Not all ‘banana money’ is valuable

Goh showing the authentic $10 Japanese banana note.

Goh showing the authentic $10 Japanese banana note.

COLLECTORS of the Japanese “banana money” have been advised not to be overly confident that the vintage notes are valuable.

The Japanese, after occupying Malaya in 1942, introduced this wartime currency. 

It was known as banana money because of the banana tree motif on the notes.

According to Sarawak Philatelic and Numismatic Society president John Goh Cheong Huat, only banana money with a combination of letters and numbers as the serial number were valuable.

“Collectors who approached me were surprised when told that the notes had little value. One person from Kuching came to me with a bagful of the money - about 10,000 to 20,000 pieces. He was shocked when I said they are worth less than RM100,” he said.

The reason was that the notes had two letters only and no numbers.

“If the note has the letters MA (Malaya) and no numerical digit, then its value is just between RM2 and RM3.

“But if there is a combination of letters and numbers such as MA169748 for a good quality $10 note, then its value is between RM300 and RM500,” he said in an interview.

For the $500 note, it is now worth RM5,000 and the $1,000 note has a price tag of RM13,000.

Asked why there were notes without numbers in the serial number, he said it was due to over printing of the currency.

“In the first two years of the occupation, the Japanese maintained the monetary discipline of the currency and its circulation was under control.

“However, towards the end of their occupation of Malaya, there was no control on the printing of the currency. 

That is why a lot of people even have bags of it,” he said.

Goh said according to historical account, the Japanese had to print more money to fund its administrative expenses.

The initial circulation of the currency was just $120mil but by mid-1945, the Japanese had printed $4bil, which was 30 times more.

Goh has several pieces of the original banana money, which he said was given to him five years ago by his counterpart in Singapore, Wong Han Seng, who is the president of Asia Philatelic and Numismatic Society.

Central Region