Twenty years after the euro, billions of francs, marks and pesetas still lie dormant in piggy banks

Posted on Dec. 2021 at 12:26Updated 30 Dec. 2021 at 14:46

Who has never heard of old 100-franc notes hidden under a mattress and found after the death of a grandfather? Across Europe, many notes and coins denominated in the various national currencies were never returned to the bank after the arrival of the euro on 1er January 2002. Still today representing a sum equivalent to 13.5 billion euros, according to figures compiled by the Bloomberg agency, they still form a hell of a bump under the mattress. Of this, the equivalent of 8.5 billion euros could still be traded.

It remains a mystery why these banknotes and coins have not already been released. Disappearance, oblivion, fruits of theft, or nostalgia for another time, the hypotheses are numerous. Still, it is the Germans who are the champions in this area, far ahead of the Spaniards, the Italians and then the French.

No deadline for the Bundesbank

Traditionally adept at paying in cash, our neighbors across the Rhine have kept the equivalent of 6.3 billion euros in cash in deutsche marks. This is hardly surprising since, although payment in the deutsche mark ended on February 28, 2002, the Bundesbank did not set any deadline for the exchange of old banknotes and coins at its counters. Twenty years later, it is therefore still possible to bring back marks at the exchange rate of 1.96 marks for 1 euro.

Other countries such as Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Estonia, Luxembourg or Slovakia have also made the choice to exchange old banknotes indefinitely for euros.

This is not the case in France, however, where the exchange of franc banknotes bearing the effigy of Pierre and Marie Curie (500 francs), Gustave Eiffel (200 francs), Cézanne (100 francs) or even Saint -Exupéry (50 francs) and Debussy (20 francs), ended on February 17, 2012. The famous but older “Pascal” (500 francs) had, for their part, disappeared since 2007, while the exchange of coins had been interrupted in 2005.

While it was previously possible to obtain 1 euro in exchange for 6.55957 francs, coins and banknotes in francs are now only of value to collectors. However, there remains the equivalent of 726 million euros of banknotes dormant in France.

It is less than our other direct neighbors. The Spaniards still have 1.6 billion euros in pesetas, which they could bring back until June 30 at the exchange rate of 166.386 pesetas to 1 euro. For their part, the Italians still have 1.2 billion euros in lire, but they can no longer exchange since December 2011. For the record, during the changeover to the euro, no less than 1,936.27 Italian lire to obtain 1 euro.

Deadline for Portuguese escudos

Further south, however, the exchange deadline is approaching for Portugal. Escudos cannot be exchanged after February 28, 2022. Until then, the Portuguese will still be able to get 1 euro against 200,482 escudos. While in the north, the Dutch still have ten years to exchange their banknotes in guilders under certain conditions.

If in 2002, the euro had only been introduced in twelve European states, the single currency is today that of more than 340 million Europeans living in nineteen countries of the Union. For its twentieth anniversary, the European currency will also benefit from a makeover of its coins and banknotes.

At a time when the ECB is developing a central bank digital currency, this new design will be there to remind Europeans that if banknotes go by, cash is not going to disappear.

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