Timeframe: When the UAE dirham came into being in 1973

The first bank notes were issued almost two years after the country was established

The original Dh100 note was in circulation from 1973 until 1982
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A country’s currency is not merely a matter of money. It is a symbol of its sovereignty, history and economic power.

Currency is a visual representation of a country, second only perhaps to its flag. In the case of the United Arab Emirates, the dirham is also a symbol of unity – especially when it was first issued.

In May 19, 1973, almost two years after the UAE itself was founded, the country established its official currency. The UAE dirham was reflective of the many emirates that came together under one flag. The first-issue banknotes featured a clock tower and police fort in Sharjah, the ruler’s palace in Ajman, a harbour in Ras Al Khaimah and a view of Umm Al Quwain.

The banknotes were printed in various colours, available as Dh1, Dh5, Dh10 and Dh100 values. One side of the note was written in Arabic, the other in English. In 1976, the Dh1,000 note was first issued. Forts from Dubai and Abu Dhabi featured against the dark blue note.

The Dh500 note, meanwhile, came to be a decade later. It featured Dubai’s Jumeirah Mosque. In 1989, the Dh200 note was issued and featured the Central Bank of the UAE. Six types of coins were also issued, including the 1 fils, 5 fils, 10 fils, 25 fils, 50 fils and one dirham. Only the latter three are still in circulation and feature a sand gazelle, oil derricks and traditional dallah coffee pot.

Some of the first issue banknotes are highly sought-after among collectors. Depending on its condition, the Dh1,000 note can go for anything from Dh4,000 to Dh80,000.

Before the UAE dirham was issued, the country used several other currencies from the region. From 1959, a special Gulf issue of the Indian rupee was in circulation in what were then the Trucial States. Dubai and Qatar later joined forces to launch the Qatar and Dubai riyal, which was used in several emirates.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, used the Bahraini dinar. The Saudi riyal and even the Maria Theresa silver thaler were also used across the area. During the time of the Trucial States, meanwhile, a special edition of the Indian rupee was utilised.

In this panoply of currency, the UAE dirham came as a resolute symbol of selfhood and sovereignty. The currency was pegged to the US dollar in 1997, at a rate of Dh3.6725

Over the last 51 years, the UAE dirham has undergone some changes. Special editions have also been released. In December 2021, a new Dh50 banknote was launched to celebrate the country's 50th National Day. A few months later, new editions of the Dh5, Dh10 and Dh50 banknotes entered circulation. The banknotes are made of durable polymer material with security features to prevent counterfeiting.

Updated: May 10, 2024, 6:02 PM