,000 drachmas, was put in circulation in 1995; the portrait of George Papanicolaou adorns the front and the healer-god Asclepius the back.
The last drachma banknote was that of 200 drachmas and was issued in 1996. The lithograph print depicted Rigas Feraios and N. Gysis' "Secret School".
From 1970 to 1996, banknotes were designed by painters I. Stinis, V. Sabatakos, P. Sotiriou and N. Nikolaou and engraved by L. Orphanos, G. Angelopoulos, I. Pipinis and E. Perraki. Engraver P. Gravvalos worked as external associate.
The last banknotes in circulation are shown here.
The period during which the Bank of Greece exchanged drachma banknotes for euro expired on 1 March 2012.
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Silver 10- and 20-drachma coins and nickel 5-drachma coins minted in 1930 were issued by virtue of the Decree of 7 December 1930.
The 20-drachma coin is a successful reproduction of the Macedonian tetradrachm issued by King Antigonos Doson (227-221 B.C.). The 10-drachma coin is a successful reproduction of the head of Demeter, originating from a rare stater of the Amphictyony of Delphi (336-334 BC) and the ear of wheat from a stater of Metapontum, a Greek colony in South Italy (4th century BC). They were both minted by the British Royal Mint. The 5-drachma coin is an exception: it departs from the feature of the series and resembles Kapodistrias' coins.
These coins were designed by Percy Metcalfe, Langford Jones, Kruger Gray and Michail Axelos.
King Paul was enthroned in 1947. The exchange rate of the postwar drachma, corresponding to 50 billion war drachmas, reached 30,000 drachmas/US dollar in 1953. The last three zeros were removed in 1954 and a new drachma corresponded to 1,000 drachmas, while one dollar corresponded to 30 new drachmas. From 1954 until the end of King Paul's reign in 1964, various coins were minted, designed by the Greek engraver V. Falireas.
The first coins minted in 1954 in Paris after World War II were 5-, 2- and 1-drachma and 50-lepta coins. They all depict the portrait of King Paul on the front and the royal coat of arms on the back. In the same year, 20-, 10- and 5-lepta coins were minted in Berne. The silver 20-drachma coin, depicting goddess Selene, was minted in London in 1960.
A silver 30-drachma circulation commemorative coin was minted in 1963 in Paris, to commemorate the Centenary of the Greek royal dynasty. It depicted the portraits of the five kings since 1863 in circle and is quite interesting because the portrait of King Alexander (1917-1920) is shown for the first time on a coin.
After King Constantine II was enthroned in 1964, the same type of coins as those of King Paul was minted. They were designed by V. Falireas and depicted the king's portrait on the front and the royal coat of arms on the back until 1971, when the royal coat of arms was replaced by the emblem of "21 April 1967". A circulating commemorative silver 30-drachma coin was minted in 1964, on the occasion of the wedding of King Constantine II to Princess Anna-Maria of Denmark. It is the first time that the portrait of a queen is depicted on a coin. Commemorative silver 50- and 100-drachma and gold 20- and 100-drachma coins were minted in 1970 for the 21 April 1967 coup d'etat.
The Coin Printing Section of IETA launched its operations in 1971. The first series of coins depicted the head of King Constantine II and the emblem of 21 April 1967. A new series was put in circulation in 1973: 10- and 20-lepta aluminium coins and 50-lepta, 1-, 2-, 5-, 10- and 20-drachma cupronickel coins. The 20-drachma coin depicts Selene on horseback riding on the sea. In 1973, with the abolition of kingship, a new series of 10- and 20-lepta aluminium coins, 50-lepta and 1- and 2-drachma bronze coins and 5-, 10- and 20-drachma cupronickel coins were put in circulation. They depict the emblem of 21 April 1967 on the front and a decorative palmette, an owl, Pegasus and the head of Athena of Piraeus on the back. These coins were designed by V. Falireas, I. Stinis, N. Perantinos, E. Kelaidis and L. Orphanos.
After the change-over of 1974, new coins were issued in 1976: 10-lepta coins (raging bull originating from Thourii coins (ancient Greek colony in South Italy)), 20-lepta coins (bust of a horse), 50-lepta coins (Markos Botsaris), 1-drachma coins (Konstantinos Kanaris and a corvette), 2-drachma coins (Georgios Karaiskakis), 5-drachma coins (Aristotle), 10-drachma coins (Demokritos) and 20-drachma coins (Pericles). They all depict the national emblem of the Greek Republic. A 50-drachma coin depicting the head of Solon was minted in 1980. The trademark of the Greek Mint, the palmette, appears for the first time and has been used thereafter in all coins.
A 50-drachma coin was minted in 1986, depicting the head of Homer on the front and an ancient Greek ship of Homer's era on the back. It won the first prize as the best coin in the world in an international contest held in the United States in 1988.
New copper 1- and 2-drachma coins were issued in 1986, depicting Bouboulina and Manto Mavrogenous, respectively. A 100-drachma coin was issued for the first time in 1990 (head of Alexander the Great and the star of Vergina) and the 20-drachma coin (head of Pericles) was replaced by a smaller one (head of Dionysios Solomos). Thus, the coin series minted between 1976 and 1990 changed year of issue every two years until 2000, which was the last year of drachma issue. These series were designed by artists Th. Papagiannis, N. Perantinos, K. Kazakos, V. Sabatakos, L. Orphanos, N. Nikolaou and P. Sotiriou.
Moreover, IETA issued the following commemorative circulation coins: 1994: two 50-drachma coins of the Greek Parliament for the 150th anniversary of constitutional life (Dimitrios Kallergis and Ioannis Makrygiannis); 1997: 100-drachma coin for the 6th IAAF World Championship in Athletics; 1998: 100-drachma coin for the 13th World Basketball Championship; 1998: two 50-drachma coins for the Rigas Pheraios year and the Dionysios Solomos year. 1999: two 100-drachma coins, one for the 45th World Grecoroman Wrestling Championship and one for the 70th Men's-13th Women's World Weightlifting Championship. These coins were designed by V. Sabatakos, N. Nikolaou, M. Antonatou, G. Stamatopoulos and A. Michelioudaki.
Six 500-drachma circulation coins were issued in 2000 in view of the 2004 Olympic Games. Their themes were: the entrance to the stadium in ancient Olympia, the Olympic winner Diagoras, Dimitrios Vikelas and Pierre de Coubertin, the Olympic winner Spyros Louis, the Olympic Torch Lighting Ceremony and the Medal. Their common side depicts the logo of the "Athens 2004" Olympic Games Organising Committee. These coins were designed by P. Gravalos, Th. Papagiannis, K. Kazakos and G. Stamatopoulos.
The period during which the Bank of Greece and tax authorities exchanged drachma coins for euro expired on 1 March 2004 and the last drachma coins in circulation can be viewed here .
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