Basic Data On West African States Banknotes

(links below to catalog list and identification scans)

The following is an extract of an article originally published in the I.B.N.S. Journal, Vol.30-2, 1991.
I try to update it occasionally. Copies available on request.

The Banque des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO) was established in 1959 to provide a continuing emissions authority for West African colonies soon to become independent. It succeeded the Institute for Emissions for West Africa and Togo, which had itself replaced the Bank of West Africa as the region's emissions authority.

The BCEAO issues common-design banknotes for its member countries. The country where the note was issued can only be determined by a code letter printed on each note - like the Federal Reserve letters on U.S. notes but representing different countries rather than districts. These code letters are as follows: "A" Cote d'Ivoire, "B" Benin, "C" Burkina Faso, "D" Mali (1959-61,1981-present), "E" Mauritania (1959-71), "H" Niger, "K" Senegal, "S" Guinea-Bissau (beginning 1997), and "T" Togo. Most circulating notes carry the local country code letter, but notes with other code letters are frequently available and completely legal. Except for BCEAO officials and collectors, few people are even aware of the code letter system.

"Varieties" of these notes include the different denominations, different code letters, and variations of basic design. Any change in signatures, date, or printing method is also considered a new variety. With 3 design series, 9 code letters, 30 different signature combinations, and numerous dates, over 900 varieties of BCEAO notes have been catalogued thus far. For a complete listing of known varieties, click here.

BCEAO notes are signed by the Gouverneur (Directeur General 1959-1971) and the President du Conseil des Ministres. The Gouverneur seldom changes, but the Council presidency rotates among member countries every two years and the incumbent sometimes changes even more often. As a result, some dates exist with 2 or 3 different signature combinations. Not all denominations exist with each signature. For example, the 1000 francs apparently was not printed with signature combination 3; signature combination 16 is found only on 5000 and 10000 franc notes; signature 24 only on 5000 franc notes, etc.

The main office of the BCEAO located in Dakar controls emissions and decides which denominations to order printed and when. As a result, some dates or signature varieties do not exist for all code letters. Until 1978 all BCEAO notes were printed by the Bank of France. Since that time (with a few exceptions) the French firm Oberthur has printed lower denomination notes and the Bank of France only the 5000 and 10000 franc issues. The BCEAO emissions office simply orders new notes from the Bank of France and does not keep records concerning signatures, dates, or printing firms. The Bank of France has such records, but they are not publicly available.

Thus far, there have been three basic series of BCEAO notes:

  1. The 1959 series consists of 50, 100, 500, 1000, and 5000 franc denominations. Through 1965 these notes have a date in the bottom center. Subsequently they are undated (ND). The code letter is located at upper right following the block number. (Do not mistake the initial letter, which is part of the block number, for the code letter!) Signatures are on the face of the note. These notes are still valid but are currently being retired by the Bank. These notes carry signature combinations 1-13. Click here for note image and identification guide.
  2. The next design started in 1977 with new 5000 and 10000 franc notes, followed by the 500 francs in 1979 and the 1000 francs in 1981. These have the date and code letter together at upper right (and often lower left). The 10000 franc notes are undated but have code letters in the same locations. Signatures are on the center front. Many of these notes still circulate, but are also being retired. These notes carry signature combinations 11-24. Click here for note image and identification guide.
  3. The current designs were initiated in 1991 with 500 and 1000 franc notes followed by 2500, 5000, and 10000 franc notes in 1992. The 2500 francs proved very unpopular and no new issues have been printed since 1994. The year of issue is found in the first two digits of the serial number. Code letters remain at upper right and lower left, but signatures have been moved to the back. These notes carry signature combinations 22-30. Click here for note image and identification guide.

  4.