When I was a young boy, I got the chance to travel. Every summer my family would get in the car and set off on some adventure. These trips would usually end up being to some nearby park or monument, but there would usually be one thing they all had in common – a coin operated device that would make an impression into a penny to serve as a keepsake. Over the years, I collected many, but when my grandmother began circumnavigating the globe, I started collecting more and more coins and bills from around the world. Flash-forward to 2008 when I arrived in Korea, I was amazed at how advanced the Korean currency was to that of my native land. I wanted to learn more about it and could think of no better place than the Bank of Korea Museum located near Namdaemun.
Before stepping inside the building, I think it’s important to learn about the facility itself, since it has an amazing history. The building was designed in 1907 by Tatsuno Kingo, a famous Japanese architect, responsible not only for Tokyo Station, but the Historic Seoul Station as well. It took a few years for construction to be completed, but when it was in 1912, the building was to be the headquarters of the Bank of Chosen under Japanese colonial rule. The building is in the shape of an H, with domes at either end. Rather than the modern buildings erected at the time, the Bank of Chosen drew from an eclectic inspiration of French Chateaus and Tuscan themes. The facility is made from poured concrete; however, the outer shell is comprised of granite harvested from nearby Dongdaemun Gate. The building was destroyed during the Korean War, but fully restored in 1989. In 1981, it was set aside as National Historic Site 280. In 2001, the interior was remodeled once more and repurposed as the Bank of Korea Museum.
Open to the public, this free museum encompasses two floors and more than 4500 items on display in eight different themed areas. For the most part, visitors will need to conduct their own tours, but that isn’t a problem. After storing coats or other belongings in nearby lockers, patrons can rent an audio player for W500. These devices are available in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. For those truly interested in learning about the Bank, building, and currency, the Bank of Korea Museum provides lectures on money the second and fourth Saturday (11am) and lectures on the economy at 2pm the Sundays of those same weekends. Guided tours are available daily at 11am and 3pm.
In all, walking through the museum can take as little as 30 minutes or well into the majority of a day, depending to your interests. The Museum is divided into eight separate themed exhibit areas, each with a little something to offer those perusing the items on display. The suggested route first takes visitors into an area detailing the history of the Bank of Korea (BOK). Probably the most interesting item on display (for me) was a set of zinc plates first used to print BOK notes. These are preserved under glass with the corroded plates suffering from age and archived bills placed adjacent to them.
Bank of Korea – KOCIS – The Korea Blog – BOK
The exhibits then begin explaining the life cycle of currency. The displays chronicle the formation of paper notes, their use, and ultimate destruction. Since many world economies thrive on the exchange of bills, counterfeiting has always been a problem. A wonderful interactive display provides detailed information on the security enhancements made to Korea’s notes. The display also included security enhancements from other nations as well. This part of the museum also enables visitors to trace the creation of a 10 won coin from metal sheet, to blank pellet, to a newly minted metallic tender.
Probably the most interesting portion of the museum is the Currency Gallery occupying the majority of the first floor. Here one can explore the history of currency dating back to battering cultures, the first uses of metal tokens, and even commemorative bills and coins from around the globe. A fascinating display chronicles the changes to Korean money from the Daehan Empire, through the Japanese occupation, to now. I was amazed to learn that Hangeul wasn’t used on bills until the 1960s.
If you’re pressed for time, you can end your visit there. However, on the second floor are a number of special exhibits featuring currency collections from around the world. In fact one fun video game pits two opponents against one another to see if they can correctly identify the country of origin of money flashed on the screen. In another area, guests can pay W500 to have their picture taken and placed on a mock W50,000 note. A “Currencies Around the World” exhibit has hundreds of examples of notes and coins from every region around the globe for those interested.
If you’re not interested in money, then the second floor Gallery might. Here several works of art owned by the Bank are on display and the space is sometimes used for musical performances. In all, the facility is quite interesting, if nothing more than to see the collection of historic Korean coins and bills in the Currency Gallery. A visit here is fun and educational, which is why during the week it is common to see several school aged children on the grounds roaming the halls.
Address: Seoul-si Jung-gu Namdaemunno3-ga 110 Bank of Korea building
Phone: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese); +82-2-759-4881~2 (Korean)
Hours: 10am – 5pm; Closed Mondays, Holidays, December 29-January 2.
Audio Guides: W500
Lockers, Wheelchairs, Baby Strollers: Free
About the Author
Steve Miller is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger. His videos have been viewed over 3 million times and seen on major international media outlets in Korea, France, the Philippines, Thailand, and CNNGo. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes for various Korean Tourism publications and shares travel advice on Korea’s domestic and international radio outlets.
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