Retrospective and geopolitics: The news and coins of 1963

Reading time: 12'25"
 We Will Not Allow War, Soviet-Era Propaganda Poster. Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia

Photo: “We Will Not Allow War, Soviet-Era Propaganda Poster”. Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia – By Adam Jones (CC)

Welcome to the first article in our new series dedicated to the most iconic and memorable years in history.

Let’s start with the 20th century and the particularly prolific year that was 1963. Against the backdrop of the Cold War and decolonization, it was a year of events which shook the world. Sit back and relax as we take you on a whistle-stop and by no means exhaustive tour of the year’s events both big and small as well as the coins and banknotes that accompanied them.


In 1963, the Chancellor of (West) Germany was Konrad Adenauer.

He is noted among other achievements for signing the Élysée Treaty with the French President at the time, Charles de Gaulle. 1963 was also the year of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s famous speech on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Berlin Blockade, when he uttered the famous words “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

In the automobile sector, Porsche launched a new model in September, the 911, which would catapult the manufacturer to stardom in the sports car industry.

German currency

The currency in West Germany (FRG) was the Deutsche Mark, which had replaced the Reichsmark in 1948. It was divided into 100 pfennigs.

Germany - Federal Republic, Mark, 1963

Stuttgart, AU(55-58), Copper-nickel

This 1 Deutsche Mark device was designed by Josef Bernhart and in circulation from 1950 to 2001. The obverse shows the German eagle surrounded by the words Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany) and the letter of the mint. On the reverse, we see the denomination 1 Deutsche Mark between two sets of oak leaves and the year of issue. In this case, it is 1963.


Karlsruhe, EF(40-45), Bronze

This 2 pfennigs coin was also designed by Josef Bernhart and in circulation from 1950 to 1968. The obverse shows an oak sprig surrounded by the words Bundesrepublik Deutschland and the year of issue 1963. On the reverse, we see the denomination 2 pfennigs between two rye stalks and the letter of the mint. In this case, it is G, which stands for Karlsruhe.


Berlin, EF(40-45), Aluminum, KM:10

The coin above is a 10 pfennigs coin from the GDR (East Germany). This device was in circulation from 1960 to 1990 and was designed by Rudi Högner. The obverse shows the coat of arms of the GDR accompanied by the words Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic). On the reverse, we see the denomination 10 pfennigs beneath an oak leaf and accompanied by the year of issue.


In 1963, the King of the Belgians was Baudouin, who had already occupied the throne for 12 years.

It was in that year that laws came into effect on September 1 which permanently fixed the linguistic borders within the country and the usage of the languages for administrative purposes. Flemish was the language of the North, German that of the East and French that of the South. Brussels is officially bilingual (French/Flemish) and there are a number of bordering municipalities referred to as “à facilités” (with language facilities) under Belgian law where services are offered in all three official languages.

Belgian currency

The currency at the time, having been in use since 1832, was the Belgian franc. The coins were issued by the National Bank of Belgium.

Belgium, 100 Francs, 1963

KM:134a, 1963-04-22, EF(40-45)

The series of banknotes presented here was in circulation in the Sixties and Seventies. The 100 franc note featured a reproduction of the self-portrait by the 16th century artist Lambert Lombard.

Belgium, 500 Francs, 1963

KM:135a, 1963-04-09, EF(40-45)

The 500 franc notes featured a portrait thought to be of the artist Bernard van Orley (also 16th century) by Albrecht Dürer. Note that the banknotes were in two languages: Flemish and French.

A little trivia for you: There are still 16 billion Belgian francs (the equivalent of € 4 billion or $ 4.5 billion) “in circulation” in Belgium. Unlike in France, where it is no longer possible, the Belgians can still exchange their francs for the equivalent sum in euros.


In 1963, following a brief parliamentarian period lasting 3 years, Brazil re-established the presidential regime by referendum on January 6.

The situation remained unstable due to the constant and simmering opposition between politicians and the military. President João Goulart could not hold on to power for long, and a coup d’état reversed the situation the following year. This was followed by a military dictatorship which would last until 1985.

Brazilian currency

The currency at the time was not the real, which has only been in use since 1994. In 1963, the currency was the cruzeiro, which was subdivided into 100 centavos.

Banknote, Brazil, 5 Cruzeiros, 1963

Undated (1963), KM:176b, UNC(60-62)

This 5 cruzeiro note from 1963 features a portrait of José Maria da Silva Paranhos Jr., Baron of Rio Branco (Barão do Rio Branco), Minister of External Relations from 1910 to 1912, on its obverse and an illustration of the conquest of the Amazon on the reverse.

Banknote, Brazil, 10 Cruzeiros, 1963

Undated (1963), KM:167a, AU(55-58)

The portrait on this 10 cruzeiro note is of Getúlio Vargas, ex-president and “father” of the cruzeiro in 1942.

Brésil, 100 Cruzeiros

Type D. Pedro

On this 100 cruzeiro banknote we see a portrait of Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil in the 19th century.


In 1963, Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China, had been in power for 14 years.

Back then, tempers were flaring between the two great socialist powers of China and USSR. In fact, China wrote an incendiary letter criticizing the USSR’s too “flexible” geopolitical position, notably with regard to the United States following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Chinese currency

The currency in circulation in 1963 was already the yuan. Its official name is the renminbi (人民币), which translates literally to “people’s currency”. It is also known by the term kuai (more popular in speech whereas yuan is used more in writing). It is issued by the People's Bank of China, founded in 1948.


EF(40-45), Aluminum, KM:2

Here we see a 2 fen coin made of aluminum issued in 1962. 1 yuan is made up of 100 fen.

United States

1963 was a tumultuous year for the United States.

It was the year in which Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of the incumbent president, permanently closed the doors of a prison with a sinister reputation: Alcatraz. The same year, Elizabeth Taylor graced our screens as Cleopatra with Richard Burton starring opposite her in the role of Mark Anthony.

In the summer of ’63, Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and, as the year drew to a close, JFK was assassinated in Dallas on November 22.

U.S. currency

The currency at the time was the same US dollar ($). Commonly known as a buck, it was adopted in 1785 following the War of Independence. It is divided into 100 cents.

The four coins above were minted in 1963: a Jefferson nickel (5 cents), a Roosevelt dime (10 cents), a Washington quarter (25 cents), and a Franklin half dollar (50 cents).


The President of France in 1963 was Charles de Gaulle.

This year saw the opening of the first nuclear power plant in Chinon and the loss of an icon with the passing of Edith Piaf. This year also saw the French classic Les Tontons Flingueurs (English title: Crooks in Clover) hit the big screen and the opening of the Maison de la Radio, the headquarters of Radio France, in Paris.

French currency

The currency in circulation was the new franc, launched in 1960.

Above we have a 5 new franc banknote with the “Victor Hugo” design and a 500 new franc banknote featuring Molière.

Here we see two 10 franc banknotes, the first, the Richelieu device, was in circulation until 1963 and was replaced that same year by the second, the Voltaire device. Note that the designation “Nouveau” (new) is no longer present on the latter.

United Kingdom

The Queen in 1963 was Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan followed by Alec Douglas-Home.

That year, it wasn’t just the war that was cold...the winter was too! It even earned itself the nickname the “Big Freeze of 1963”. The Rolling Stones’ debut single “Come on” was on the radio and the British dominated the Formula 1 podiums.

The Cold War was by no means thawing, and the officer Kim Philby, a KGB double agent, defected to the East. The Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, resigned in a scandal following a sexual relationship with Christine Keeler, who was also suspected of being involved with the Russian naval attaché in the UK, Captain Yevgeny Ivanov.

Then, on November 22, the same day as JFK, the British author of “Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley, passed away in Los Angeles.

British currency

The currency in circulation back in 1963 was the pound sterling. Its symbol is £, which is an ornate L standing for the Latin word “libra”. At the time, it was still divided into 20 shillings, with each shilling being subdivided into 12 pence.

Above we have a halfpenny, a threepenny and a shilling from 1963.

Here we also see a £5 note from the same year.


Great Britain, Elizabeth II, Sovereign, 1963

MS(63), Gold, KM:908

Similarly, sovereigns were also issued at irregular intervals. A sovereign was a quoted gold coin without a fixed face value but equivalent to one pound sterling. It was minted for the first time in 1489 under Henry VII. Above we see one from 1963 featuring the portrait of Elizabeth II.


In Iraq, communism was the word on everybody’s lips.

That year, Abd al-Karim Qasim – also known as al-za‘īm (الزعيم) or “The Leader” – had been in power since 1958 as the first prime minister after his coup d’état against the Iraqi monarchy.

He notably appointed the first female cabinet minister in the Arab world, Naziha al-Dulaimi. In 1959, he survived a failed assassination attempt by Saddam Hussein and British-Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi.

In February 1963, the Ba’ath party seized power following a coup d’état and executed Qasim. The Iraqi Communist Party was banned and its members hunted down across the country.

Iraqi currency

The currency in circulation in 1963 was the Iraqi dinar, which was introduced in 1931. It has been issued by the Central Bank of Iraq since 1954. The dinar is divided into 1,000 fulūs (singular: fils).

Iraq, 500 Fils, 1959

AU(50-53), Silver, KM:1

Above we see a commemorative 500 fils coin minted in 1959 and featuring Qasim’s portrait.


A great deal further north, in Iceland, everyone was eagerly awaiting a new arrival on November 14.

The new addition to the country’s coastline was the island of Surtsey, the result of an underwater volcanic eruption.

Icelandic currency

In 1963, the Icelandic crown (singular: króna, plural: krónur) had been in circulation since 1918. It is subdivided into 100 aurur (singular: eyrir). The coins in use in that year were those known as the “First Series of the Republic”.

Above: 5 aurar, 25 aurar, and 2 kronur from 1963. On the obverse, we see the Republic’s coat of arms surrounded by laurel and completed with the year of issue. The edge of the 1 eyrir and 5 aurar coins is smooth, those of the others is fluted.


Back in 1963, Japan was still a constitutional monarchy.

The Emperor was Hirohito and the Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda.

On November 9, the country was shaken by a catastrophe at Mitsui Miike Coal Mine, when an accidental explosion resulted in the deaths of 458 people. The same year, the village of Nagoka found itself buried in more than 3 meters of snow.

Japanese currency

The currency in Japan in that year was the yen (円), which is actually pronounced “enne” in Japanese. Its symbol is ¥.

Above: 5 yen and 100 yen from 1963.


Kenya gained its independence on December 12, 1963.

It remained in the security of the Commonwealth for one year before declaring itself a republic.

Kenyan currency

The country did not get its own currency, the Kenyan shilling, until three years later in 1966..

KENYA, Shilling, 1966

KM #5, MS(60-62), Copper-Nickel, 27.8, 7.75


The Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union in 1963 was Nikita Khrushchev.

On August 30, the world observed a relaxation in the Cold War with the installation of the Moscow–Washington hotline or “red telephone” between the White House and the Kremlin.

That year also saw the first woman enter space, Valentina Tereshkova, aged 26 at the time.

Soviet currency

The ruble (рубль) was in circulation in the USSR in 1963. It is divided into 100 kopecks (копе́йка, pronounced kopeyka) The ruble has existed for more than 700 years and survived through all the eras from the Russian Empire to the USSR to Russia.

Russia, 2 Kopeks, 1963, Saint-Petersburg

AU(50-53), Brass, KM:127a

Russia, 5 Rubles, 1961

Vatican City

On June 3, 1963, Pope John XXIII passed away.

Vatican, Medal, Paul VI, Médaille Annuelle, 1963

Giampaoli, MS(60-62), Bronze


He was succeeded by Paul VI. A short time after, the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican accepted the saying of mass in the vernacular language, in other words the mother tongue of the congregation, instead of the traditional Latin.

Vatican currency

In 1963, the Vatican used the lira..


Coin, VATICAN CITY, Sede Vacante, 500 Lire, 1963

MS(60-62), Silver, KM:75


In Vietnam, in 1963, everything is poised to change dramatically.

On June 11, a bhikku Buddhist self-immolated in Saigon in protest of the way the monks were treated by the dictatorial regime under Ngô Dinh Diêm, a pro-American. On November 2, the latter was ultimately assassinated in Saigon.

The following year, the U.S. Army entered into the conflict which saw the South (Republic of Vietnam), supported by the United States, pitted against the North (Democratic Republic of Vietnam), supported by China and the USSR.

Vietnamese currency

The currency in circulation that year was the đồng. 1 đồng is subdivided into 10 hào and 1 hào is subdivided into 10 xu.

Above we see a 50 xu South Vietnamese banknote, 1963 design, and a 5 đồng South Vietnamese banknote, 1963 design.

We hope that you have enjoyed this new “Retrospectives” series of articles. Please do not hesitate to suggest other years and countries for us to explore in the future in the comments below this article and on social media.


Acknowledgments : Julien Deboucq, NumisCorner expert.

Translation: Michael Wright.


Selection published on 18/03/2019