17th C Irish Banknotes


The Old Currency Exchange is Ireland's leading dealer in old coins, tokens and banknotes for discerning collectors.

Early Irish Proto-Banknotes

The origins of Irish banking can be traced back as far as the 17th C in Dublin where the Dublin Guild of Goldsmiths (now the only surviving medieval guild in Dublin) issued receipts for deposits of coins. Initially the currency notes took the form of receipts issued by goldsmiths, coin exchangers and large merchants located in Dublin and other major ports who acted as managers and custodians of coins on behalf of their owners.

Thus, it was the emergence of the practice of making payments by transfer of the goldsmiths’ receipts, rather than withdrawing the coins themselves to effect the payments, that conferred the status of money or medium of exchange on these receipts and led to them being described as currency notes.

  • The value of such notes in circulation rose from about £0.5 million in the 1720s to around £1.0 million in the 1750s – a level that was not exceeded again until the 1780s.

Apart from the weight and security implications of carrying round large amounts of gold or silver coinage, at that time, most of the coins actually in circulation were either badly clipped (reduced in weight/value) or were forgeries. This meant that ‘good’ coins had to be protected, otherwise they would quickly ‘disappear’ or deteriorate and the ‘bad’ coins would stay in circulation, i.e. Gresham’s Law.

  • The Dublin Guild of Goldsmiths was established in 1637 to supervise the assaying of all gold and silver throughout the whole Kingdom of Ireland.
    • It replaced by (the then) defunct Guild of Goldsmiths of All Saints
    • This was known to have existed prior to 1557, i.e. a medieval charter
      • It included watch and clock makers
      • The guild colours were red, yellow and white (1767)
Coat of Arms: The Dublin Goldsmiths' Guild was 16th in order of precedence of the Dublin guilds when it was re-incorporated in 1637.

The Dublin Goldsmiths’ Guild was 16th in order of precedence of the Dublin guilds when it was re-incorporated in 1637.

In 1696, it is known to have met in the London Stone Tavern, but in 1709 Goldsmiths’ Hall was built in Werburgh Street (the Hall being the source of ‘hallmarks’)

  • In 1812, the Goldsmiths’ Company moved to 22 Golden Lane
  • In 1838, they moved to the basement of the Custom House
    • After the Custom House burned down in 1921, the Goldsmiths – and the Assay Office – moved to Dublin Castle in 1925

In order to keep the good coins, the bad coins were released back into circulation, along with bank receipts which were acceptable for making payments within the walled city itself and the surrounding liberties. Thus, the concept and practice of ‘paper money’ in Ireland… began in Dublin.

When the goldsmiths began to provide loans and credit, a banking system began to develop. Two of the earliest Dublin Goldsmiths to provide ‘banking’ services were :-

  • Joseph Demar
    • Born in England in 1630, fought for Parliament during the English Civil War, sold his land in England and moved to France, and arrived in Dublin in 1661. His offices were in the London Tavern on Fishamble Street and, by the time Jonathan Swift wrote his poem (Elegy on the much lamented death of Mr Demar, the famous rich usurer)
      • Joseph Demar was infamous for his greed.
      • He ran his private bank until his death in 1720
  • Edward Hoare
    • The Hoare family were an important merchant family in Cork and Edward Hoare established his bank c. 1673
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