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40. One dirham note

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.


While the seven emirates created the United Arab Emirates, 40 years ago this week, the new nation still needed to acquire many of the building blocks of nationhood, most obviously, a single currency.

For the first year of the union, the old currencies continued. In Abu Dhabi, banks and shops accepted the Bahraini dinar, while in Dubai, the Qatari riyal was the official currency. Moving between the now-united emirates still required the services of a currency exchange.

The dirham arrived on Saturday, May 19, 1973. Two days earlier, banks across the nation had ceased paying out the dinar and riyal, ensuring that the tricky process of transition took place over a weekend.

Six denominations of paper banknotes were issued, printed by Thomas De La Rue of London under the authority of the new United Arab Emirates Currency Board. The highest was 100 dirhams, then printed in green and featuring a view of Khorfakkan in Fujairah, that had personally been approved by Sheikh Zayed a year earlier.

The smallest is shown here. Many readers will be surprised that there was a one dirham note, and indeed, a one dirham coin was also issued at the same time. The paper design shows two buildings in Sharjah, the old clock tower and the fort in the emirate's heritage district that at the time was in use as police headquarters.

The one dirham note lasted until January 3, 1976, when it was withdrawn by the Currency Board because it was wearing out too quickly. At the same time, the Board announced a 1,000 dirham note with a design of the Jahili Fort in Al Ain.

The idea of a one dirham note may seem absurd in the age of a 15 dirham cafe latte, but nearly 40 years ago it was the price of a meal in cheaper cafes. Allowing for inflation, a one dirham note was worth more than five times its value today.

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