The first years after its establishment, the Bank of Greece was printing the bank notes, the bank cheques, the bills of exchanges and every other document needed in England, the country designated as golden monetary base country, and in some Greek print shops.
However, the thought for creating of a private foundation for printing banknotes and securities was active from the beginning. Even before World War I, fourteen countries had already had similar printing facilities that served the printing needs of their central banks.
It was necessary to organize a specialized technical department with the necessary technical staff and the respective equipment for printing banknotes and securities; furthermore, it would enhance security and protection from the risk of counterfeiting.
The existence of such foundation would grant the Bank more independence, as well as the ability to withdraw securities from circulation, if needed, and print new ones. In addition, the Greek State would be able to print securely and with better economic terms its official documents. The production would be in Greek hands and at the same time, the export of foreign currency would be minimized.
Unfortunately, the Bank of Greece's existence as an autonomous issuing foundation was once again in doubt and the idea of merging back with the National Bank of Greece, didn’t allow for the realization of the idea.
As years went by and the Bank of Greece was established as the official issuing foundation of the country, the issue resurfaced. Within a few years from its establishment, the Bank of Greece was the actual supervisor of the management of legal persons governed by public law, with many of its employees participating to their board of directors. At the end of 1938, the Bank managed the accounts of several legal persons governed by public law.
It was the same year when it was decided to found the Bank's printing works and to acquire a large piece of land 214,500 square meters in Holargos - Attica, with the prospect of erecting the building of the printing works.
This way, the State would be able to print in its own plant every security and title, paying only for the labor and material cost, with no profit or commission for the Bank.
The Supreme Administration of Economic Defense granted the relevant permit for the establishment and operation of the National Mint (IETA). Right after the purchase, the engineers of the Bank’s Technical Department K. Papadakis and A. Delendas, traveled to Berlin, to Geneva and to Belgrade in order to study the printing works in these cities. The printing work in Belgrade was using machinery that was purchased from “Koenig + Bauer” of Vienna, similar to the ones that had been ordered for Greece.
The designs and the construction of the building
The designs that the architects of the Technical Department K. Papadakis and A. Delendas produced, were then processed by professor Brown, Director of the respective Foundation of the Austrian National Bank.
The construction of the print works, a pi-shaped three-story building with basement, started. The main wing, with a length of 72 meters and width of16 meters, would house the main areas of the print works; hence it’s height was double. The south side wing housed the areas where the state lottery would be printed and directly opposite to it, it would be the area where the coins would be produced. The rest of the spaces would be used for paper storage and other necessary workshops (machine-shop, electrics workshop, dyeing-mill etc).
At the north side of the building, on the first floor, a large room with a dome was intended to house the machines for copper and multi-color printing.
On the second floor, there would be the administrative services, the personnel office, the drawing room, the engravers’ room, the accounting department and the quality control laboratory (Chemical laboratory).
In general, it was a plain industrial building that followed the architectural style of the era. Great attention was paid to the easy movement of large cargo in the interior. In all varieties, the spaces were illuminated through a series of glazings.
But the war was very close.
“In the building of the Printing Works of the Bank of Greece in Aghia Paraskevi that is being erected, an air-raid shelter will be constructed in the basement of the main section. The shelter will be divided internally in four almost equal-sized connecting chambers, that will accommodate all employers and staff of the Print Works, almost 300 persons.”
While the building was still under construction, the Bank hired and retrained specialized personnel. The first Director, G. Trakakis, visited Austria and Germany in order to study the operations of the respective foundations in these countries. The building was completed in the beginning of 1941 and the total cost reached 110.000.000 drachma, while the printing equipment 38.000.000 drachma.
After the liberation the operation of the printing works commences
The printing works did not operate during the war and the German occupation, since the Bank did not print anything new and the whole piece of land was commandeered by the German Admiralty of the Aegean Sea.
After the liberation it was decided that the printing works would commence operations, but it needed repairs and improvements. The printing facilities were not completed and the mechanical equipment needed maintenance, since it hadn’t been used for many years. During the occupation, the machinery was almost stolen by the conquerors, but it saw saved due to the actions of a Viennese officer that served in the occupation forces. Additional credits were approved for purchasing new, modern equipment since some of the machines were already obsolete even before they operated.
The first printing: The brown 1000 drachma banknote
The “100-drachma of liberation”, showing the fireship captain Konstantinos Kanaris on the front side and Doxa on the back, circulated on 11 November 1944, was again printed in England.
The first banknote ever printed in the new printing works is the brown 1000 drachma banknote. For this reason, new special machines for offset printing were purchased, two for two-color printing and two for one-color printing, as well as special flat presses. These were also used to print the orange banknote of 10.000 drachma and the banknote of 5.000 drachma, with the head of our national poet Dionysios Solomos.
Both Professor Brown, Director of the Austrian Pritning Works, and his French counterpart of Banque de France, Guittard, acknowledge the perfect outcome of the printing both aesthetically and technically.
In 1950, during the Shareholders General Meeting, the Governor of the Bank of Greece, G. Mantzavinos stated: “The Printing Works in Holargos is equal to the Printing Works of the European Issuing Banks and is already able to print Greek banknotes of every type...”