Search for the Ottoman Banknotes

“Collectors in Turkey generally prefer to collect things that they can exhibit, such as paintings, calligraphy or vases but I prefer to collect money” says Mehmet Gacıroğlu.

Mehmet Gacıroğlu is a businessman with investments in various sectors. His greatest passion is his collection of Ottoman banknotes, which he started 20 years ago in his childhood. It began with a banknote he found in one drawer of his grandfather, and his venture  eventually turned into the greatest Ottoman banknote collection in the world, with a lot of patience and effort. Mehmet Gacıroğlu tells the story of the Ottoman banknotes to SkyLife.

How did you start collecting Ottoman banknotes?
To tell you the truth, at the beginning I didn’t have big expectations; I started collecting with an amateur spirit. I think because I’m patient and have been lucky, it grew in time and has attained its current position. Of course, being patient and lucky alone is not enough for a high end collection. One needs financial resources as well as a passion for it.

How did the idea of collecting Ottoman banknotes first come to your mind?
It’s a little bit funny but everything started with a 1 Lira banknote from Sultan Mehmet Reşat’s era that I found in one of my grandfather’s drawers. Collectors in Turkey generally prefer to collect things that they can exhibit, such as paintings, calligraphy or vases but I preferred to collect money, something which enables people to buy such things. Although small in size, the meaning they represent is very important to me.

Can you explain this meaning a little more?
When Italians landed their troops in Tripoli and Benghazi in 1911, a group of Ottoman officers, including Mustafa Kemal and Enver Bey, who were staff commanders at the time, went to the front via Egypt and Tunisia. In order to provide for the urgent needs of the soldiers who ran out of supplies during combat, staff commander Enver Bey prepared provisional banknotes  with his own hands. He sent a few banknotes to his family in Istanbul as relics. Two of the banknotes in my collection today are those sent by Enver Pasha to his family. More than merely currency, these banknotes are records of our history.

How do you obtain the pieces in your collection?
Most of the time I buy them from auctions or fairs abroad. Sometimes I travel thousands of kilometers just to get one single banknote but return empty-handed. There were times that I bought a whole collection just to be able to get one single missing piece.
Where were these banknotes designed and printed?
The banknotes were printed often in England or Germany. The samples were drawn meticulously and were sent to Istanbul. They were printed in accordance with demanded changes, if any, after Istanbul’s approval.

How do you preserve the pieces in your collection?
Banknotes are especially delicate and require a lot of attention. They need to be kept in a secure place, away from all kinds of degradation. Also, each banknote in the collection is put in specially produced non-acidic leaves. The temperature and the humidity of the room where the collection is preserved must be controlled.

What is the final purpose of your collection?
Although it is almost impossible, my primary aim is to complete the collection. But my ultimate goal is to be able to establish a wide scale, comprehensive museum for my country. We had an exhibition at Vedat Nedim Tör Exhibition Hall in 2008 where we observed an enthusiastic and curious audience. After all, these pieces are representations of our culture, they are documents that witness our history. Therefore I believe that, regardless of their field, all private collections should be shared with the public after they achieve a certain maturity. This is the climax of being a collector in terms of social responsibility. Especially the fact that Istanbul is chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2010 makes me think that it’s about time to take the necessary steps in that direction. Instead of a small scale exhibition that will be possible in the short run with my personal efforts, a massive exhibition within the framework of Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture is conceivable with the support of a powerful sponsor, considering the serious demand for Ottoman banknotes especially in the Middle East and Europe, I believe we should concentrate more on efforts regarding collections.

As a last question I want to ask if there are enough resources or publications for those who want to start collecting Ottoman banknotes?
It is not possible to say that there are comprehensive and long term publications on the subject.  Just like the collections themselves, the publications are also made possible with individual efforts. Nevertheless there is an increase in the number and the quality of publications lately. Moreover, the fact that the internet becomes a part of our daily lives, had a positive impact on the numismatics world along with countless other fields. Easier exchange of information has triggered the increase in the number of collectors as well as laid the ground for collectors faster access to accurate information. I am planning to develop a virtual museum soon at With this site I will not only exhibit my collection but also aim to share my experiences with new-coming collectors.

The first Ottoman currency was issued by Osman Gazi, the founder of the sultanate.  But over the course of time the ever-expanding Ottoman State had to develop a very complicated currency system composed of various units. Starting from 17th century on, the long and wearing wars that the state had engaged in resulted in a considerable decrease in incomes, bringing along a severe financial bottleneck.  The crisis reached its peak during the 19th century and forced the state to borrow from European countries and from large scale bankers. The first soft currency was issued under such circumstances, during the initial yeas of the reign of Sultan Abdülmecit (1840). These handwritten banknotes were called “kaime” and were introduced to the market with an interest rate in order to convince the public which was not accustomed to paper currency.  On the interest due date of the kaime, the sealed banknotes were perforated and at the last payment, the banknotes were returned to the state and destroyed. Because of the destruction practice, today it is extremely difficult to obtain one of these kaimes with interest.

1 Ottoman Lira which was printed by Ottoman Bank in the period of Sultan Abdülaziz.
In consequence of its currency unit was written in 5 different languages, it could clearly be said that this banknote shows remarkably the wealth of cultural geography of the Ottoman Empire.

1000 Lira  from Sultan Reşat’s era, unique specimen
As the purchasing power of coupons of 500 and 1000 lira were very high at the time they were in circulation, they were dealt among merchants as the state guaranteed exchange bonds and were not used by ordinary people. In order to prevent any forgery, merchants used to stamp their own seals on the back of these coupons.

Horizontal kaime of 100 kuruş from the era of Abdülhmit II.

These kaimes were issued in order to finance the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-78, also known as the 93 War.

 (National Defense Association of Menemen) 1 Kuruş
An interesting example showing that municipal banknotes were still issued during the War of Independence. Municipal banknotes are among the collectors’ most desired pieces as it is very difficult to obtain them because of their local use.

Occupation money of 120 Kuruş, issued by Britain
The British were so confident that they were going to win the Gallipoli Campaign, they overprinted banknotes of 10 Shillings and 1 Pound in Ottoman, to be used in the lands they were planning to invade. But thanks to the heroic defense of the Turkic army, they did not have the chance to use them.

200 kuruş steel watermak pattern
Watermarks were used to prevent forgery and were one of the main measures to protect Ottoman banknotes.

6th emission kaime of 250 kuruş dated 1850 from Abdülmecid era.
These banknotes were issued with an interest rate in order to convince the public to use them. The interest rate was 6%.  This banknote carries the seal of Minister of Finance Mehmet Halit Bey. Seals to document the interest payments can be seen on the back side. The banknote shown in the picture is one of the two known specimens.

1 and 2.5 kurush trial banknotes of Sultan Mehmet Reşat period
Gravures of 1 and 2.5 kurush trial banknotes of the Sultan Mehmet Reşat period were prepared by Thomas De La Rue Company which was located in Britain. Such beautiful banknotes sadly, were not put into circulation and more simplified banknotes were preferred.