From Queen Elizabeth to Yusof Ishak: The banknotes that tell the story of Singapore


In the years since her removal from Singapore’s money, Queen Elizabeth II remained popular with collectors of coins and banknotes.

Singapore’s story of independence in the decades after World War II was not unique. Over the years, the queen made similar debuts and departures on the banknotes of dozens of countries and territories around the world – from Hong Kong and Mauritius to Rhodesia and Ceylon.

To own banknotes portraying her therefore often means owning tangible pieces of history.

“The British Commonwealth has sizeable political and economic influence, and her portraits are on 33 countries’ currencies, so it is a good and challenging – but manageable – goal to collect and complete a QE banknote collection. It is an achievement one can be proud of,” Ms Soon said, noting that about a third of world banknote collectors focus on Commonwealth pieces.

At the time of her death, the queen was still on the currency in places like Australia, Belize, Canada, New Zealand, a number of Caribbean states and, of course, the United Kingdom and its territories.

Banknote collecting is a hobby that has enjoyed a renaissance over the last two years while travel was difficult or impossible because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Soon shared. 

Because of Singapore’s historical links with Britain and the Commonwealth, this meant that particular interest was directed towards Queen Elizabeth II banknotes.

The view of old banknotes as an investment class also spurred on collectors who acknowledged that the queen would not be around forever, Ms Soon noted.

“(In the) last two years, some started collecting QEII notes as she was in advanced age and would pass away soon,” she said.

“They buy on the presumption (that) … the notes will not lose value and may appreciate in value.”

Mr Keh noted that prices of the notes had been on the rise.

“Amongst the more experienced banknote collectors, Queen Elizabeth II banknotes have been popular and the prices have steadily increased over the years,” he said.

“I will (say) the prices have been surely going up, at the rate of 5 per cent to 10 per cent year-over-year.”

Ms Soon noticed this as well.

“(Prices of) the Malaya and North Borneo pieces went up a lot (in the) last two years – presumably due to interest from these newly minted ‘COVID period’ collectors – but prices have softened since early this year,” she said.

“Nevertheless, it is more likely that uncirculated and/or desirable pieces will keep their prices well even if one had bought at height of a price boom, as long as the QEII banknote collecting appetite is there.”