UAE currency: the story behind the coins in your pockets

In this weekly series, 'The National' explains the historical and cultural significance of the designs for each of the dirham denominations

The UAE was formed in December 1971 but it took more than a year before the new country got its own currency.

On May 20, 1973, in came the dirham and out went the rupee, the dinar, the riyal and even the Maria Theresa silver thaler.

Having a currency was an expression of sovereignty and unity, especially when so many others had been in circulation throughout the seven emirates.

The new designs were another reflection of this, incorporating familiar symbols and landmarks.

Six denominations made up the first issue of banknotes, including a Dh1 note that featured the Deira clock tower and Dubai Police station. It was withdrawn in the late 1970s, and examples now sell for as much Dh350 on eBay.

40@40. A one dirham note which was in circulation from 1973-1976.
A one dirham note, which was in circulation from 1973-1976.

Since then, there have been five issues of banknotes and various design changes. The Dh500 made its debut in 1983, and the Dh200 in 1989.

The Dh1,000 has been around since 1973, although then, as now, it is of little use in a taxi or baqala.

Since 2017, today's bank notes have been printed in the UAE and incorporate the latest security measures to prevent fraud.

Six coins were also introduced in 1973, although inflation means that only the 25 fils, 50 fils and one dirham are still in circulation.

The dirham has always been pegged to the US dollar, currently at a rate of Dh3.67 to $1. Back in 1973, the exchange rate for UK £1 was Dh10, while an Indian rupee was worth about 50 fils. Today, the British pound will buy just Dh5, while a single dirham is valued at about 20 rupees.

In this weekly series, The National breaks down the historical and cultural significance of the designs for each of the UAE currency's denominations.

25 fils

The 25 fils coin is now the lowest in circulation, since the 1, 5 and 10 copper fils were gradually phased out. It features a sand gazelle facing right, above the date in Arabic in the Gregorian and Islamic Hijri calendar.

The gazelle, listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is native to the region and the growth of its population can be credited to the UAE, where breeding programmes have been under way for years.

The other side of the 25 fils coin has the value in Arabic and the words United Arab Emirates in English and Arabic – features of all UAE coins.

It is produced for the UAE Central Bank by the Royal Canadian mint, and is made from non-magnetic copper-nickel.

50 fils

Like the 25 fils and Dh1 coins, the 50 fils uses a design from the first issue in 1973, featuring three oil derricks as symbols of the country’s economy.

What has changed is the coin’s shape. It was originally circular and the same size as today’s Dh1 coin. In 1995, it was reduced in size and produced as an equilateral curve heptagon, or having seven sides.

Dh1

With its familiar design of a traditional dallah coffee pot, the Dh1 coin represents the hospitality of the UAE. It was also reduced in size in 1995, although older coins very occasionally come up in your change. Also worth looking out for are the limited edition commemorative Dh1 coins – nearly 50 at the last count.

These were first issued in the 1980s, with subjects as diverse as the 1981 Dubai chess olympiad, the 25th anniversary of offshore oil production in 1987, the 1990 Fifa World Cup and the Year of Zayed in 2018.

The only other circulating commemorative coin was for Dh5, issued in 1981 to mark the start of the 15th Hijri century.

The inspiration behind the design of the UAE's currency

Updated: May 5, 2021 07:42 PM

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