The state of Sarawak was part of the Bruneian Empire in the 16th century. In September 1841, the Sultan of Brunei at that time, Omar Ali Saifuddin II, bestowed the title “Rajah” to James Brooke of England and granted land near the city of Sarawak (present-day Kuching). Sarawak was governed by the Brooke family from 1841 to 1946. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Sarawak for three years. After the war, Charles Vyner Brooke, the last White Rajah of Sarawak, ceded Sarawak to Britain. In 1946, it became a British colony. In July 1963, Sarawak was granted self-government and became one of the founding members of Malaysia.  

Sarawak used the Sarawak dollar between 1858 and 1953. One Sarawak dollar is equivalent to 100 cents.  

The Sarawak Government Treasury (TRE) issued uniface notes on hand-laid and hand-combed paper that bore the seal of the Sarawak Office of Registry and handwritten dates, serial numbers, and the signature of Treasurer Charles Adaire Crymble. The denominations issued by the TRE were 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents. These handwritten notes circulated from 1858 to 1919.  

The Government of Sarawak also issued banknotes that had handwritten dates and signatures. Unlike the notes issued by the Treasury, these notes featured the portrait of the second “White Rajah” Charles Johnson Brooke, a vignette of a woman, and the Brooke coat of arms with a badger atop a shield flanked by oak and olive branch laurels. The denominations issued were 1 dollar, 5 dollars, 10 dollars, 25 dollars, and 50 dollars. 

After Charles Johnson Brooke died in 1918, the Government updated the notes to reflect the change with the portrait of his successor, Charles Vyner Brooke. In 1929, the notes had a slight redesign, featuring an older portrait of Charles Vyner Brook and changing the laurels flanking the Brooke coat of arms with a banner with the Latin motto “Dum Spiro Spero” (While I breathe, I hope). In 1940, the Government also issued 10-cent banknotes to alleviate a shortage of coinage due to the outbreak of World War II, which cut off Sarawak from receiving shipments from England. Five years later in 1945, the government prepared banknotes with the following denominations—1 cent, 5 cents, and 10 cents—to address the shortage of coins. However, these notes were not issued.  

During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese Government issued the Malayan dollar at a rate of 1 Malayan dollar to 1 Japanese yen. The Board of Commissioners of Currency was established on 1 January 1952 to provide a common currency for Brunei, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore. The Malaya and British Borneo dollar replaced the British North Borneo dollar, the Malayan dollar, and the Sarawak dollar. The Malaya and British Borneo dollar was pegged at 1 dollar to 2 shillings and 4 pence sterling. After Sarawak became part of Malaysia, it adopted the Malaysian ringgit.

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