The pound (symbol £, or NZ£ for distinction) was the currency of New Zealand from 1840 until 1967, when it was replaced by the New Zealand dollar.
Like the British pound, it was subdivided into 20 shillings (symbol s) each of 12 pence (symbol d). As a result of the great depression of the early 1930s, the New Zealand agricultural export market to the UK was badly affected. The Australian banks, which controlled the New Zealand exchanges with London, decided to devalue the New Zealand pound in relation to sterling in the UK. By 1933, the New Zealand pound had fallen to a value of only 16 shillings sterling. In 1948 however, it was once again restored to its original sterling value. In 1967, New Zealand decimalised its currency, replacing the pound with the dollar at a rate of $2 = £1 (or $1 = 10s). In November of that year, the pound sterling devalued, and New Zealand used this as an opportunity to re-align its new dollar to parity with the Australian dollar.
Initially, British and Australian coins circulated in New Zealand. The devaluation of the New Zealand pound relative to sterling in the 1930s led to the issue of distinct New Zealand coins in 1933, in denominations of 3d, 6d, 1s, 2s (the florin) and 2½s (the half-crown), minted in 50% silver until 1946 and in cupro-nickel from 1947. In 1940, bronze ½d and 1d coins were introduced. All these denominations were the same size and weight as their equivalents in the Australian and UK coinage (although Australia never minted the half-crown). When the UK introduced the nickel-brass twelve sided threepenny bit, New Zealand continued to use the smaller silver coin until decimalisation in 1967.
Until 1934, private trading banks issued notes. The first bank notes were issued in New Zealand in 1840 by the New Zealand Banking Company at Russell followed a few months later by the Union Bank of Australia in Wellington.
Between 1852 and 1856, the Colonial Bank of Issue was the only banknote issuing body. Public distrust of these notes soon led to their redemption with Union Bank notes. The discovery of gold in 1861 encouraged competing banks into New Zealand leading to a variety of note issue. By 1924, public demand for convenience in usage led to the six remaining issuing banks agreeing a "Uniform" standard size and colour for each denomination.
When the Reserve Bank of New Zealand was established on 1 August 1934 by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1933, it became the sole issuer of notes. This government agency introduced notes for 10s, £1, £5 and £50. In 1940, £10 notes were added. Only two series of £1 notes were printed. The first (1934–40) featured the portrait of Matutaera Te Pukepuke Te Paue Te Karato Te-a-Pōtatau Tāwhiao, the second (1940–67) featured Captain James Cook.
Coins and uncancelled notes issued by the six private trading banks operating in 1934 as well as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand are still redeemable at the RBNZ offices in Wellington. The RBNZ has an obligation to redeem private bank notes. Under the 1933 Reserve Bank Act the privately held gold was confiscated and paid for in RBNZ banknotes.
In all cases, the currency's value to collectors is now far higher than its face value, due to its rarity. A prime example is a first issue Union Bank £1 from the 1840s returned to New Zealand in 1934, for redemption at face value, by its owner in the United States. Today a similar note would be valued in excess of £10,000 sterling. £50 notes of the Reserve Bank are also extremely rare and fetch a high price from collectors. The note signed by Chief Cashier T. P. Hannah in uncirculated condition could fetch as high as NZ$25,000 according to the premier value listing for New Zealand notes and coins (some other lesser valued notes signed by Hannah exist).