Two decades after euros were first minted and distributed across households in Europe, billions in cash denominated in the national currencies that were abandoned remains out there.
The total that can still be redeemed at the continent’s central banks is equivalent to about 8.5 billion euros ($9.6 billion), according to calculations by Bloomberg. How much will actually be swapped is unclear — as are the reasons why it hasn’t been so far.
Potential explanations range from forgotten savings stashed under mattresses to mementos kept from another era. What is known is that the vast majority is located in Germany, where cash’s popularity endures and the Bundesbank has said it will continue exchanging deutschmarks for an unlimited period.
Other countries aren’t so patient: France, Spain, and Italy have all ceased exchanging old money. Portugal has stopped converting escudo coins and will end the option to switch paper money in February.
Euro cash was first introduced on January 1, 2002 — three years after the common currency’s conception. It was initially used in 12 of the euro area’s current member states, with Cyprus, Estonia and others adopting it several years later.
The European Central Bank is now pushing ahead with plans to devise new banknotes. Those are set to be redesigned by 2024, and the institution may launch a digital euro this decade, too.