The current won (원) does not officially have any hanja associated with it.
The South Korean won (/wʌn/;Korean: 원, Korean pronunciation: [wʌn]; symbol: ₩; code: KRW) or Korean Republic won (Korean: 대한민국 원) is the official currency of South Korea. A single won is divided into 100 jeon, the monetary subunit. The jeon is no longer used for everyday transactions, and appears only in foreign exchange rates. The won is issued by the Bank of Korea, based in the capital city of Seoul.
The old "won" was a cognate of the Chinese yuan and Japanese yen. It is derived from the hanja圓 (원, won), meaning "round". The won was subdivided into 100 jeon (Korean: 전; Hanja: 錢; RR: jeon; MR: chŏn), itself a cognate of the Chinese unit of weight mace and synonymous with money in general. The current won (1962 to present) is written in hangul only and does not officially have any hanja associated with it.
In 1946, the Bank of Joseon introduced 10- and 100-won notes. These were followed in 1949 by 5- and 1,000-won notes.
A new central bank, the Bank of Korea, was established on 12 June 1950, and assumed the duties of Bank of Joseon. Notes were introduced (some dated 1949) in denominations of 5, 10 and 50 jeon, and 100 and 1,000 won. The 500-won notes were introduced in 1952. In 1953, a series of banknotes was issued which, although it gave the denominations in English in won, were, in fact, the first issues of the hwan.
Second South Korean won
The won was reintroduced on June 10, 1962, at a rate of 1 won = 10 hwan. It became the sole legal tender on March 22, 1975, with the withdrawal of the last circulating hwan coins. Its ISO 4217 code is KRW. At the reintroduction of the won in 1962, its value was pegged at 125 won = US$1. The following pegs operated between 1962 and 1980:
Until 1966, 10- and 50-hwan coins, revalued as 1 and 5 won, were the only coins in circulation. New coins, denominated in won, were introduced by the Bank of Korea on August 16, 1966, in denominations of 1, 5 and 10 won, with the 1 won struck in brass and the 5 and 10 won in bronze. These were the first South Korean coins to display the date in the common era, earlier coins having used the Korean calendar. The 10- and 50-hwan coins were demonetized on March 22, 1975.
In 1968, as the intrinsic value of the brass 1-won coin far surpassed its face value, new aluminium 1-won coins were issued to replace them. As an attempt to further reduce currency production costs, new 5- and 10-won coins were issued in 1970, struck in brass. Cupronickel 100-won coins were also introduced that year, followed by cupronickel 50 won in 1972.
In 1982, with inflation and the increasing popularity of vending machines, 500-won coins were introduced on June 12, 1982. In January 1983, with the purpose of standardizing the coinage, a new series of 1-, 5-, 10-, 50-, and 100-won coins was issued, using the same layout as the 500-won coins, but conserving the coins' old themes.
The Bank of Korea announced in early 2006 its intention to redesign the 10-won coin by the end of that year. With the increasing cost of production, then at 38 won per 10-won coin, and rumors that some people had been melting the coins to make jewelry, the redesign was needed to make the coin more cost-effective to produce. The new coin is made of copper-coated aluminium with a reduced diameter of 18 mm, and a weight of 1.22 g. Its visual design is the same as the old coin. The new coin was issued on December 18, 2006.
The 1- and 5-won coins are difficult to find in circulation today, and prices of consumer goods are rounded to the nearest 10 won. However, they are still in production, minting limited amounts of these two coins every year, for the Bank of Korea's annual mint sets.
In 1998, the production costs per coin were: 10-won coins each cost 35 won to produce, 100-won coins cost 58 won, and 500 won coins cost 77 won.
The Bank of Korea designates banknote and coin series in a unique way. Instead of putting those of similar design and issue dates in the same series, it assigns series number X to the Xth design of a given denomination. The series numbers are expressed with Korean letters used in alphabetical order, e.g. 가, 나, 다, 라, 마, 바, 사. Therefore, ₩1,000 issued in 1983 is series II (나) because it is the second design of all ₩1,000 designs since the introduction of the South Korean won in 1962.
In 1962, 10- and 50-jeon, 1-, 5-, 10-, 50-, 100- and 500-won notes were introduced by the Bank of Korea. The first issue of 1-, 5-, 10-, 50-, 100- and 500-won notes was printed in the UK by Thomas De La Rue. The jeon notes together with a second issue of 10- and 100-won notes were printed domestically by the Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation.
In 1965, 100-won notes (series III) were printed using intaglio printing techniques, for the first time on domestically printed notes, to reduce counterfeiting. Replacements for the British 500-won notes followed in 1966, also using intaglio printing, and for the 50-won notes in 1969 using lithoprinting.
With the economic development from the 1960s, the value of the 500-won notes fell, resulting in a greater use of cashier's checks with higher fixed denominations as means of payment, as well as an increased use of counterfeited ones. In 1970, the 100-won notes were replaced by coins, with the same happening to the 50-won notes in 1972.
Higher-denomination notes of 5,000 and 10,000 won were introduced in 1972 and 1973, respectively. The notes incorporated new security features, including watermark, security thread, and ultraviolet response fibres, and were intaglio printed. The release of 10,000-won notes was planned to be at the same time as the 5,000-won notes, but problems with the main theme delayed it by a year. Newly designed 500-won notes were also released in 1973, and the need for a medium denomination resulted in the introduction of 1,000-won notes in 1975.
In 1982, the 500-won note was replaced by a coin. The following year, as part of its policy of rationalizing the currency system, the Bank of Korea issued a new set of notes, as well as a new set of coins. Some of the notes' most notable features were distinguishable marks for the blind under the watermark and the addition of machine-readable language in preparation for mechanization of cash handling. They were also printed on better-quality cotton pulp to reduce the production costs by extending their circulation life.
The plates for the 5,000-won notes were produced in Japan, while the ones for the 1,000- and 10,000-won notes were produced by the Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation. They were all printed in intaglio.
With the release of a new set of notes, no plan has yet been made to withdraw these notes from circulation.
In 2006, it became a major concern that the South Korean won banknotes were being counterfeited/forged. Notably, around 50% of 5,000-won notes (worth about US$5) were confiscated as counterfeit. This led the government to issue a new series of banknotes, with the 5,000-won note being the first one to be redesigned. Later in 2007, the 1,000- and 10,000-won notes were introduced.
On June 23, 2009, the Bank of Korea released the 50,000-won note. The obverse bears a portrait of Shin Saimdang, a prominent 16th-century artist, calligrapher, and mother of Korean scholar Yulgok, also known as Yi I, who is on the 5,000-won note. This note is the first Korean banknote to feature the portrait of a woman. The release of the 50,000-won note stirred some controversy among shop owners and those with visual impairments due to its similarity in color and numerical denomination with the 5,000-won note.
New 100,000-won notes were also announced, but their release was later cancelled due to the controversy over the banknote's planned image, featuring the Daedongyeojido map, and not including the disputed Dokdo islands.
The banknotes include over 10 security features in each denomination. The 50,000-won note has 22 security features, the 10,000-won note 21, the 5,000-won note 17, the 2,000-won note 10 and the 1,000-won note 19. Many modern security features that can be also found in euros, pounds, Canadian dollars, and Japanese yen are included in the banknotes.
Some security features inserted in won notes are:
Holograms with three-dimensional images that change colors within the metallic foil on the obverse side of the notes (except ₩1,000)
Watermark portraits of the effigy of the note are visible when held to the light in the white section of the note.
Intaglio printing on words and the effigy give off a raised feeling, different from ordinary paper
Security thread in the right side of the obverse side of the note with small lettering "한국은행 Bank of Korea" and its corresponding denomination
Hologram (optically variable device): Changing designs are seen at different angles. At different angles, "map of Korea", "face value number, and "Taegeuk" (the Great Absolute), and "Four signs of divination" can be seen.
Color-shifting ink: Depending on the angle, the value (5,000) on the reverse changes between gold and green.
Intaglio latent image: From the position of eyes, "WON" appears due to intaglio printing.
Security thread: Held up to the light, the banknote shows microletters within a thin fluorescent plastic film.
See-through register: Patterns are printed in the same place on both sides of the note.
Microlettering: Difficult to see, it appears as a line or dotted line when forged by color printer or color copier.
Watermark: Held up to the light, a hidden reverse image portrait appears in the nonimage space on the left side of the obverse, due to the variation in thickness within each note.
Special press and soldering: Without holding the note up to the light, the watermark can still be read because of higher differences in paper thickness.
Watermark bar: Held up to the light, three horizontal dark bars and two bright bars appear, in turn, due to the variation in thickness within each note.
Holographic strip (optically variable device): The holographic strip is a special film applied on the left end of the obverse. On the top, middle and bottom of the strip, are three sets of changing images: "map of Korea," "taegeuk (two comma roundel)," and "the four trigrams." When the banknote is tilted, each of them appears in turn. Between the sets of changing images, the denomination, 50,000, is printed vertically on the strip. On the left top and bottom of the holographic strip, against a background of geometric guilloche, the words "BANK OF KOREA 50000" are printed vertically. A line of a Korean traditional lattice pattern is embossed on the strip's right end.
Moving image security thread ("Motion"): The 50,000 won note has a special blue and gray film with numerous Taegeuk patterns all over it. Taegeuk patterns move to the left and right when the note is tilted up and down, while moving up and down when the note is tilted to the left and right. When the note is held up to the light, the movement of the Taegeuk patterns appears more clearly.
Novel numbering: The sizes of the digits (numbers and letters) used in the serial number increase gradually from left to right.
Color-shifting ink: The color of the face value number (50,000) on the top right of the reverse changes between green and magenta when the note is tilted.
Watermark: Held up to the light, a hidden portrait (of Shin Saimdang), produced by using the variation in thickness of the note paper, appears in the non-image area on the left side of the obverse.
Special press and soldering: A kind of watermark, it isproduced using the maximized thickness variations in the note paper. It is located on the right bottom of the watermark and if one holds the banknote up to a light source or looks at it with the naked eye, the number "5" appears within the pentagon.
Intaglio latent image: If the note is held horizontally and tilted at eye level, the number "5" appears within the intaglio-printed pentagon.
Security thread: If the note is held up to the light, the microletters "한국은행 BANK OF KOREA 50000" are printed within a special film hidden on the right side of the portrait.
Intaglio printing: Granular texture can be felt when touching the portrait of Shin Saimdang, the Wolmaedo painting, letters, five lines of tactile marks and denomination numbers.
See-through register: When the note is held up to the light, the round images on the obverse and reverse are combined, appearing as a two-comma roundel (Taegeuk).
Fluorescent security ink and fiber: When the note is illuminated with ultraviolet light, fluorescent green (security ink) on the grape painting and short fluorescent red, blue and green lines (fluorescent security fibers) show all over the banknote.
Filter through latent image: Through a specially produced filter, the hidden face value number "50000" is seen in the nonimage area of the reverse.
Microlettering: Intaglio-printed microletters (consonants of Korean alphabets and "BANK OF KOREA") and offset-printed microletters ("50000") can be discerned with a magnifying glass.
Future of the South Korean won
As the South Korean economy is evolving through the use of electronic payments, coins of the South Korean won are becoming less used by consumers. The Bank of Korea began a trial which would result in the total cessation of the production of coins of the South Korean won.
The Bank of Korea is the only institution in South Korea with the right to print banknotes and mint coins. The banknotes and coins are printed at the KOMSCO, a government-owned corporation, under the guidance of the Bank of Korea.
After the new banknotes and coins are printed/minted, they are bundled or rolled and shipped to the headquarters of the Bank of Korea. When delivered, they are deposited inside the bank's vault, ready to be distributed to commercial banks when requested.
Every year, around Seollal and Chuseok, two major Korean holidays, the Bank of Korea distributes large amounts of its currency to most of the commercial banks in South Korea, which are then given to their customers upon request.
Current exchange rates
South Korean won exchange rate against U.S. dollar (from 1990) and Euro (from 1999).