Mehmet S. Tezçakın, who owns the historic Sultanahmet Köftecisi restaurant, which is famous for its meatballs, has opened a money exhibition consisting of Ottoman banknotes at Moda Sea Club. Tezçakın's exhibition, "Banknotes in our History," is curated by researcher and numismatist Güçlü Kayral and is open until March 24 from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Tezçakın has collected nearly 7,500 of the 12,000 Ottoman banknotes still in existence, making it the most comprehensive Ottoman banknote collection in the world and worth TL 6 million. He lifted a ban that had forbid visitors from touching the banknotes, enabling guests to get hands-on experience. "It is impossible to discover the details of the Ottoman banknotes, the important pieces of our history, by simply staring at them," Tezçakın said, explaining his surprising practice. "People should touch these paper bills and feel the hard work that was given to earning each banknote. One can only be a collector in this way. Since I consider each visitor a future collector, I decided to go through with this practice." At the inauguration of the exhibition, a panel session, "The History of Money and Our Banknotes," was held, and Tezçakın and Kayral were speakers.
Among the banknotes displayed at Moda Sea Club, the following 10 have the most interesting stories:
"Kaime" hand-written banknote
The Ottoman Empire's original banknote - also known as the "kaime" - started as a handwritten banknote in January 1840, during the reign of Abdülmecid. Written on large paper with indelible ink, the banknote was marked with the sultan's own seal to prevent counterfeit banknotes from being used. Due to the difficulty in preventing counterfeiters, this banknote was only in circulation for two years.
As banknotes were usually launched in high values during the Ottoman Empire, banknotes in small currencies - necessary for use in day-to-day trade -- were produced by people victimized by high value banknotes; thus, shopkeepers, bakers, stallholders and associations began circulating tickets as banknotes. The government placed cardboard on the back of stamps and turned them into money similar to coins. The Turkish phrase "Para pul oldu" (Money is turned into stamps) comes from this practice.
Torn 1-lira banknote
The most radical solution to the coin problem came into being in 1913. The 1-lira banknote was torn down the middle and circulated as a 50-kuruş banknote.
Watermark 50 kuruş (piastre)
The mystery of this banknote had not been solved for 140 years. Due to religious beliefs, none of the banknotes circulated during Ottoman times featured a picture. There are very few banknotes with watermarks, and these watermarks usually featured a straight line. It was rumored that the government used a portrait on 50 kuruş banknotes that were produced to finance the army during the 1876-77 Russo-Ottoman War. This rumor could not be proved for 140 years until Tezçakın found this banknote a few years ago and included it in his collection. When the banknote is held up to a light source, a portrait of a man whose nose and eyebrows look like Abdülhamid II can be seen. The banknote features the seal of Ottoman Sultan Murad V who was dethroned when he was only three months old; hence, it justifies the portrait of Abdülhamid II being featured on the banknote, as he ascended the throne after Murad V. The answers to questions such as -- "Was this banknote produced after a malfunction?" and "Was the aim of this banknote to crush the economy of the Ottoman Empire?" or "Was it a part of a plot against Murad V or Abdülhamid II?" -- have not yet been answered by historians or numismatists. It is possible to see the original banknote at the exhibition.
The 1 gold lira Ottoman Bank banknote
The multi-lingual structure of the Ottoman Empire that spread over a vast area was also reflected in everyday life, not just in banknotes. The 1-lira golden banknotes that were launched by the Ottoman Bank twice, in 1880 and 1890, were circulated in four different languages, including Ottoman, French, Armenian and Greek. It was the world's first and only banknote ever circulated in four different languages.
The 5-lira banknote
The Ottoman Bank was founded in a partnership between the Ottomans and the British in 1856. It abolished itself in 1863. That same year, in 1863, the French also partnered with the Ottoman-British Bank, and Bank-ı Şahane was founded. The Ottoman government bestowed this bank with the privilege to issue money in Ottoman lands for 30 years.
Until 10 years ago, it was believed that the first banknote issued by the Ottoman Bank was the 200-kuruş banknote, circulated on Nov. 16, 1863. However, Tezçakın discovered a 5-lira banknote that was issued in 1856 at an auction in the U.K., and it became clear that the Ottoman Bank issued money without the permission of the Ottoman government. This unique banknote will be displayed for the first time in the exhibition.
During World War I, the Caucasus was one of the remote regions included in the central administration. Due to a lack of money during the war, the paycheck clerk who operated under the command of Enver Pasha wrote on German, Russian and Austrian currencies and impressed the Ottoman seal, enabling these converted banknotes to circulate. These hybrid banknotes are displayed for the first time at the Moda Sea Club.
The "kaime" of Enver Pasha
During the Ottoman-Italian War that broke out in 1911, Enver Pasha tried to meet the needs of the army by sending all of the money that came from the central administration to Tripoli to copy these banknotes by hand, unbeknownst to the government in Istanbul. These banknotes feature the moon and crescent on the right and left, the names of Enver Pasha and his party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), Enver Pasha's seal and an inscription indicating that it is 1 Ottoman lira.
British currencies that sank in the Dardanelles
The British were so sure of themselves before they set off for the Gallipoli Campaign that they issued currencies that they would use after the occupation and kept them afloat during World War I. The 1 pound and 10 shilling banknotes, featuring Arabic and Turkish letters and indicating their values of 120 silver kuruş and 60 silver kuruş, were distributed to soldiers. When the Allies were defeated in Gallipoli, these currencies were recalled; however, they sank along with the ships in the cold waters of the Dardanelles.
Counterfeit 10 liras
The British issued counterfeit 10 lira banknotes to destroy the Ottoman economy in 1916, during World War I. The banknotes feature fake seals of Vahdeddin.