[FOUNTAIN]Hard times for hard cashThe 5,000 won bill was first issued on July 1, 1972. It was introduced earlier than its sibling 1,000 won bill in August 1975 and the 10,000 won bill in June 1973. The 5,000 won bill became the oldest of the three bills when the issue of the 10,000 won, which had been scheduled for the same year, was delayed by a year. Initially, the 10,000 won note was planned to feature the Buddha statue in Seokguram Grotto on the front and Bulguk Temple in Gyeongju on the back. However, that raised the issue of religion. One year later, after the design was changed to feature King Sejong and Geunjeongjeon in Gyeongbok Palace, the 10,000 won bill was introduced.
The 5,000 won bill went through more difficulties than the other bills. Five years after it was issued, the note was totally revised. The frontal portrait of Yi-yi was the problem. Slim, with a small face with large eyes and a sharp nose, it looked like a typical Westerner. Back then, Korean banks lacked the skill to make negative plates for the bills so they put an order to a British bank. However, the foreign engraver drew Yi-yi as a Westerner, simply adding a brimless high-crowned hat. In 1977, the portrait was replaced with one painted by Lee Jong-sang.
After six years, it was decided to change the size of the bills and Japan was requested to remake the negative plates. Yi-yi’s face became chubbier in the cheeks and looked more generous, but some said the portrait was too Japanese. This wasn’t only a fault of the 5,000 won bill. All the banknotes issued after the liberation had some remnants of Japan, including the order of the letters, the seal and the white linings. That was because the Bank of Korea, which succeeded the Joseon Bank, inherited the practices of issuing notes from during the Japanese colonial period.
Forged 5,000 won bills were also found all over the country. In 2001, 235 forged notes were found. The number increased to 931 in 2002 and 6,062 by October this year. That number is twice that of forged 10,000 won bills.
Printing of new 5,000 won bills started this week. Hopefully, we will be able to start using the new banknotes from next year. They used various high-tech techniques to prevent counterfeiting and made them slimmer to fit right into your wallet. Above all, the Bank of Korea is most proud of getting rid of the Japanese remnants on the bill. Yet, there are still disputes over the new 5,000 won note. The Bank of Korea using Roman letters instead of Hangeul for the serial numbers of the new notes has raised questions about the nationality of the bill. The 5,000 won bill seems to need more time to completely overcome its hard times.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.