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Collection Highlight: Qatari Currency


An in-depth look at the story of currency in Qatar, unveiling a fascinating journey of discovery and the evolution of a country's identity.

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Walking the galleries, hallways and exhibition spaces of the National Museum of Qatar, it's hard to miss the immaculate display of rare artefacts in Gallery 9. Loaded with a collection of ancient currency, the gallery tells the tale of the region's commercial activity and trade ties throughout history.

NMoQ's display of historic coins, cash and banknotes is more than just an exhibit on currency; it is a way for visitors to explore the country's relationship with its neighbours and also brilliantly portrays the crucial foundations and economic success that have led to present-day Qatar. The collection marks critical developments in Qatar's history and the transformation of civilisation by giving an in-depth account of the significance of these events at specific moments in time.

Evidence of this can be found through multiple excavations at historical ports and merchant towns in Qatar, where archaeologists have discovered surprising trade ties and key Islamic influence in found currency. An example of this is the distinctively shaped Taweelat Al Hasa from Al Ahsa in modern-day Saudi Arabia, Thalers of Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa and coins of Ottoman, Persian and Omani dynasties.

Austro-Hungarian coins of Maria Theresa at Qatar Museums 2020

Austro-Hungarian coin of Maria Theresa © Qatar Museums 2022

After becoming a British protectorate in 1916, Qatar adopted the British Indian Rupee as its primary currency, making it the first time in the county’s history that banknotes were used on such a scale. An interesting aspect about these banknotes were the printed pictures of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V and King George VI. A sight of this pivotal development in the region can easily be found at NMoQ’s collection, which includes:

  • The British Indian Rupee for Queen Victoria, 1862–1901
  • The British Indian Rupee by Edward VII, 1903–10
  • The British Indian Rupee by George V, 1911–36
  • The British Indian Rupee by George VI, 1938–47
The British Indian Rupee for Queen Victoria, 1862-1901 at Qatar Museums 2020

The British Indian Rupee for Queen Victoria, 1862–1901 © Qatar Museums 2022

Moving down the timeline, three years after India's independence from Britain in 1950, Qatar witnessed the arrival of the Indian Rupee that replaced British currency. This time around, the notes came bearing prints of Ashoka Lion's sculpture, a symbol of Indian independence.

After the introduction of Indian currency came, in 1959 came the time when the sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, with the help of the Indian government, issued a special currency for the region under the name Gulf Rupee. The notes were similar in design to the Indian Rupee but different in colour.

Republic of India Rupee, 1950–1959 at Qatar Museums 2020

Republic of India Rupee, 1950–1959 © Qatar Museums 2022

Gulf Rupee 1959 -1966 at Qatar Museums

Gulf Rupee 1959–1966 © Qatar Museums 2022

However, in 1966 the reduced exchange rate of the Gulf Rupee against the Indian Rupee by 35% created fear of devaluation and its adverse effects on the economy, which led to the Saudi Riyal being used for a period of 6 months. Right after, the Qatar and Dubai Monetary Council was established issuing the Qatar and Dubai Riyals on September 18, 1966, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100. The early banknote designs were simple, bearing images of the dhow, an oil platform, a palm tree on the front, and Islamic motifs on the back, all of which on view at the National Museum of Qatar.

Circulation of the Qatari and Dubai Riyals continued until 1973, when Dubai's accession to the United Arab Emirates led to the Qatar and Dubai Monetary Council's liquidation and the establishment of the Qatari Monetary Agency, resulting in the first Qatari currency being issued, the Qatari Riyal.

On 19 May 1973, the Qatar Monetary Agency minted the first Qatari Riyal banknotes in denominations 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500. These banknotes were manufactured using the latest technology available, including fluorescent ink, security tape, and high-quality paper. The first edition designs displayed the country's architecture and development through paintings of ports, mosques, and the National Museum at the time. Altogether, the new currency's initial batch reflected Qatar's identity, its growth, and national presence in the region.

Qatari Riyal First Issue, 1973–1981 at Qatar National Museum

Qatari Riyal First Issue, 1973–1981 © Qatar Museums 2022

The second edition of the Qatari banknotes came soon after, in 1981. These notes featured icons and images of a steel factory and agricultural activities along with new copies of the old notes that had displayed the Qatar National Museum.

Qatari Riyal Second Issue, 1981–1996 at Qatar National Museums

Qatari Riyal Second Issue, 1981–1996 © Qatar Museums 2022

Later on, Qatar Central Bank took over the task of launching the third issue in 1996, followed by the fourth in 2003. For these rounds, minor changes were made in terms of the design, which had included the issuing agency's name.

Qatari Riyal Third Issue at Qatar National Museum

Qatari Riyal Third Issue © Qatar Museums 2022

Qatari Riyal Fourth Issue, 1981–1996 at Qatar Museums

Qatari Riyal Fourth Issue © Qatar Museums 2022

To mark National Day 2020, on 18 December, the Qatar Central Bank launched the fifth edition, which showcased the National Museum of Qatar, the Museum of Islamic Art and Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani's palace on the new 200 Riyal denomination. The introduction of this edition marked a new era for the country. It acknowledged the important role Qatar Museums has played in enriching and enhancing the country's cultural and artistic movement.

200 Qatari Riyal banknote with NMoQ in the background

The new 200 Qatari Riyal denomination contains the palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, the National Museum of Qatar and the Museum of Islamic Art ©Qatar Museums 2022

Loubna Zeidan is an Editorial Specialist at Qatar Museums.