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The initial culture of the Vietnamese extended family seems to have appeared in verbal history as long ago as 1000 BC. This is close enough for our purposes as, unsurprisingly, there is no evidence of the use of paper money at that time.

There is evidence of the use of bronze in the Vietnam area around the 100 B.C. time slot, so the knowledge of this seems to have spread quickly.
There is archaeological evidence of many scattered peoples living in what is now South China and Northern Vietnam just before the beginning of the Christian era.
According to local tradition, the small Vietnamese kingdom of Au Lac, in the area of the Red River valley, had once been ruled by a line of legendary ‘kings’ who had controlled the ancient kingdom of Van Lang for some thousands of years.
Historical evidence would suggest this is a folk tale, but intriguingly, this area does seem to suggest that these early inhabitants of the Red River Delta area might have been some of the first East Asians to engage in agriculture.
This would have allowed them to quit their nomadic existence with all its trials and, by the 1st century BC, enable them to achieve a relatively advanced level of Bronze Age civilization. Such a metal would enable the creation of tools, religious figurines of their gods and, most importantly, weapons to defend their harvests of rice from their paddy fields and their metalworkers’ skills from any nomadic tribes who would be all too eager to acquire such wealth and technical knowledge.

Scholarly opinion suggests that Buddhism took hold around 1,000 A.D (in the ‘Le Dynasty’), becoming the dominant religion in the area. This was just after a feudal Lord had unified the country and, indeed, it was in the Ly Dynasty that the city of Thang Long became the capital of the Red River delta zone. (Thang Long was later to be renamed Hanoi).

In the time of the Tran Dynasty (1220-1430 A.D.), the great Kublai Khan’s army was brilliantly defeated. This was by a smaller ‘pre-Vietnamese’ force. This was an outstanding victory, showing the development of the battle skills and strategy in the area. They deserved to be respected as both dogged and artful opponents.

In the later period of the Ho Dynasty, Ming raiders occupied the country briefly, but, at length, they were curbed by a strategy of almost constant harassment by smaller mobile cavalries, at night as well as day. Bronze instruments were utilised to disturb the invading army’s sleep and well-being. However, as the technology of metallurgy spread, China became the dominant power in the area and remains in that position today.

In the sixteen hundreds, the country was divided by a series of civil wars, but by 1747, the country was reunited, except for the most southerly area of Soc Trang Province. From then onwards, Vietnam would continue to be mainly agricultural. For the benefit of perhaps younger readers, I will remind you that such a narrow economy will have both abundant and catastrophic years; this self-evident truth applies to whatever one’s product or service might be.

In the eighteenth century, the population of Vietnam’s close neighbour, China, doubled to over 330 million people. Europe totalled just 180 million at that time, and England and Wales combined could muster less than 10 million souls.

Near the end of this century, the Chinese pulled out of Northern Vietnam because the problems of Vietnamese piracy made it unprofitable to stay. China was at its largest size ever (even owning Mongolia, Taiwan, Tibet &&). It was hugely populated and powerful and could afford to give up Dai Viet (as North Vietnam was known then).

A new Nguyen dynasty took power, renaming the country Vietnam. The older name meant “Great Land of Viet,” and the new name meant “Viet of the South”. I must remark on the dynasty name of Nguyen. Today in Vietnam, about 40% of the surnames (they come at the front in the Chinese fashion) are “Nguyen”. The most famous modern Vietnamese personality was surely Ho Chi Minh, but his real ‘surname’ was Nguyen, which was both unsuitable and confusing, so he wisely changed it to Ho.

From 1913 to 1919, Ho worked as a waiter/under-chef in London but then moved to France for the period 1919 to 1923, where he attached himself to the nascent communist movement, becoming one of its founding fathers. He went from there to Moscow and worked for their Comintern’s Colonial Warfare section, specialising in Asian affairs.

He travelled around Asia (Bangkok, Shanghai, etc.) but, in June 1931, was arrested and imprisoned by the British police for a couple of years. Then, he spent five more years in Russia until the Chinese invited him to become an adviser to their armed forces.

After the August Revolution in 1945, Bao Dai, the Emperor, was ‘persuaded’ to abdicate, but no country was prepared to recognise this new regime.

In 1946 Ho went “outside the country” whilst purges and killings of Trotskyists, Nationalists and Random People were “eliminated through termination”.
This increased everybody’s space considerably, but, to be on the safe side, another thirty thousand souls were selected for prisons or “purging” because either 1) they had ‘excessive wealth’ or b) they did not but were considered a burden on the state. All rival political parties, being now superfluous to requirements, were disbanded.

Ho must then have felt things were going rather well, but no! Very persuasive Chinese Nationalists intervened and pressed Ho to dissolve the Communist Party in such a ‘friendly way’ that Ho felt moved to agree to a Coalition Government. Later, in 1946, Chiang Kai-shek brokered a deal with the French that allowed the French Union to administer Vietnam (at a price!). When the deal fell through, Ho barely escaped with his life.

Ho next met the Chinese in Moscow in a meeting dictated by Joseph Stalin, with Mao representing the Chinese. It was decided that China would be responsible for training Vietnamese forces, numbering about 65,000 men, which number was believed sufficient to expedite the progress of the War with France. Bao Dai lacked the respect of both the North and South Vietnamese, but the Americans still wanted influence in the area, fearing Chinese aggression. So, there was a period of three hundred days when ordinary people were supposed to have freedom of choice to select North or South Vietnam as their domicile. The rich were quick to go south.

In 1948, Ho Chi Minh approached the Americans for help to free his country from the French Empire. They were sympathetic but could not see a clear profit.

We must briefly consider the war, if only for the sake of the context of the notes; anyone who wishes to delve deeper will hopefully have a library or internet to help them.

The Vietnamese war was “unwinnable” for both the U.S.A. and its allies and the North Vietnamese and their allies, certainly within a time frame that would suit both.
It was a very long conflict, being horrific, nauseating and cruel; the news picture of the naked little running girl with burning napalm on her was perhaps the final straw. Finally, an agreement of ‘one country – two systems’ was agreed. The U.S. troops would no longer have to try to help ‘save Vietnam from the Vietnamese’, as one anti-war singer put it; such a position was a confusing role for soldiers, who are understandably very nervous when they do not know who the ‘baddies’ are.

The World Welfare agencies reported from Hanoi (March the 5th 2008) that thousands of families in northern Vietnam have been pushed deeper into poverty after losing 133,000 cattle in a record-breaking cold spell as temperatures plummeted to minus 8 centigrade or lower.”
Officials point out that the poorest subsistence farmers will be facing debts that they can never hope to redeem, leaving them paying just the interest at best, with little or nothing to spare for basic foodstuffs.

The hill farmers are the worst hit; Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has announced compensation payments totalling U.S $9.3 million but these hill farmers had only one or two animals, and the compensation is woefully inadequate; it works out to about 12% of their loss, apparently.
The southern part of Vietnam is less directly affected by this, having a broader-based economy.


The North Vietnamese position is, understandably, that they have always been the true Government of the whole of Vietnam, which implies that their notes should have been good for the whole of Vietnam. This political position hits at the very roots of the structure of the State. However, I am just a simple woman, so I ask you to bear with me as I treat North and South Vietnam as different entities, which clarifies the issues.

Northern Vietnam

The North Vietnamese notes are generally of low quality and were easily copied by their enemies, so it is extremely hard to guarantee that they are genuine. This precludes some dealers from dealing with them. One should be suspicious of any note in high grades because the climate is not generally sympathetic to paper money.

There are several varieties of watermarks on all the notes. Ho Chi Minh features on the majority of the notes. Agricultural scenes and men, women, children & animals grace many.
Between 1946 and 1975, eight undated and four dated series of notes existed. (Unless otherwise stated below, the issues are undated.)

The 1946 issue detailed the following notes 1 dong, three versions of 5 dong, three versions of 20 dong and a 100 dong.
In 1947, these notes were issued 1 dong, three versions of 5 dong, 50 & 100 dong.
1948 had the following issue of notes: 20 and 50 xu, two versions of 1 dong, three versions of 5 dong, three versions of 10 dong, three versions of 20 dong, a 50 & 100 dong.
The 1949 issue was dated and totalled just three notes. These were two versions of 100 dong & 500 dong.
In 1950 the notes returned to being undated, and this series had three notes. The 50, 100 & 200 dong.
The 1951 issue was just one note, the 100 dong.
The 1952 issue included the 5, 10, 20 and 50 dong together with two versions of the 100 dong.
1953’s issue was just two notes, the 20 and 50 dong.

During 1946- 1951, “Tin Phieu” credit notes were also issued for Trung Bo. These were undated and included the following notes: three versions of the 1 dong, two versions of the 5 dong, two versions of the 20 dong, three versions of the 50 dong, four versions of the 100 dong, a 500 & 1,000 dong.

All the above notes are of very low-quality paper and design and probably suited to ‘production in camp’; they would be easy to copy in the East or by buying papers and inks from there. Do take care if you wish to collect these notes. Some of the stamps may still exist. There are numerous watermarks, and sometimes the notes seem double-stamped. However, this does not prove them false or genuine; it might make them difficult to re-sell. They could be fun; you may be prepared to take a chance! They come with more watermarks than the catalogue mentions, apparently.

The 1964 issue was one note, the 2 xu.
In 1969, one note was issued, a dated 20 dong.
1972’s issue included two dated versions of 1 hao.
Finally, the 1975 issue was again dated and included a 5 xu and a 2 hoa note.

National Bank of Viet Nam

These tend to be a higher grade of Czechoslovakian print and start in New Dong.
(= 100 old Dong). All the notes feature Ho Chi Minh.

1951-53 issue 10 dong violet-brown, featuring farmers and water buffalos.
20 dong in purple or olive. Soldier and ships on the reverse of the note..
50 dong in green or brown. Harvest work on the reverse
100 dong in green or blue. Bomb Factory on the reverse.
200 dong in reddish brown or green. Soldiers under training on the face.
500 dong in green. Soldiers at a gun on the face, workers in a field on the reverse.
1000 dong in tan/orange. Soldiers are advancing on the face of the note. A Soldier, a worker and a farmer on the reverse.
5000 dong in brown-orange. Anti-aircraft artillery emplacements on the reverse.

1958 Issues

1 xu on 10 Dong (presumed rare) is an overprint on the 10 dong from 1951-53.
The remaining notes in the issue were by CPF – Shanghai.
These notes included the 1, 2 & 5 hao and the 1,2,5 & 10 dong.

There were various issues of the above denominations, some with handstamps and overprints. Some are reported but not confirmed. Also, some collectable U.S. counterfeits exist with propaganda messages and codes present.

Regional issues

The various local administrations issued these in 1949 – 1950.
The notes are produced with the crude stamped printing again – so take care if you buy them!

Phieu Tiep Te.
All the notes are undated and are as follows:
Two versions of 5 cac, four versions of 1 dong, three versions of 2 dong and two versions of 5 dong.
In 1945, a series of French Indochinese notes was endorsed by a rubber stamp intended to control the use of these notes within the Viet-Minh liberated zones. There were many different handstamps used in various colours. Sometimes, an official would hand-sign them instead.
These notes included three versions of 1 piastre, three versions of 5 piastres, 10 & 20 piastres and three versions of 100 piastres.

Finally, the Tra Vinh Province (provisional issue) was 100 dong and dated 18.3.1951. It is an overprint on the 1948 issue. This note is rarely seen.

SOUTH VIETNAM (1954 - July 1976, after which date Vietnam was reunited, at last)

These include three issues of undated notes printed for South Vietnam when the USA believed in the “domino” theory that, if a stand was not made, many nations would fall to a communist state dictatorship. No doubt, some might still believe it.
The quality of the paper and printing of the notes makes it most unlikely that they might be counterfeited economically for the collectors’ market.

The first issue, 1956, runs with 1, 5, 10, 20 and 1,000 dong, but the latter note appears as a proof or specimen and is rare. The watermark on the first 4 notes is a Tiger’s head. The 20 dong is an extremely pretty note featuring huts, boats, banana plants, farmers and water buffalos on the reverse.
The second issue, 1955-58, includes a 50, 100, 200, & 500 dong; the latter two notes printed by American Banknote Company are harder to locate.
The 1955 third issue were printed by Security Bank Note Company (USA) and includes the 1,2, 5, dong and two versions of the 200 dong. The 200 dong was found engraved as well as lithoed but was not issued, probably because inflation caught up with it quickly at this final stage.
1962’s issue were undated, and the run included 10, 20 & 500 dong.
The 1964 / 1966 issue were again undated and runs as follows. 1, 20 & 500 dong issued in 1964. 50 dong, two versions of 100 dong, 200 & 500 dong issued in 1966
1969-1971’s issue included the following notes. 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 & 1,000 dong all of which were undated.
Between 1972 and 1975 the following were issued undated. 50, 100, 200 and 500 dong. Two versions of 1,000 dong one issued in 1972 the other 1975, 5,000 & 10,000 dong.

Various trial pieces of this note are known to exist in various colours but were “overtaken by history”.

Transitional Issue.
Ngan Hang Viet Nam
The following notes were dated 1966 but withheld from issue until 1975. They were used during the transitional period between The People’s Revolutionary Government coming to power in April 1975 and the economic merger of the United Viet Nam in 1978. The issue ran as follows: 10, 20 & 50 xu, 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50 dong.


On the 2nd July 1976, Viet Nam was united under the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.
1978 all 1958 Northern and 1966 Southern issued dong notes were exchanged for 1976 dated notes to unify the currency. However, all Xu and Hao notes continued as legal tender. The Northern and Southern issued Dong notes were over-stamped “Da Thu”, marked with an X and destroyed.

The majority of notes issued since 1976 detail portraits of Ho Chi Minh and/or working scenes from town and country, and prominent landmarks are featured repetitively.

The 1976 dated issue details the following notes. 5 hao, 1,5,10,20 & 50 dong.
The 1981 issue dated 1980 runs as follows. 2, 10, 30, 100 dong.
1985’s issue includes these notes, 5 hao, 1, 2, 5, 10 ,20, 30 dong. Two versions of 50 dong, a 100 & 500 dong.
In 1988 the following issue dated 1987 ran as follows. 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000 & 5,000 dong.
Between 1988 and 1991 the follow notes were issued: 100 dong dated 1991, 1,000 dong dated 1988, 2,000 dong dated 1988, 5,000 dong dated 1991, 10,000 dong dated 1990, 20,000 dong dated 1991 and 50,000 dong, dated 1990.
A run of Bank Cheques were issued in 1992. These were negotiable cheques/certificates with expiration dates used for high-value merchandise and large transactions. These bank Cheques were in the following denomination: 100,000 dongdated 1992-1994, 500,000 dong dated 1992-2000, 1,000,000 dong dated 1992-2001 and 5,000,000 dong dated 1992-2001.
The 1994 issue runs as follows. 10,000 dong dated 1993, 50,000 dong dated 1994 and 100,000 dong dated 1994.
In 2001, there was a Commemorative Issue to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the National Bank of Viet Nam. The 50 dong note was printed on Polymer plastic and presented in a special folder.

The current issue of notes is again printed on Polymer plastic and started in 2003. The issue runs as follows, 50,000 dong dated 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. 100,000 dong dated 2004, 2005 and 2006. 500,000 dong dated 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

As we can see, inflation has now taken hold…..

Kate Gibson (written in 2008)

Last updated 06/09/2023