The first Finnish markka ever issued

Object of the Month - Mars 2019

The Bank of Finland, which at the time was known as Vaihetus-, Laina- ja Depositioni-Contori Suomen Suuren-Ruhtinaanmaassa, issued its first banknotes in 1812 in Turku. The notes in question were 20, 50 and 75 Russian kopek notes. In 1819, the Bank of Finland also started printing ruble notes. 

According to the regulations issued in 1840 as part of Russia’s adoption of the silver standard, Russian ruble banknotes became valid currency in Finland, meaning that you had to be able to exchange them for silver coins in Finland as well. The Crimean War of 1853–1856 resulted in Russia doubling the number of banknotes in circulation. This led to a change shortage as people started hoarding the silver coins that they received as change, only using paper money for payment. In Finland, the shortage forced numerous factories and shops to make their own temporary instruments of payment. Through numerous intermediary steps, this development ultimately resulted in Finland gaining its own currency unit in 1860, the markka, which was divided into one hundred pennies, or penni. At the time, the value of the markka was defined as one fourth of a Russian ruble.

To address the prolonged change shortage, Emperor Alexander II of Russia eventually issued a proclamation in April 1860, ordering the establishment of a mint in Helsinki and tasking it with the manufacture of much-needed metal coins. However, even at the time there was some well-founded speculation that it would take several years for the first coins to actually be minted. After all, there was the small matter of designing and building the mint before any coins could be made. As a temporary measure, it was suggested that Finland could issue low-value banknotes to ease the change shortage. While Finland would have liked to base these new banknotes on the decimal system, Russia decreed that the notes had to correspond to Russian rubles. The first of these new Finnish banknotes, a 3 markka note that had the nominal value of a Russian 75 kopek banknote, was issued on 1 June 1860. As such, this is the first markka-based banknote ever to be issued in Finland. The Bank of Finland originally donated this note along with the first one markka banknote issued some two weeks later to the University of Helsinki’s cabinet of coins and medals, which is now part of the National Museum of Finland’s collections. 

Jani Oravisjärvi

3Mk 1860 No1