East Caribbean States: An Introduction
Starting in the early 17th century, the British claimed several islands in the Caribbean, competing directly with Dutch, French and Spanish interests in the region. Known as the British West Indies, early claims included St. Kitts (the first British settlement in the region, in 1624 by Thomas Warner), Antigua and Montserrat (both in 1632). With possessions in both the leeward and windward islands of the Caribbean, British control stretched over a large area, and the region was collectively known as the British West Indies. The economy of the region primarily focused on sugarcane, which flourished in the tropical climates. Initially the islands were divided between the leeward and windward islands, but in 1962 most were combined into the short-lived West Indies Federation. When this was dissolved some countries became independent, while others became colonies controlled directly by London, later gaining independence. It was these colonies that would introduce the East Caribbean Dollar, in 1965, and most continue to do so to this day, even after independence, although some changes among the members have been made over the years.
The East Caribbean Dollar
The East Caribbean Currency Union was founded in 1965, and that same year the East Caribbean Dollar was introduced. The islands that used the currency were Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Grenada joined in 1968 and Barbados withdrew in 1972, deciding to issue its own currency instead. This initial series included four denominations: $1, $5, $20 and $100. The initial three denominations are primarily a single color (red, green and purple respectively), while the $100 is more colorful, with green, blue, red and black colors seen. The design on all denominations is the same, featuring the striking portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Pietro Annigoni. The back features a tropical scene, depicting St. George Harbor in Grenada.
xDuring its initial issuance period the notes were no different, regardless of the location they were issued. The only changes made during this period were the signatures on the front of the note and the aforementioned list of countries that were part of the Currency Union. Starting in 1983 after the East Caribbean Central Bank was founded, a circled letter was overprinted in black on the left side of the note, which signified on what island the notes were initially issued. Regardless of letter all notes were valid for circulation on each of the various islands.
All varieties of the first issue $100 (Pick-16) are very scarce to rare. Population figures are low and offerings of any variety is relatively uncommon. Some of the scarcer varieties only come up for sale when major collections are sold. For example, a survey of auction records show that in the past decade Pick-16g, the variety with “A” overprint (for Antigua) has only been offered twice at public auction in uncirculated condition, and only three times in circulated grades.
The Second and Third Series: Modernization
In December of 1986 the East Caribbean Central Bank issued a new design (Pick-20). While remaining the same color scheme as the previous series, the design was modernized, and an updated portrait of Queen Elizabeth II appears at right. This series no longer utilizes the circled letters to indicate the island of issue; instead, the final letter in the serial number indicates this. The exception is notes that were issued in Anguilla. For these, the bank overprinted notes printed for St. Vincent with a circled U.
Curiously, the series introduced in 1986 fails to name Anguilla on the map on the right of the front. Because of this, a revised version was introduced in 1988 (Pick-25). This variety has Anguilla named, and notes for that island now display the suffix “U” in the serial number. This series was issued until 1993, and there are two signature varieties for most islands: the first was printed until 1989 and shows the signature of Cecil Jacobs, the second variety was printed after 1989 and features the signature of K. Dwight Venner. The signature of both appears on the notes thanks to their position as governor of the East Caribbean Central Bank.
Despite the fact that Pick-20 and Pick 25 were issued relatively recently, in the 1980s, these $100 notes have proven to be extremely scarce, especially in higher grades. Relatively few were put aside, and due to their interesting color scheme and scarcity they have become very popular with collectors. As a rule, the second signature of Pick-25 is scarcer than the first, and a few varieties seldom come up for sale in any grade.
In 1993 the design of all denominations, including the $100 was dramatically altered, with the new version listed as Pick-30. While the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II remained, the colors of the $100 changed to predominantly brown and green on both sides. This series introduced a barcode style code at the lower left, corresponding with the island of issue. On the back at left we find a portrait of Sir Arthur Lewis, an economist from St. Lucia. On the right side we see the head office of the East Caribbean Central Bank in St. Vincent. This 1993 series was quickly replaced as it was found that the public became confused by the denominations, which were squeezed together in the corner and became hard to read. As a result, an updated version was issued in 1994 (Pick-35), which uses a slightly different coloring scheme for the letters, and the numbers of the denomination are spaced out more. This would continue to be the main type, going to minor revisions, which mostly added or updated a foil security device at top right. For the $100, varieties include: Gold Foil (1998, Pick-36), Building on back altered (2000, Pick-41) and Silver Foil (2003, Pick-46). In 2008, the letter indicating place of issue was dropped (Pick-51), and marks for the blind were added in 2012 (Pick-55a). The security strip was widened in 2015 (Pick-55b), which was the final paper $100 for the East Caribbean States. A redesigned polymer $100 was issued in 2019, which now uses a vertical format. This is the type currently in circulation.
Collecting the $100 Denomination
The entire East Caribbean Series is highly collectible, and the series includes some very underrated varieties that have proven to be very difficult to find. As a general rule, the $100 denomination is the scarcest denomination, although there are some exceptions, depending on the series and island of issue.
Putting together a complete variety set of $100 notes from the East Caribbean States is a very challenging goal. Some varieties, particularly in the first few series are very difficult to find in any grade, and some early signature varieties of Pick-16 may be unreported to this day. More modern issues, while generally available at a more reasonable price point have continued to be scooped up by eager collectors, and certain varieties issued in the late 1990s and early 2000s have started to become very difficult to find. With the paper $100 now out of circulation supply of older varieties is limited, and with many of these islands being popular tourist destinations we can see demand to increase in future years. A good opportunity is to put together a type set, which while challenging, is not impossible. The four issues prior to 1994 will be the most challenging, particularly in higher grades.