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Banknotes of the New Zealand dollar

This article concerns the banknotes of the New Zealand dollar



Banknotes of the New Zealand dollar have all been issued by the Reserve Bank which also had two pre-dollar issues. Consequently, the first dollar issue is the third Issue of banknotes by the Reserve Bank.

First and Second issues: Pre-decimalEdit

These first notes were intended to be temporary. They had been designed in a hurry amid heated debate over what they should look like. In the end they included features of notes already in circulation. The design included a Kiwi, the Arms of New Zealand, a sketch of Mitre Peak and a portrait of King Tāwhiao, the second Maori king.

The colours of the original banknotes were similar to the previous trading banknotes. All the notes carried the same design, but different colours distinguished the denominations. Notes of 10/- (ten shillings), £1 (one pound), £5 and £50 were coloured orange, mauve, blue-green and red respectively. The banknotes were all the same size (7" x 3½").

The first bank note was introduced on 1st August 1934, and was signed by the first Governor of the Reserve Bank, Leslie Lefeaux. They were printed by Thomas de la Rue and Company Limited, London.

The second series was issued on 6th February 1940. The design and colours for the 10/- and £50 notes were changed. A portrait of Captain James Cook replaced that of King Tawhiao. A green coloured £10 note was also introduced at this time. These notes stayed in circulation until the change to decimal currency on 10 July 1967.

Third issue: 1967–1981Edit

Decimalisation of the New Zealand currency occurred on 10 July 1967, when the New Zealand pound was replaced by the New Zealand dollar at a rate of one pound to two dollars (10 shillings to a dollar). On the same day, new decimal banknotes were introduced to replace the existing pound banknotes, in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, and $100.

These first decimal banknotes all featured a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of New Zealand, on the obverse. The reverse featured a native New Zealand bird and a native New Zealand plant. The colour scheme on all but the $5 note (which was an entirely new denomination, worth £2 10s) remained the same on equivalent pound and dollar notes to ease the transition (e.g. £10 and $20 were both green).

Fourth issue: 1981–1991Edit

The second issue of New Zealand dollar banknotes occurred around 1978 - 1980, but officially done at 1981, when the Reserve Bank changed the printer from De La Rue to Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. The new notes had a different design from the first decimal currency issue. The portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was updated, and she now faced forward, rather than to the left. It was based upon a photograph by Peter Grugeon, with the Queen wearing Grand Duchess Vladimir's tiara and Queen Victoria's golden jubilee necklace.[1]

The $50 note was introduced in 1983 to fill the long gap between the $20 and the $100 notes. $1 and $2 notes were discontinued in 1991 and replaced by gold-coloured coins. Requests for a donation (koha) e.g. for admission often now say gold coin please.

A commemorative $10 note was introduced in 1990 to commemorate 150 Years of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Fifth issue: 1992–1999Edit

In 1991, the existing $1 and $2 notes were withdrawn in spite of complaints ($1 and $2 coins had been introduced in the previous year) and all the other banknotes were redesigned. The new series featured notable New Zealanders on the obverse, with the exception of the $20 note, which still featured the Queen, while the reverse sides were redesigned to incorporate a natural New Zealand scene, with a native New Zealand bird in the foreground. The Queen replaced Captain Cook as the image for the watermark.

A notable feature of the new series was the inclusion of the portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary on the obverse of the $5 note. Hillary was one of the few living non-heads of state to ever feature on a banknote in the world, and this remained true until his death on 11 January 2008.

The banknote redesign was supposedly needed because when the Reserve Bank governor Don Brash told the existing printer that the bank proposed to put the printing of banknotes (its largest cost) out to tender, the firm said that they owned the copyright on the plates. "Apparently, when we went to decimal currency in 1967, somebody in the Treasury or the Reserve Bank had signed away the copyright of the New Zealand banknotes to a company in Whangarei, in perpetuity". So the only way out of a hopeless bargaining position was to redesign the banknotes. The Whangarei firm was a subsidiary of a British company, and after going out to tender the same Whangarei company won, but this time the price per note was substantially less.[2]

Sixth issue: 1999–2014Edit

In 1999, New Zealand changed from paper banknotes to polymer banknotes. The change increased the life of the banknotes fourfold, and also allowed new and improved security features to prevent counterfeiting. The overall design of the notes remained unchanged albeit for slight modifications for the new security features.

Around 1999 - 2000, a commemorative $10 note was issued for the new millennium.

Seventh issue: 2015 onwardsEdit

In July 2011, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced a new issue of banknotes will be released for circulation from 2015. The new issue will use the same basic designs as the fifth and sixth note issues, but the overall look will be refreshed and the security features will be upgraded.[3][4]

The new banknote designs were finally revealed in a ceremony on 20 November 2014.

The new type $5 and $10 notes were released in October 2015, and the $20, $50, and $100 notes were released in May 2016.[5]

Both the older 1999–2014 and the new issues will be legal tender.

Current banknotesEdit

These banknotes are in regular circulation as of October 2015 and in May 2016.

Value Image Dimensions Main Colour Description Date of issue
Obverse Reverse Watermark
$5 135 × 66 mm Orange Edmund Hillary
Aoraki/Mount Cook
Campbell Island scene
Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin)
Bulbinella rossii (Ross lily)
Pleurophyllum speciosum (Campbell Island daisy)
Bull kelp
Queen Elizabeth II October, 2015 / May, 2016
$10 140 × 68 mm Blue Kate Sheppard
White camellia flowers
River scene
Whio (blue duck)
Parahebe catarractae
Blechnum fern
$20 145 × 70 mm Green Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand
New Zealand Parliament Buildings
New Zealand alpine scene
Kārearea (New Zealand falcon)
Marlborough rock daisy
Red tussock in flower
Mount Tapuae-O-Uenuku
$50 150 × 72 mm Purple Sir Āpirana Ngata
Porourangi Meeting House
Conifer broadleaf forest scene
Kōkako (blue wattled crow)
Supplejack (kareao)
Sky-blue mushroom
$100 155 × 74 mm Red Lord Rutherford of Nelson
Nobel Prize medal
Beech forest scene
Mohua (yellowhead)
Red beech
South Island lichen moth
These images are to scale at 0.7 pixel per millimetre. For table standards, see the banknote specification table.

Past banknotesEdit

Due to changes in printer, designs, and base material, there have been several designs on New Zealand banknotes. With the exception of the demonetised $1 and $2 notes, all decimal notes are still legal tender, although it is rare to see them in regular circulation.

Image Value Dimensions Main Colour Description Date of Remarks
Obverse Reverse Obverse Reverse Watermark Issue Withdrawal
$1 140 × 70 mm Brown Queen Elizabeth II Fantail
New Zealand clematis
Captain James Cook 10 July 1967 1991
$2 145 × 72.5 mm Mauve Rifleman
10 July 1967
[1] $5 150 × 75 mm Orange Tui
10 July 1967 still legal tender
135 × 66 mm (as above) (as above) (as above) 1992 Paper version of the above note
[2] $10 155 × 77.5 mm Blue Queen Elizabeth II Kea
Mount Cook lily
Captain James Cook 10 July 1967
140 × 68 mm (as above) (as above) (as above) 1992 Paper version of the above note
  $20 160 × 80 mm Green Queen Elizabeth II New Zealand pigeon
Captain James Cook 10 July 1967
145 × 70 mm (as above) (as above) (as above) 1992 Paper version of the above note
$50 160 × 80 mm Orange/Mango Queen Elizabeth II Morepork
Captain James Cook 1983
150 × 72 mm Purple (as above) (as above) (as above) 1992 Paper version of the above note
[3] $100 160 × 80 mm Crimson Queen Elizabeth II Takahe
Pekapeka (mountain daisy)
Captain James Cook 10 July 1967
155 × 74 mm Red (as above) (as above) (as above) 1992 Paper version of the above note

Commemorative banknotesEdit

In 1990, a commemorative $10 note was printed to commemorate 150 Years of the Treaty of Waitangi. This was put into circulation in around 1991.

In October 1999, a commemorative $10 note was issued for the new millennium. The note demonstrated the security features that were possible with polymer banknotes, which were being introduced into general circulation at the time.

Image Value Dimensions Main Colour Description [6] Date of issue
Obverse Reverse Obverse Reverse Watermark
$10 140 × 68 mm Blue The Journey - Socially and Technologically
A Māori waka to represent the Māori migration to New Zealand around 1000 AD; binary digits and satellite dish to represent the digital age
The Kiwi Spirit - A Sense of Adventure
Several images representing the Kiwi lifestyle
A Māori carved face October 1999

Security featuresEdit

New Zealand's banknotes incorporate many security features to prevent counterfeiting. The use of polymer makes the current series of banknotes very difficult and expensive to counterfeit due to the vast array of security features.

Some of the security features are:

  • There are two transparent windows in the note. The transparent window on the centre right side (when looking at the obverse) is oval-shaped and contains the denomination of the currency (5, 10, 20, etc.) embossed in the transparent section. The transparent window on the left hand side is in the shape of a curved fern leaf.
  • There is a curved fern leaf directly above the transparent fern on both sides of the note. When held up to a light source, the fern on one side should match perfectly with the fern on the other side.
  • When the note is held up to a light source, a watermark image of Queen Elizabeth II should be seen in the area to the left (when looking at the obverse) of the transparent oval.
  • When running your finger across the note, you should be able to feel the raised printing.
  • Tiny micro-printed letters, reading “RBNZ”, should be visible with a magnifying glass in the bottom right of the note (in the band between the person and the denomination).
  • The images on the note should appear sharp and well defined, not fuzzy and washed out.
  • The serial number of the note should be printed both horizontally and vertically on the note, and both numbers should be the same.
  • Under ultra-violet light, the note should appear dull, except for a patch on the front showing the denomination of the note that glows under UV light.
  • The note should feel plastic, not paper.
  • The note should be very difficult to tear without the aid of scissors. However, once a rip is initiated, the note should tear very easily.
  • The first two numerals of the serial number represent the year of printing (e.g. note AA05000001 was printed in 2005). The Reserve Bank Governor's signature in the top left corner should match the governor in office at time of printing—Donald T Brash for notes printed 1999 (99) to 2002 (02), Alan Bollard for notes printed 2003 (03) to 2012 (12), and Graeme Wheeler from 2013 (13) onwards.

Damaged notesEdit

The Reserve Bank accepts all New Zealand currency for payment at face value. This applies to all demonetised or withdrawn currency, however such currency need not be accepted by money changers as this is no longer legal tender. All decimal notes are legal tender except $1 and $2 notes as these have been withdrawn.

Damaged notes are still usable so long as they are recognisable. In particular, the legibility of the note's serial numbers is important. The Reserve Bank website notes that as a rule of thumb if there is more than half a bank note they will pay its full value. In practice banks may pay a quarter of the value for every visible denomination figure on the note, of which there are four. For instance, if a $5 note is ripped in half vertically, two "5" symbols will still be visible on each half, and the amount exchanged will be $2.50 for each half. To receive payment people can return in the note to any commercial bank or the Reserve Bank in Wellington.[7]


  1. ^ Linzmayer, Owen (2012). "New Zealand". The Banknote Book. San Francisco, CA:
  2. ^ Goldsmith, Paul (2005). Brash: A Biography. Auckland: Penguin. pp. 208–9. ISBN 0143019678.
  3. ^ Rutherford, Hamish (21 July 2011). "NZ bank notes to be 'refreshed'". Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  4. ^ "New banknotes from 2014: Bollard". The New Zealand Herald. 21 July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  5. ^ "New Zealand's banknotes". Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Commemorative $10 Bank Note: An Explanation of Design" (PDF). Reserve Bank of New Zealand. 1999-09-15. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  7. ^ Notes & coins frequently asked questions Archived January 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.