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Cash should be in a museum

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I have many bad habits. The main bad habit is collecting. I collect lots of things. Old comics, old books, old people. Well, maybe not the last one, but one of my really bad habits is collecting money. I have this thing that I call the money museum at home, and in the museum are bank notes from all around the world. The habit started when I blogged about the most beautiful bank notes in the world a few years ago. That, combined with my travelling, led to me trying to capture and preserve at least one note of every denomination in each country I visit.

What is interesting is the challenge of getting every denomination and, additionally, the denominations that exist. In most countries, the bank notes start in value around the $5 mark and increase in value to around $100 or more. However, sometimes this is not the case. For example, I was recently in Ethiopia where the bank notes are denominated from 1 birr (around USD$0.30c) to 100 ($30).

I got into an interesting conversation about this, as the 1 birr note is disappearing and being replaced by a coin. The 5, 10 and 50 birr notes are usually in a terrible state. They are ripped and wrinkled and look like they’re 100 years old. The 100 birr notes are usually in a good condition, as they aren’t used as much.

This is something that holds true in many countries. The smallest denomination notes are usually in a bad state. The highest notes are in a good state, as they are used far less often.

This strikes me in many countries, especially the USA. I have often been given $50 bills, and they are immaculate. The $1 bills are pretty terrible. So, there is a timeline for a bank notes longevity, before it has to be taken out of circulation. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the average bank note lasts about eight years before the ink wears off or it becomes damaged and has to be replaced.

Interestingly, many countries are now replacing the paper banknote with polymer notes. These last much longer and, again, the RBA has some interesting stats:

Since the issuance of polymer banknotes, the median life has ranged widely across denominations – from 3.5 years for $5 banknotes up to 10 years for $50 banknotes … for all denominations, the life of polymer banknotes is longer than the equivalent paper banknotes (which had median life spans ranging from around six months to 1.5 years for the $5 and $50 denominations respectively).

Even so, and even with my weird habit of collecting banknotes, I cannot wait to see them all destroyed and replaced by digital money. Why? Because banknotes are inherently disgusting. Take note:

A recent report swabbed $1 bills circulating around New York City, and found more than 100 different strains of bacteria from our skin and our mouths on the dirty dollars. This is because most cash is made from a blend of cotton and linen, and these fibrous crevices are great places for bacteria to grow. Paper-based money can transfer live flu viruses for up to 17 days, and we rarely think to wash our hands before or after handling money. That’s one reason why Australia, Canada and the U.K. have switched to plastic-based banknotes as they carry less bacteria, and you can wipe them clean.

You can read more about the horrific substances found on our dirty money from dog spit to faeces over here but, in the meantime, I’m keeping my cash in the museum. Everything else is in the app.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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