The dollar has been the unit of account in Guyana (formerly British Guiana) since 29th January 1839. Originally it was intended as a transitionary unit to facilitate the changeover from the Dutch guilder system of currency to the British pound sterling system. The Spanish dollar was already prevalent throughout the West Indies in general, and from 1839, the Spanish dollar unit operated in British Guiana in conjunction with British sterling coins at a standard conversion rate of one dollar for every four shillings and twopence. In 1955 the British sterling coinage was replaced with a new decimal coinage which was simultaneously introduced through all the British territories in the Eastern Caribbean. The long standing sterling exchange rate of four shillings and twopence to the dollar finally lapsed on 9th October 1975. The Guyanese dollar is normally abbreviated with the dollar sign $, or alternatively G$ to distinguish it from other dollar-denominated currencies.
The history of the Guyanese dollar should not be considered in isolation of the wider picture surrounding the history of currency in the British West Indies as a whole. See Currencies of the British West Indies. The aspects of that history that are peculiar to British Guiana are the continued use of the four pence groat coin when all other territories had abandoned it, and also the use of dollar accounts in both the public and private sectors since 1839. In the other Eastern Caribbean territories, there was a mixture of dollar and sterling accounts until the year 1951.
The Dutch territories of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice on the north coast of South America came under the control of the British during the Napoleonic wars. These territories were formally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1815 and united to become the colony of British Guiana in 1831. At first, the British introduced a British variety of the Dutch guilder currency into this territory. Then in 1839, the Spanish dollar as a unit of account was introduced in order to facilitate the introduction of British sterling silver coinage. The rationale behind this lies in the fact that Spanish silver dollars, alternatively known as pieces of eight, were already circulating alongside the Dutch coinage, and also widely throughout the Eastern Caribbean. The dollar unit of account therefore acted as a convenient intermediatory conversion unit between sterling and the outgoing guilder unit. The dollar unit was equivalent to 4 shillings 2 pence sterling and replaced the guilder unit at a rate of 1 dollar = 3? guilder.
A particular feature of the circulation of British silver coins in British Guiana was the popularity of the 4d (four pence) coin, known as the groat. This was a direct consequence of its equivalence to the very popular outgoing 'Bit' coin which was equal to one quarter of a guilder. When the groat coin ceased to circulate in the United Kingdom in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a special request was made in 1888 for groats to be struck for use in the British West Indies and British Guiana. These were first struck in 1891. From 1917 they were struck exclusively for use in British Guiana.
Spanish, Mexican, and Colombian silver dollars continued to circulate alongside the British sterling coinage until 1876 when these dollar coins were demonetised.
The Spanish dollar unit should not be confused with the American dollar unit. The American dollar unit was first introduced in the USA in the year 1792, based on the average weight of a selection of worn Spanish dollars. As such, the American dollar was marginally less valuable than the Spanish dollar.
After the introduction of the dollar, regular British coins circulated, together with 2 and 4 pence coins also issued elsewhere in the British West Indies. The 2 pence coins issued in 1838, 1843 and 1848 were of the standard Maundy money type, whilst the 4 pence coins bore an image of Britannia. Between 1891 and 1916, 4 pence coins were issued specifically for "British Guiana and West Indies" and between 1917 and 1945 for "British Guiana". 1916 also saw the first issue of paper money by the Government of British Guiana, in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 20 and 100 dollars.
In 1955, coins were introduced in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents. The 1 and 5 cents were struck in nickel brass, with the other denominations struck in cupro-nickel. In 1996, high inflation caused the introduction of 1, 5 and 10 dollars coins. The 1 and 5 dollars are struck in copper-plated steel, whilst the 10 dollars is struck in nickel-plated steel and has a equilateral-curved heptagonal shape.
Private banknotes were introduced in the late 19th century by the British Guiana Bank and the Colonial Bank. Both issued 5, 20 and 100 dollars. The British Guiana Bank issued notes until 1907, with the Colonial Bank issuing notes until 1917. The Colonial Bank was taken over by Barclays Bank, which issued notes in denominates of 5, 10, 20 and 100 dollars between 1926 and 1941.
In 1909, the Royal Bank of Canada introduced 100 dollars notes, followed in 1913 by 5 and 20 dollars notes. From 1920, the notes also bore the denomination in sterling. 100 dollars were issued until 1920, with the 5 and 20 dollars issued until 1938.
Paper money production specifically for British Guiana ceased in 1942 and local notes were replaced by BWI$ notes in 1951. In 1955, the BWI$ was decimalized and coinage was issued in the name of the "British Caribbean Territories, Eastern Group". In 1965, the East Caribbean dollar (EC$) replaced the BWI$ and circulated in British Guiana for a year until, following independence in 1966, the Guyanese dollar was introduced, replacing the East Caribbean dollar at par.
Banknotes were introduced in 1966 in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 20 dollars. A second series issued between 1989 and 1992 consisted of 20, 100 and 500 dollar denominations. The 1996-1999 series included 20, 100, 500, and 1000 dollars. The 2000-2002 series included 500 and 1000 dollar notes. New banknotes of 100 and 1000 dollars were issued in 2005 with increased security features.
The text on this page has been made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License and Creative Commons Licenses