Evolution of the Omani Currency
October 4, 2015 | 12:56 PM
by Shruthi Nair
Photo: Shabin E

As a major player in the ancient trade routes of the Indian Ocean and Arabia, Oman has seen its fair share of commerce over the centuries which makes it rather surprising that, for most of it’s trading history, it was without a common currency of its own.

In ancient times, the value of coins was determined by the metal used in minting them, so no matter where the coins were produced, they had a common value among traders. As economies developed, the value of the coins being used in circulation shifted from being determined based on their metal to being dictated by economic factors.

By the dawn of the modern era, Oman did not have coins of its own because its past coinage had been discontinued on being withdrawn by the rulers, converted into jewellery or just lost or buried. Its place was taken by a miscellany of coins that were both Islamic and non-Islamic.

With the fall of the Caliphates and the rise of the Nation-State in Middle East in the early 20th century, currency shifted again from the common valuation system. Still, without a currency of its own, prior to the 1940s, the Indian Rupee was used along Oman’s coast and the Maria Teresa Thaler circulated in the interiors. In fact, in 1890, ½ and ¼ anna was specifically minted for circulation in Muscat and Oman by ruler Faisal bin Turki. In 1970, a coinage for all of Muscat and Oman was introduced with denominations of 2, 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 baisa.

Oman’s first national currency came not in the form of coins, but of notes — broad bills known as Rial Saidi, which were issued in 1970 by The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman (as the state was then called). The notes carried images of significant forts on the obverse and Oman’s national emblem, the khanjar on the reverse, and were green, brown, violet, olive green, blue, and deep blue in colour.

The second series of the bank notes were issued less than two years later in 1972 by the newly formed Oman Currency Board under His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. These notes looked similar to the first series, which made them quite susceptible to counterfeit.

So less than five years into their circulation, they too had to be reworked to increase the security of the currency, with the third series being issued in 1977, with the highest denomination bills featuring a portrait of His Majesty, while the smaller notes depicted various other national symbols, like national arms and the khanjar. Coins were issued in 1975 and continue to be circulated in 5, 10, 25, and 50 baisas denominations to this day.

The 4th series of bills were issued in 1985 and the fifth, which is still in circulation today, in 1995. All the notes, big and small, carry the portrait of His Majesty as well as images of iconic landmarks and national symbols like the Bahla Fort, Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, the white oryx, and the Omani khanjar.

The notes, which are issued in 100 baisa, 1/2 rial, 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 rial denominations, have the highest security amendments to date, which is a very good thing, because this young money happens to represent a currency with the 3rd highest unit value in the world.

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