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Mar 19 2018 02:59 EST


June 6, 2015 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Education

The Banque de l’Algérie (later named the Banque de l’Algérie et de la Tunisie) was the issuing authority for Algeria and Tunisia throughout the French period of control. These two nations sit at the northern edge of a vast territory once controlled by France, including Morocco, French West Africa, and French Equatorial Africa. Algeria and Tunisia are among the oldest French possessions in Africa, and have by far the longest history in terms of bank note issues

Many think of the north African region as desert, and although the southern three quarters of Algeria and Tunisia are covered by the Sahara this isn’t typical of the geography found in the more populated areas. The vast majority of Algerians and Tunisians live along the northern coast and just inland from the Mediterranean. The land here is tantalizingly fertile and has been a grain and fruit-growing region since antiquity. For North Americans the closest comparable is California.

The French began their involvement in North Africa during the 1830’s. The struggle to bring Algeria under French control lasted over forty years, but by the beginning of the 1850’s the French had gained enough of a foothold in Algeria to establish the Banque de l’Algérie. By the end of the century, France had added Tunisia to its African territories. The French presence in North Africa was generally unwelcome, and agitation for independence never really abated throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By the early twentieth century, French North Africa had developed into a society strictly divided along racial lines. European colonists, comprising about ten percent of the population, held the vast majority of wealth and power. Moslems were denied the right to French citizenship unless they renounced their faith, making widespread assimilation impossible. World War II put the French colonial system in North Africa to the test. The Axis-backed French Vichy government had control of Algeria and Tunisia from 1940. In 1942, Allied forces landed in Algeria and squeezed the Axis forces into a defensive posture in Tunisia. By May 1943, both Algeria and Tunisia were back under Allied control. Throughout the war, many native Algerians and Tunisians fought along side their Allied comrades. Those that survived the experience came home with a renewed sense of entitlement, having been exposed to other Allied combatants who enjoyed significantly more freedom than allowed the native North Africans. After the end of World War II, the cries for independence became louder. Violent terrorist attacks, which had already been taking place in Algeria, became more frequent. By 1952, widespread violence had broken out in Tunisia as well. France was still drained from the effects of the Second World War and simply didn’t have the strength to maintain control. Eventually after lengthy negotiations, France conceded Tunisian autonomy, and in 1956, Tunisia declared full independence from France. In Algeria, the road to freedom was bloodier, with a protracted war lasting from 1954 until 1962. On 5 July 1962, Algeria formally declared its independence from France, ending well over a century of French rule in North Africa. GETTING STARTED The paper money of Algeria and Tunisia can be somewhat overwhelming to the new collector. Issued over a period of over one hundred years, there are a myriad of types and varieties to sort out. The bank notes issued during the period of French control were for the most part printed by the Banque de France. A few exceptional notes were printed by other contracted printers, either in France or locally. One can collect the notes of the two nations separately (as listed in the Standard Catalog) but this can be rather awkward as the notes were placed in circulation by a single bank. This fact creates so much overlap between the issues of the two countries that it is almost impossible to separate them. A more logical approach (although not without difficulties) is to intermingle the notes of the two nations, ordering them chronologically. That’s the approach I’ve always used, and will follow that scheme in this article. The notes of French Algeria and Tunisia can be grouped broadly into six large series based on their dates of printing:  the early issues (1851 through the 1870’s)  the blue series (1873 through the 1920’s)  the multicolor series (1913 through the early 1940’s)  the Second World War issues (1938 through the mid 1940’s)  the post-war issues (1946 through 1959)  the nouveaux francs issues (1959 through the 1960’s) The Banque de l’Algérie was founded in 1851 and almost immediately began issuing bank notes. Unfortunately, these early issues are prohibitively rare. Muszynski and Kolsky list these types in detail in their reference Les Billets du Maghreb et du Levant (2002). All were printed by the Banque de France, some in black on white paper, some in black on greenish-blue paper, and some later issues in blue on white paper.

For most of us, a collection of the notes from the Banque de l’Algérie will start with the so-called “blue series” of 1873. A basic type set from 1873 to 1962 will include seventyone notes. Even this abbreviated set is a challenge to collect, as several of the notes required are very rare even in low grade. If you wanted to ramp-up the level of challenge you could build a more complete type set, including all watermark varieties and overprint varieties. The next level might include the collecting of notes by signature variety. Just try putting together the over two hundred notes required – it has never been done to my knowledge. The precise number of notes in this set is unknown as some of the signature combinations haven’t yet been reported for certain denominations.


Beyond this, there are innumerable variants in color, printing quality, and paper quality that can be studied and collected. What’s more, for most of the notes there are many dates known to exist, and many others that probably haven’t yet been discovered.


Les types bleus (or “blue series”) are the first really collectable issues, and date from 1873 up to as late as 1925. These notes were designed in the early 1870’s by the French artist Guillaume Alphonse Cabasson. Cabasson’s designs were typical of French notes from this period, based on Greco-Roman allegory and rather generic instead of being directly related with the place of issue. The pale blue ink used in this series was selected in the 1860’s by the Banque de France to thwart photographic counterfeits (previously the bank had printed notes in black). The earliest issues of the blue series (up through 1901) carried the city name ALGER immediately preceding the date of issue. Later issues (after 1901) lack this feature but are otherwise identical in appearance. The issues with ALGER were printed in denominations of twenty, fifty, one hundred, five hundred, and one thousand francs. Five francs notes were also printed during the pre- 1901 period, but lack the distinguishing characteristic of the name ALGER printed on the notes.

The later (after 1901) issues without “ALGER” are far more common. These notes also occur in denominations of five, twenty, fifty, one hundred, five hundred, and one thousand francs. By denomination, the most common notes of this series are the five, five hundred, and one thousand francs issues. Undoubtedly, the five francs is common due to its relatively high printing (about 100 million notes). The higher denomination five hundred and one thousand francs notes, although printed in much lower quantities, were more likely to be preserved in decent condition due to the fact that they were generally stored away in bank vaults. In the early 1920’s one thousand francs was worth over $700 in modern currency. To give some perspective on how much money this was in the local economy, one thousand francs represented more than a skilled laborer’s annual wage at the time. The real rarities of this series are the mid-value notes – in particular the twenty and fifty francs issues – which are very difficult to find in any grade. These notes were printed in modest quantities, circulated frequently, and then were redeemed and destroyed. The MULTICOLOR SERIES There finally came a time when the security provided by single-color printing became inadequate for the Banque de l’Algérie. The first multicolor issues were phased in gradually, beginning with the printing of a new 50 francs note in 1913, and almost immediately followed in 1914 by a new multicolor 20 francs note. In 1921 production of a new 100 francs note began; in 1924, a 5 francs note; and finally, in 1926, 500 and 1000 francs notes. In the introduction of the multicolor series we come up against the difficulty of examining notes in discrete “series”. The earliest multicolor series notes to be released into circulation were the twenty and fifty francs notes, first paid out by the Banque de l’Algérie in 1918. The last multicolor series notes to make its debut was the five hundred francs issue, which wasn’t released into circulation until 1938… twenty years after the twenty and fifty francs notes! Throughout this period the blue series and multicolor series notes would have circulated side-by-side. The multicolor series notes are remarkable for the fact that they display elements of local culture rather than just stylized allegorical images. The vignettes include people in local costume, native flora, a view of Algiers harbor and its Grand Mosque, and a camel loaded for a trans-Sahara caravan. While more available than the “blue series” notes, but finding a complete set of these notes in high grade is still quite a challenge. These notes saw hard use, and due to inflation even the higher denomination issues were pressed into more widespread use by the 1930’s and 1940’s. The French franc was under great pressure during the period of issue of the multicolor series notes, its value eroding by about 80% from 1918 to the mid-1930’s.