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: