A Review of Malaysia's New Banknotes

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This post was written by Sarah Rees


It is not for no reason that feeling refreshed is likened to being a “new penny,” and while pennies may be foreign to many, the bright gleam of a shiny new coin is a universal delight. The beginning of 2012 saw wallets nationwide getting a facelift as the new series of coins started rushing out of the treasury, and as people mellow with the new currency (ticket machines have been instructed to “catch-up” by August), the government have presented another new flash to enliven the purse and the open hand.

The new series of notes were presented into the system in early July, and while many may have not yet got their hands on them, pictures circulating show bright colours, new designs, and an addition of a RM20 note to fill that gap between an easy RM10 and a pricier RM50.

Bank Negara Malaysia, considering the 20 years that had elapsed since the previous coin series and 10 since the notes series, felt the time was right for some new money, and have been promoting the enhanced security features and durability of the spread, as well as the charming designs and themes that have been incorporated.

Unless you are a money lender (or a forger), the improved watermark portrait with pixel and highlighted numerals (the list goes on) will be of little interest, but what is worth delving into are the new styles and designs that make this new array of notes and coins “Distinctively Malaysia.”

50 sen

Significantly lighter and smaller than its predecessor, this coin is the only one of the set made with an alloy of nickel and brass-clad copper. It features the swirling shapes of the sulur kacang (pea tendrils) that is so beloved of traditional craftsman and a similar design is often seen in traditional crafts such as wooden boxes and jewellery.

20 sen
Made using an alloy of nickel and brass, this coin features the bunga melur (jasmine flower), which is a floral heritage of the nation thanks to its use by many local cultures and religions in such ceremonies as weddings and prayer.

10 sen
The light and small 10 sen is a nod to the Orang Asli (indigenous tribes) and features the weave traditional to the Mah Mein tribe from Peninsular Malaysia. All tribes have their own iconic weaves that they create using plants and leaves and are inspired by their beliefs and the environment around them.

5 sen
Like its bigger brother the 10 sen, this tiny coin is made with stainless steel, and is adorned with a small pattern taken from the destar siga cloth; a fabric weaving style that originated from the Kadazan Dusun tribe in Sabah who used this to make headdresses for traditional ceremonies.


The public enjoyed the first taste of the new series back in 2007 when the RM50 note was unveiled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence. The rest of its family are now out and about, and all share a similar face adorned with the a portrait of the first Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king), Tuanku Abdul Rahman ibni Tuanku Muhammad, as well as a Bunga Raya (national flower – hibiscus) and the patterns of the iconic woven songket. It is on their reverse sides that these new notes establish their identity and continue the “Distinctively Malaysia” theme.

It is worth noting that, for the first time ever, the two smallest denominations (RM1 and 5) are printed on polymer to make them last longer – so no more sad, limp RM1s!

Coming in a lovely purple, this note showcases Malaysia’s natural wonders, featuring two of the country’s UNESCO sites. The Kinabalu Park in Sabah gets a nod – the mountain located within its grounds adorns this note – while the Mulu National Park in Sarawak is represented by a portrait of the limestone rock formations found in Gunung Api Valley.

Already a familiar face on the scene, this turquoise note celebrates Malaysia’s most valuable agricultural crop – oil palm – as well as one of its thriving new technologies, namely biotechnology, both of which are vital cogs in the machine pushing the country on the road to economic development.

The only new denomination in the series is the RM20, which comes in dazzling orange and is enlivened with two of Malaysia’s most well-known turtles, both of which are endemic to local waters: the Hawksbill Turtle and the Leatherback Turtle.

Still retaining its familiar red hue, this note shows off one of Malaysia’s floral gems with a portrait of the Rafflesia azlanii, a species of the world’s largest flower that was first discovered in Royal Belum Forest Reserve in Perak back in 2003.

Another of the nation’s claim to fame comes swooping on the back of this green note in the form of the hornbill. The Rhinoceros Hornbill is the largest of this species in the world, and the hornbill is something of an icon for Sarawak, which is known as Bumi Kenyalang (Land of the Hornbills).

The bottom of the pile is reserved for the blue ringgit note, which holds a picture of the Wau Bulan (moon kite). This is one of the most iconic of the traditional kites that are cultural prides of the nation, and originally made and flown as a celebration after a good harvest.

For more information on the new notes or to find out how to get a commemorative set, visit www.bnm.gov.my.

Source: The Expat September 2012
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