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Our museum's history and collections

The Reserve Bank Museum is the only specialist economic and central banking museum in New Zealand, designed to educate and inform, highlighting and celebrating New Zealand’s wider economic and banking history, as well as our origins and role. The museum is currently open for school visits by appointment but not the general public.

History of the museum

The decision to establish a banking and economic museum in the Reserve Bank of New Zealand was taken during 2003 to 2004. Development took approximately two years and drew on the skills and expertise of a wide range of our staff, an architecture firm, and specialist design consultants.

One of the most challenging tasks was deciding what to display from our wide collection of artefacts and our small but relatively valuable numismatic collection.

The museum was opened in September 2006 by Peter Hillary, on behalf of his father Sir Edmund. Around 10,000 people visited during the first 18 months of operation.

Peter Hillary

The balancing act

The museum space includes three major display bays covering aspects of the economy, the banking system, the history of the Reserve Bank and numismatic displays. It also includes a range of displays around the walls, which extend and give context to the exhibits.

The rear wall of the museum has been dubbed the ‘balancing act’ and is designed to highlight the wide range of our tasks and functions under the Reserve Bank Act 1989. These range from developing monetary policy to monitoring and supervising the health of the financial system, maintaining foreign reserves, operating in the financial markets, and issuing currency to meet the cash needs of New Zealanders.

It is very much a balancing act, symbolised by scales from our collection.

The balancing act

Bill Phillips and the MONIAC

The MONIAC hydraulic computer is the sole working example of its type in the southern hemisphere and one of only 14 known to have been built.

It was developed by New Zealand economist and inventor Bill Phillips (1914 to 1975) and is on long-term loan from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

MONIAC is an acronym for ‘Monetary National Income Analogue Computer’. Operating on analogue principles, it was one of the world’s first computers designed to simulate economic phenomena, and could perform logical functions that no other computer of the day could match, due to a combination of its analogue calculation principles and the use of water flows as the calculating medium.

Artefacts and memorabilia

Artefacts and memorabilia from our past are displayed around the museum and include the official Bank wax seals, a nib pen used to write board minutes during the 1960s, and engraved silver platters, which were presented by the Bank of England in 1934 to mark the opening of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

Currency and money displays

We have had the sole right to issue New Zealand banknotes since our foundation in 1934.

Artefacts on display in the museum include a set of note printing plates, and draft sketches of the third series decimal notes.

Currency display

Counterfeit notes and polymer security features

The museum displays a few of the counterfeits banknotes collected over the years and details of some of the security features in the current banknote series.

New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to adopt polymer for its banknotes. Polymer makes the banknotes more durable than cotton-based paper notes and offer superior security features.

Replica vault door

The replica vault door is typical of doors used to secure bank vaults like our vault in the building's basement. A core sample of the steel-and-concrete vault wall is displayed nearby.

Vault door

One million dollars

Ever wondered what a million dollars in $50 notes looks like? That is what is on display inside the cage. Although real, the notes have been cancelled and are valueless. Nearby, a plastic tube contains half a million dollars in ground-up notes.

Million dollars

Circulating coin dies and blanks

Some of the dies used to make the first decimal circulating coins are displayed in the museum, along with some of the blanks from which the coins are made, and cases of old 2-cent pieces. Also on display are samples of a $1 coin proposed for the 1967 decimalisation release. This was never issued and the current one dollar coin, produced more than two decades later, is a quite different size and design.

coin dies

Numismatic collection

We own a small collection of notes and coins, some of which are on display in the museum. The collection includes a range of other banknotes and coins, such as the 1-pound notes issued in the 1860s and 1870s by the Bank of Otago, Bank of Auckland and Bank of New Zealand.

Commemorative and proof coin selection

This is a selection of coins we have issued over the years to commemorate various events, along with other coins from our collection. These include:

  • $1 collectors’ coins from 1970, 1974, 1978, 1983 and 1986
  • a ‘Benz’ gold coin from 1998
  • a complete proof set from 1937
  • an issue set from 1965.

Merchant tokens

In the early colonial period there was no formal New Zealand currency, and British pounds, shillings and pence were commonly used. Promissory notes appeared to help fill the gap, and so did merchants’ tokens.

Merchant tokens were redeemable from the issuing merchant. As most were not redeemed in practice, they provided a source of profit in some cases. Our collection includes examples by Jones and Williamson, J Caro & Co, Edward Reece and Milner and Thompson.

Merchant token

Series 1 Reserve Bank notes

The first series of Reserve Bank notes were designed in 1933 and issued the following year on a temporary basis until a more permanent series could be developed. 

A complete set of Series 2 Reserve Bank notes from 1940, the intended lasting design, is also on display in the museum. These notes were first issued in 1940 and remained in circulation until decimalisation in 1967.

Bank of Aotearoa one pound note

Tukaroto Matutaera Potatau Te Wherowhero Tawhaio (?-1894) was the second Maori king. In the early 1880s he founded the Bank of Aotearoa, which issued this one pound note.

His reasons for doing so at that stage, after the end of the New Zealand Wars period, probably reflected the politics of the period. The note was never circulated, and the specimen here is one of only three known to exist today.

1935 pattern Waitangi Crown

This rare ‘pattern’ Crown differs from the ‘issued’ Crown, notably in the size of the crown between the heads of Governor William Hobson and Nga Puhi chief Tamati Waka Nene, and in the length of Nene’s clothing.

Waitangi Crown