Cover image for The art of money : the history and design of paper currency from around the world
The art of money : the history and design of paper currency from around the world
Standish, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Chronicle Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
144 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


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HG353 .S678 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HG353 .S678 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HG353 .S678 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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L'argent. Dinero. Geld. Dough. Whatever you call it, money makes the world go round. The United States is dispensing its first redesigned bills in decades, and the Euro is on the brink of unifying European notes. It's the perfect time for this visual tour of the world's currencies. The various people, places, animals, and historical events depicted on money reflect how countries see themselves--and how they want the rest of world to see them. Author David Standish begins with a brief, fascinating history of currency, and then presents a striking gallery of international bills from more than 80 countries that corner the market on visual flair. The cast of characters on these small canvases is vast--from the Little Prince on French currency to the furry denizens of the rainforest of Madagascar to the obscure Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, on the $10,000 US note (did you know that the US Secret Service originated with Lincoln's efforts to curb counterfeiting during the Civil War?). The Art of Money is an entertaining and lustrous tour of cash for design aficionados, history buffs, travelers, and everybody who handles money (or dreams of handling more).

Author Notes

David Standish is a freelance writer and former articles editor of Playboy. He has contributed to numerous publications, including Smithsonian, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Travel & Leisure, and Outside. He lives in Chicago.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Most folks don't pay much heed to the artistic aspects of paper money, perhaps, Standish hazards, because U.S. currency tends to be, well, "dull-looking." When he, an experienced traveler and currency changer, "calmed down enough to begin looking carefully" at other countries' currency, he discovered that it was "flat-out gorgeous." Starting with the Netherlands' strikingly attractive 50-guilden note, Standish assesses the artistic merits and imparts brief histories of many of those other peoples' moneys. The bills' colorful illustrations and inspired page layout make the book uncommonly enjoyable. The chapter on U.S. currency at the end of the book underscores the earlier observation that it isn't as attractive as those of other nations but also demonstrates that it used to be much more artful and colorful--and the old notes lacked the urgent, bug-eyed asymmetry of the newest U.S. bills. A book so entertaining and so informative that many libraries should consider purchasing circulating and reference copies, the latter to be kept in mint condition, of course. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

Beginning with the sunflowers on the Netherlands' 50-gulden note (Standish loves them) and ending with the redesigned American fives, tens and twenties (hates them), Standish's handsome, offbeat and color reproduction-stuffed volume displays and describes the world's various paper moneys. Standish, a journalist and former Playboy articles editor, sometimes looks at currency design as a matter of pure aestheticsDwhat colors, where? What kinds of lines, and why? But he also shows how "countries project their self-image through their money," recording their history and deciding what they want their visitors to see. He includes the "tough guys"Dmythic rebels and pre-Columbian godsDon much Latin American dinero; the engraved airplanes on Singapore's money, which promote its national airline; and the countenance of Queen Elizabeth, which graces more nationalities' cash than any other phiz. A "Short History of Money" explains, and depicts, the evolution of coinage and then of bills in Greece, Rome and medieval China, whose reliance on bills gave it, in the 10th century, "the world's first hyperinflation." A final chapter surveys American money, which at various points depicted Washington crossing the Delaware, Ben Franklin with a kite, and "Pocahontas getting baptized." The careful photography of Tony Armour and Joshua Dunn and an unusually fine job of productionDcrisp, fine-grained paper and true-to-bill colorsDreproduce the experience of handling all this exotic cash. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Introduction For years, as an American traveling abroad, I only thought about the local paper money in terms of how many--or how few--pounds, francs, kroner, yen, or pesos equalled one U.S. dollar. Even with a calculator I was usually too confused or flustered to pay much attention to what the money looked like. The images and designs simply didn't register. Compared to the solidly stolid U.S. bills that were everyday "real" money to me, most foreign notes seemed too colorful and cute. Knowing I'd be coming back to good old greenbacks, however dull-looking, foreign money was often hard to take seriously--beyond figuring out the exchange rate.     But that gradually changed. When I calmed down enough to begin looking carefully, I realized that, at the very least, some of these colorful notes are flat-out gorgeous. For instance, take the 50 guilden bill from the Netherlands in figure 1.     In the haphazard poll I took of people working at Thomas Cook Currency Services, which daily handles money from most of the world's countries, it was voted prettiest of all. There's a splendid asymmetry, and the golden sunflower with a bee nuzzling in it harks back to the precise and vivid painting done in the Netherlands during the Northern Renaissance, a tradition the Dutch are rightly proud of. In indirect but bright homage to van Gogh, the image says, simply by being placed on the bill, that they value art and beauty in the Netherlands.     What's on paper money says a lot about the country it comes from. Beyond the basic aesthetics, countries project their self-image through their money. What they decide to put on the bills reveals what's important to them--what they think is special and wonderful about themselves--and shows how they want to be seen by the world.     I first began noticing this on a trip to China some years ago. This was just after Nixon's first visit, and they'd come up with two separate currencies, one for local folks and one for the expected influx of tourists. The tourist bills were new and crisp, and looked like cigarette coupons from the 1950s. Engraved on the front were tranquil natural scenes (figure 2A), while the backs were occupied by instructions in English on their proper use (figure 2B).     The regular notes for everyone else were older issues, most of them worn and dingy, and emblazoned with images not from traditional Chinese landscape painting but of socialism on the march--happy workers bearing tools on one, a good citizen driving a tractor on another (figures 3A & 3B).     The dichotomy was glaring: China was supposed to be lovely waterfalls and picturesque karst mountainscapes to us, but cheerful communal work to the Chinese.     The differences among money from certain Caribbean nations are another example of divergent messages. Many Caribbean currencies look like come-hither vacation brochures. The face of a recent Cayman Islands $1, for instance, bears a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, which is staid enough, but to her left there's an open undersea pirate treasure chest filled with gold coins (a semi-liminal ad for Cayman banking practices?), while the back shows a coral reef scene of sea fans and serene tropical fish. These days the Bahamas have toned things down a bit, but in the late 1960s they not only had a $3 bill, which is hard enough to take seriously, it unironically displayed the image (figure 4) on its back.     True beach money!     Similarly, the Eastern Caribbean Union tempts with a view of paradise (figure 5).     But then there's Jamaica among these vacation wonderlands. One of the appealing things about Jamaica, a country with a complex history, is that it doesn't present itself as little more than a beach. They don't downplay the hard parts, and you can see this on their money.     Their $2 bill, for example (figure 6).     True, a lovely emerald streamertail hummingbird is hovering next to the portrait, but the face on the bill is that of Paul Bogle. Who? Bogle was one of the leaders of the failed Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865--a bloody uprising by poverty-stricken ex-slaves in which eighteen whites were killed, including the chief magistrate of the parish. They didn't win. Martial law was declared, and the instigators executed, Bogle among them. The face on the $10 bill is George William Gordon's, the chief Morant Bay leader, who was also put to death by British authorities. That these men are commemorated today on Jamaican money says a great deal about Jamaican values, as do the backs of both bills. The $2 bill shows a happy, racially mixed group of kids and the words "Out of many, one people." Commenting on this national motto, the Encyclopaedia Britannica says it "describes a multiracial society whose integration can be described as both profound and enviable"--an unusual touch of feeling in its generally dry accounts, and an accurate one. The reverse of the $10 bill is nearly as telling. Not palm trees or beaches or sweet cuddly creatures, but a bulldozer, earthmover, and crane, digging away, with a processing plant in the back (figure 7).     Why put a mining site on the money? Because the bauxite industry is very important to Jamaica's economy, as major a part as agriculture and tourism, which they announce through their money.     So there's a lot to be learned by taking a careful look at the images on world paper currencies. All of it is propaganda of a sort, if often in a more positive way than that word usually indicates. Perhaps better to say that it's a form of persuasion.     After looking at bills from practically every country producing them today, I found that certain visual themes emerge. Most commonly represented are Fearless Leaders, past and present. Since money is produced by governments, it's no surprise that politicians are up there at the top. Who's on the face of all the bills issued by Iraq at the time of this writing? Of course--Saddam Hussein. Putting who's in charge of the money is an expression of power--and it's a practice that goes back to the very beginnings of money itself. A concomitant is to put some dull building on the back--often the Treasury, or the King's Palace, or some other structure embodying governmental importance, a form of institutional narcissism.     Happily, many countries are more egalitarian. The people on their bills are, well, just people: representative figures, often seen doing something typical--fishing, farming, making baskets, playing games, often simply smiling. Or they are local heroes, people who have done something important and noteworthy (other than run the country): artists, scientists, musicians, educators, athletes.     Paper money is a history lesson. Historical figures, real and mythological, crowd the bills. As do vignettes of major historical moments--major to the country in question, at any rate. Significant structures: Could there not be a pyramid or two on an Egyptian piastre? Machu Picchu on a Peruvian nuevo sole? French francs without a bill showing the Eiffel Tower? Or no archetypal yurt on the Mongolian tugruk?     I noticed a run on imagery relating to economics. The Jamaican bauxite bill is an anomaly on come-hither Caribbean money, true. But many bills celebrate The Romance of Industry in its myriad forms. I hadn't expected to encounter so many smokestacks and factories, mightily polluting away, shown on international currency as symbols of progress. Likewise vast modern construction projects, particularly hydroelectric dams, and airports, too. These are especially favored on the money of developing countries, to show how far they've come so quickly.     Crops and harvests are also common. If there's one machine that shows up most on world money, it's the prosaic tractor in many shapes and sizes. Common, too, is the gathering of all kinds of produce--coffee, sugarcane, wheat, corn, rice, whatever is an important export or staple. Environmentalists might wince, but a few tropical countries feature images of guys with chainsaws, logging their rainforests. But the North American timber industry is still carving clearcuts in this continent's dwindling forests, too. And we tend to forget that all of England was once a forest, most of it cut down for firewood by the time of Queen Elizabeth I.     The International Zoo on world money is also great fun to look at. In terms of frequency, the favorites, far and away, are birds. No less than seventy-three currencies have birds on them, which is nearly a third of all the countries that produce their own money. These range from such obvious stunners as the resplendent quetzal (Guatemala), the bird-of-paradise (Papua New Guinea), and the red-billed toucan (Suriname), to the more commonplace, barn swallows (Estonia), seagulls (Finland), and geese (Sweden)--though perhaps the best is from Denmark, which gets my Avian Democracy Award for picturing, on its twenty kroner note, the humble, lowly house sparrow. The representation of other creatures is wide, and splendid. Almost every country with notable characteristic species shows them proudly, from the aardvark (Zambia) to the zebra (South Africa and others). And not only our warm-blooded friends. Sri Lanka, for example, has some gorgeous fish and lizards on its money; and even a few insects are given face-time, including some giant ants on Switzerland's current thousand franc note.     Less pleasant facts also reveal themselves. Runaway inflation, for instance. You can see the sad turmoil in the ever-escalating digits on the money of countries riding a wild economic roller coaster--Brazil, Peru, the former Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bolivia, to name a few such unfortunates. Sometimes it gets so bad they just lop off six or seven zeroes, and/or change the name of the basic unit, and start all over again. The caliber of the art drops. Why go to the time and expense of making a really fine engraving when the bills may be on the bottom of birdcages in a matter of months? The quality of the paper zooms downward, too, for the same reason. Much of this hyperinflation money would look better if it were produced on a color Xerox machine. The one quite remarkable exception to this general tendency was the notgeld produced in Germany during the twenties, in response to its deep postwar depression and mind-boggling inflation. There the demands of inflation led to an efflorescence of artistic creativity unique in the history of paper money.     Counterfeiting has been paper money's evil twin forever. It probably came along about three days after the first real bills began circulating. Its looming presence has had a major effect on paper money, and has forced legal producers to keep inventing new, improved techniques to foil counterfeiters. In American colonial times, money designers such as Ben Franklin put little hidden bleeps and blips into the images; today, a whole arsenal of techno-wizardry has been brought to bear against these naggingly persistent crooks. Watermarked paper, in use over five hundred years, has been made even trickier; secret threads, holographic windows, special inks--the devices are myriad. Even a casual look shows that the design of modern bills has been made incredibly complex, so much so that the backgrounds on many look like Op Art exercises from the sixties--truly wild and crazy. So we have counterfeiters to thank in part for the bold, abstract designs common today, as well as all the sneaky little details hidden here and there.     As I've said, there's a lot to be learned from these bills we hardly notice while using them. Yet these quirky, individualized currencies seem to be becoming something of a vanishing species. When the Euro comes fully on line in 2002, it will wipe out a handful of lovely, idiosyncratic currencies that began to evolve centuries ago. In their place will come bills whose images are generically European--which is to say, far more bland-looking than those they've replaced. Two South American countries, Ecuador and Argentina, have recently been considering the replacement of their own currencies with the American dollar. Further, more and more people use credit cards to buy things these days. The trend toward "electronic money" grows every day. And new pseudo-currencies such as "airline miles" are popping up. Highly individualized paper money may in fact be gradually on its way out.     So before it's over, let's go back to the beginning. Copyright (c) 2000 David Standish. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 6
A Short History of Moneyp. 12
Section I International
Peoplep. 28
National Heroesp. 29
Queen Lizp. 31
The Great and the Near-Greatp. 34
Men's Divisionp. 34
Women's Divisionp. 40
Tough Guysp. 44
Topless Moneyp. 46
Just Folksp. 49
Pastimesp. 52
Economyp. 54
Agriculturep. 56
From Hand Cultivation to Tractorsp. 58
The Romance of Industryp. 62
Trains, Planes and Shipsp. 66
Trainsp. 67
Planesp. 68
Shipsp. 70
International Zoop. 74
Birdsp. 76
African Safarip. 80
Asia and Elsewherep. 84
It's a Cold-Blooded Worldp. 87
Odds and Endsp. 90
Artful Tenderp. 91
Inflationp. 96
The Europ. 99
Section II United States
Colonial Currencyp. 104
Revolution to Civil Warp. 123
Civil War to Presentp. 128
Indexp. 143