First Issue banknotes 1934-1940

Trading banks issued their own banknotes until 1934 when the Reserve Bank of New Zealand began operating as the central bank .

The “Temporary Notes”

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand began operating in 1934 as the country’s central bank and sole issuer of banknotes. The First Issue was regarded as temporary in nature because of the short period of time in which the notes had to be designed and manufactured, and they were intended to be in circulation for only a few years.

Three million Ten Shilling notes, six million One Pound notes, and one and a half million Five Pound notes were printed by Thomas De La Rue in England and delivered to the New Zealand trading banks by 1 August 1934. Fifty thousand Fifty Pound notes were delivered in December 1934. Only four denominations were provided in 1934 because there was such a short period to complete the design and printing process plus the cost of producing numerous denominations of notes in small quantities was relatively expensive. All the notes were equal in size.

The design of both the face and reverse sides of the notes contained typical New Zealand features such as a kiwi, the portrait of the second Māori King, and Māori carvings. The First Issue did not feature a picture of the monarch of the time. This was not unusual for notes, although an engraving of a monarch’s head featured on coins. In fact, the government was keen to have a royal portrait but there had not been time to obtain a suitable portrait before the notes were printed. For some unknown reason, permission was either not sought or not granted for the Second Issue. It was not until the issue of decimal currency in 1967 that Reserve Bank paper money displayed the portrait of a reigning monarch.

The notes were signed by Leslie Lefeaux, the first Governor of the Reserve Bank. Unlike the previous trading bank notes, the obligation to redeem the notes in sterling no longer appeared on the face of the notes.

After dealing with the many frayed and worn notes issued by trading banks, the clean and crisp notes issued by the Reserve Bank were well received by both the public and bank tellers, although there were reports of people sometimes giving out the wrong note because the colours of the Ten Shilling and Fifty Pound note were too similar. Notes issued by the six trading banks ceased to be legal tender on and after 10 January 1935 although the face value of the notes is still being honoured by the New Zealand Government.
Issue Two, the permanent notes, were released on 6 February 1940


Paraphrased from New Zealand History Noted: Reserve Bank of New Zealand bank notes by Robert Pepping, 2010.

First Issue Ten Shillings

First Issue One Pound

First Issue Five Pounds

First Issue Fifty Pounds