During its first years of operation, the Bank of Greece had its banknotes, bank cheques, bills of exchange and other necessary documents printed in England, as Greece had Joined the gold-exchange standard and the drachma was pegged to the pound sterling, and in some Greek printing houses.
However, right from the start, the Bank considered establishing its own in-house printing works. Already before World War I, fourteen countries had in place similar printing facilities that served the needs of their central banks.
It was necessary to organise a dedicated technical department with the appropriate technical staff and machinery for printing banknotes and securities; this would also enhance security and protection against counterfeiting.
The existence of such a department would make the Bank more independent, as it would allow it to withdraw at any time any banknotes from circulation, if needed, and print new ones. In addition, the Greek State would be able to print its official documents securely and cheaply. Production would be in Greek hands, with foreign exchange savings being an additional benefit.
Unfortunately, amidst debates about the need for an independent bank of issue and fresh proposals for merging back the Bank of Greece with the National Bank of Greece, this plan was aborted.
Over time, as the Bank of Greece consolidated its position as the bank of issue of the country, the idea was revived. Within a few years from its establishment, the Bank of Greece became the effective supervisor of the management of legal persons in public law, with Bank employees sitting on their boards. By the end of 1938, the Bank managed the accounts of several legal persons in public law.
It was in the same year that it was decided to establish the Bank's printing works and to acquire a large plot of 214,500 square metres in Holargos, Attica, with a view to erecting the printing works building.
This would allow the State to print any security and document in its own plant, only paying for labour and materials, with no profit or commission for the Bank.
The Economic Defence High Command granted the permit for the establishment and operation of the National Mint (IETA). Right after the purchase of the plot, the architects of the Bank’s Technical Department, K. Papadakis and A. Delendas, travelled to Berlin, Geneva and Belgrade in order to study the printing works in these cities. Actually, the Belgrade facility used machinery purchased from “Koenig + Bauer” (Vienna), similar to the machinery ordered for Greece.
The designs and the construction of the building
The designs produced by K. Papadakis and A. Delendas, architects of the Bank’s Technical Department, were further elaborated by professor Brown, Director of the Austrian National Bank printing works.
The printing works is a Π-shaped three-story building with a basement. The main wing, 72 metres long and 16 metres wide, would house the main areas of the printing works; hence, its height was double. The southern and the northern wing would house the state lottery printing press and the coin press, respectively. The remaining areas would be used for storing paper and housing other necessary workshops (machine-shop, electrical workshop, etc.).
At the north side of the building, on the first floor, a large vaulted room was designed to house the intaglio and polychrome printing machines.
The administrative services, personnel offices, drawing office, engravers’ room, accounts department and quality control laboratory (chemical laboratory) were to be located on the second floor.
In general, it was a plain industrial building that followed the architectural style of the time. Great care was taken to ensure the easy movement of bulky loads in the interior. In all spaces, ample daylight would come in through glass panels.
However, World War II was drawing near.
“In the building of the Printing Works of the Bank of Greece to be erected in Aghia Paraskevi, an air-raid shelter will be constructed in the basement of the main section… The shelter will be divided into four almost equally-sized connecting chambers, capable of accommodating all the staff of the Printing Works, envisaged to reach 300 persons.”
While the building was still under construction, the Bank hired and trained specialised personnel. The first Director of IETA, G. Trakakis, visited Austria and Germany in order to study the operation of the peer institutions in these countries. The building was completed in early 1941, and the total cost came to 110,000,000 drachmas, while the printing equipment cost 38,000,000 drachmas.
After the liberation, the printing works starts operations
The printing works did not operate during the war and the Axis occupation as the Bank suspended its printing activity, while the entire building was commandeered by the German Admiralty of the Aegean Sea.
After the liberation, it was decided that the printing works would commence operations, but was in need of repairs and improvements. The printing facilities were unfinished and the machinery needed maintenance, after several years of being unused. In fact, it had narrowly escaped looting during the occupation, thanks to the intervention of a Viennese officer of the occupation forces. Additional outlays were approved for purchasing new, modern equipment, as some of the machines had already become obsolete
The first banknote printed: The brown 1,000-drachma banknote
The 100-drachma “liberation” banknote, featuring the fireship captain Konstantinos Kanaris on the obverse and Glory on the reverse, launched on 11 November 1944, was again printed in England.
The first banknote ever printed in the new printing works was the brown 1,000-drachma banknote. To this end, new offset presses were purchased, two for two-colour printing and two for one-colour printing, as well as special flat presses. This was followed by the orange 10,000-drachma banknote and the 5,000-drachma banknote featuring a portrait of national poet Dionysios Solomos.
Both professor Brown, Director of the Austrian Pritning Works, and his French counterpart of the Banque de France, Guittard, acknowledged the aesthetic and technical excellence of the result.
In 1950, at the General Meeting of Shareholders, Governor G. Mantzavinos, stated: “The Printing Works at Holargos operates almost on a par with the printing works of European banks of issue and is already capable of printing Greek banknotes of every type...”