History Of Malaysian Prices And The Ringgit
It has been 63 years since the Malay Peninsula gained independence from British rule. Since then, things have changed. We’ve been through a lot as a country and sometimes it’s worth taking a step back to see what the trip was like.
Especially when it comes to our money. Have you ever noticed that the pre-Merdeka prices are shown in dollars and cents? Very different from the British pound sterling which was in use in the UK at the time.
Let’s take a trip back in time to look at the prices of some familiar goods as we welcome our 63rd Merdeka.
For example, this advertisement for the Swiss shoe brand Bata shows prices in 1936 in Strait dollars. This currency was used from 1898 to 1939 by the Federated Malaysian States, the Non-Federated Malaysian States, the Kingdom of Sarawak, Brunei and the British North of Borneo. Basically what is currently Malaysia and its closest neighbors.
The closest value we could find for the Strait dollar was in 1906, when it was valued at 2 shillings 4 pence sterling. Today it would be around RM14 (adjusted for inflation).
The size 7-1 “Bentok 57” costs around RM26.60 after accounting for inflation. The Design 77 version had cost between RM99 and RM128.
By comparison, Bata still sells a shoe similar to the Design 77 for RM400. Children’s school shoes now go as low as RM30 in the same store, with most costing under RM50.
The Straits dollar was eventually replaced in 1939 by the Malaysian dollar, then replaced by the Malaysian and British Borneo dollar in 1953. The real exchange value of the British pound sterling has not changed; neither is the currency symbol.
Take for example this 1967 Hari Raya Aidilfitri promotion from UK chain Clark’s. Note that once upon a time, Clark’s did not only sell shoes but also bed linens and towels.
Adjusted for inflation, the Ladybird cotton sports shirt today would cost RM 41.50; while women’s nylon pants would go for RM127. All in all, these are reasonably priced as foreign brand clothing is fine even though Clark’s no longer sells clothing.
While we are talking about the Malaysian and British Borneo dollar, a newspaper in 1957 sold for 15 cents. That’s about RM 1.30 in today’s money.
June 1967 saw the introduction of the Malaysian dollar, our first clean currency, valued at $ 8.51 per pound sterling. When it first appeared, the Malaysian dollar was called dollar in English and ringgit (an old word for Spanish coins) in Malay.
The Malaysian and British Borneo dollar was legal tender until 1969.
This 1979 tuition notice shows the $ symbol still in use with the ringgit for the first 26 years of his life. It also shows how much things have changed over time; when you should buy ink bottles for kids to use in school classes.
The primary tuition fee of $ 12.40 would translate to around RM41 today. Of course, the government abolished tuition fees in 2012. On the other hand, there have been complaints about the Parent-Teacher Association (PIBG) fees which have been rising rapidly in recent years.
In 1975, the currency was officially renamed Malaysian Ringgit and with RM replacing the dollar sign in 1993, eventually becoming the currency we all know and love.
One more thing to note is this viral image of durians in 1958. This snapshot shows how cheap they were when we gained independence. In case the image does not appear on your screen, it claims that durians cost 80 sen “stopok”.
Presumably stopok was the way setompok was spelled back then, since the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and Standardized Spelling were only established in that year.
So how much is it really worth?
It depends. Considering this was before the ringgit, one should refer to the Malaysian and British Borneo dollar for its value. Since this is where it was indexed back then, so $ 0.80 would be around RM14 today.
How much does it cost today? Honestly not a lot. Considering that it is sold by the pile. We can’t be sure when this photo was taken, but it would definitely be a very low price for durians in any year.
These days, the fruits are sold at RM10 for two or three durian kampung; or between RM24 and RM33 per kilo for the Musang King (he always weighs more than a kilogram).
It is always important to keep inflation in mind when looking at the price of things. It’s also important to remember that we haven’t always used the ringgit; even if we take it for granted today.
It took decades of nation-building before Malaysia as we know it. Change does not happen overnight and our country has many challenges to overcome before it is truly free and peaceful.
So here is another 63 years of independence, growth and prosperity.
This article was first published in 2019 and has been updated for its freshness, accuracy and completeness.
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