People on the Banknotes of Different Countries

Peter Symes

OK, so you’re an expert on world banknotes! Try this quick quiz. Which person has been depicted on the banknotes of more countries than any other person? The answer, or at least an answer, is at the end of this article; but before we get to the end, let’s explore the question a little closer.

            The answer, in the end, is not at all surprising, but the question raises an interesting inquiry into which people have appeared on the banknotes of more than one country. Any casual student of world banknotes will know that it is common for issuing authorities to place the portraits of people on the banknotes that they issue. Typically, these people are famous in the country in which the notes are issued, although this is not universally the case. After all, who had ever heard of Lord Ilay before he appeared on the banknotes of The Royal Bank of Scotland, or Mary Reiby before she appeared on the Australian $20 polymer note?

            Although it is common for a person to be depicted on the banknotes of one country, it is unusual for a person is depicted on the banknotes of more than one country. There are a number of people who have appeared on the banknotes of two countries, and a number of people who have appeared on the banknotes of more than two countries, but who has appeared on the banknotes of the most countries?

            Some people will be quick to answer with King George V, King George VI, or Queen Elizabeth II. I must admit that I have discounted these monarchs. The underlying question behind the search for the person who has appeared on the notes of more than one country, is ‘Which person is so admired or respected that they appear on the notes of countries other than their native country?’ Therefore, I have discounted the British monarchs because they appear by reason of them being head of state, rather than because they are heroes or heroines of the countries of the banknotes on which they appear, or have been specifically recognized by a country other than their own.

            For the same reason, banknotes issued by colonial governments have been discounted. For instance, George Washington appears on banknotes issued in the United States of America and on banknotes issued in the Philippines; but the notes of the Philippines with Washington’s portrait were issued in that country before it had gained its independence. Similarly, there are issues for a number of French dependencies that have had the same person depicted; such as Gen. Schoelcher on the 5000-franc note of Reunion and the 100-franc note of the French Antilles. Portugal also has some of its heroes appearing on notes issued in its colonies, such as Bartholomew Dias on notes issued in Cape Verde (while it was still a Portuguese colony) and in Portugal itself, i.e. P.189 2000 escudos.

            So, discounting heads of state and colonial issues, we begin the search for the ultimate hero on world banknotes. Let’s start by acknowledging those people who have appeared on the notes of two independent countries. In no particular order, here are some people who have appeared on the notes of two countries: Amilcar Cabral, Pedro Alvares Cabral, Marie Curie, Josef Broz Tito, Patrice Lamumba, Mohammed V of Morocco and Jose San Martin.

            Amilcar Cabral appears on banknotes issued by Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Cabral was born of a Cape Verdean father and a Guinean mother. Cabral and several others were responsible for founding the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), which fought a war of independence against the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau. The aims of the PAIGC were the liberation of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde from the colonial yoke of Portuguese control, and the union of the two colonies as one nation. Amilcar Cabral was assassinated before independence was achieved in Guinea-Bissau or Cape Verde and, although independence was achieved for both colonies, the two countries ultimately followed separate destinies.

            Pedro Alvares Cabral was a Portuguese explorer who commanded the Portuguese expedition that discovered Brazil. Cabral appears on several banknotes issued in Portugal, including the 100 mil reis issued in 1916, the 100 escudos dated 1918, and the 1000 escudos dated 1996. The Brazilian note on which Cabral appears is a polymer commemorative note issued in 2000 to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of Brazil.

            The only women to have the honour of appearing on banknotes of two nations is Marie Curie. Born in Poland, Marie Sklodowska studied in Cracow before moving to Paris to study under various French scientists. Marie Curie was awarded two Nobel Prizes, one for Physics in 1903 with her husband, Pierre Curie, and Henri Becquerel, and another for Chemistry in 1911. Marie Curie appears on the 20,000-zlotych note of Poland dated 1989 and, with her husband Pierre, on the 500-franc note issued by France in 1994.

            Over a number of years, under the rule of Sekou Toure, Guinea issued banknotes that honoured men who were seen as heroes to the Ghanian administration. These men included Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Patrice Lamumba (Congo), and Mohammed V (Morocco). As well as appearing on the 500-sylis note issued by Guinea in 1980, Josip Tito, the former Prime Minister and President of Yugoslavia, is depicted on two banknotes issued in Yugoslavia. Since his death in 1980, he has been depicted on the 5000-dinara note dated 1985 and the 100-dinara note issued in 1990.

            As well as being depicted on a 2-sylis note issued by Ghana in 1981, Mohammed V, the late King of Morocco, is also depicted on the notes of his own country. Patrice Lamumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo (who was mysteriously murdered in Katanga), appears on the 20-makuta note issued in the Congo from 1967 to 1970, as well as being depicted on the 10 sylis notes issued by Guinea in 1971 and 1980.

            In identifying people who have appeared on the notes of two countries, one might propose Captain James Cook and Emperor Bokassa, but perhaps they do not really fill the criteria. While Captain Cook is illustrated on banknotes issued in New Zealand, he is only used as a watermark and as an image on an OVD in Australian banknotes. Emperor Bokassa appears on the 10,000-franc note of the Equatorial African States and on a series of notes issued by the Central African Republic. Because the notes of the Eqatorial African States were issued in the Central African Republic, Emporer Bokassa is a borderline entry into the competition.

            Jose San Martin, the liberator of southern South America is illustrated on numerous issues of Argentina and several issues of Uraguay. Considering the esteem in which he is held in South America, it is intriguing that he has not appeared on the banknotes of more countries. (Perhaps he does appear on notes issued in a third country and this researcher has just missed the occurrences.)

            This brings us to the end of those who appear on the banknotes of two countries. Now, let us move on to the very few that have appeared on the notes of more than two countries. The first is Antonio Jose de Sucre, one of the South American liberators who served as first lieutenant to Simon Bolivar. Sucre was involved in the liberation of Ecuador and Peru, and became the first elected leader of Bolivia. Sucre appears on banknotes issued in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuala. Not only does he appear on notes issued in four countries, but he has given his name to the currency used in Ecuador.

            The next contender in this little contest may have been the choice of a number of people, when the question was asked at the beginning of this quiz. Alas, Simon Bolivar runs second! (Although he was this researcher’s choice when he first asked himself the question.) Bolivar, recognized as the greatest of the South American liberators, appears on banknotes issued in Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and, the country to which he gave his name, Bolivia.

            If you are still unsure as to who is the winner of our competition, then be confused no more. It is Christopher Columbus! This inveterate explorer appears on the banknotes of no less than nine countries. In no particular order, these are the countries and the notes: Bahamas P.50 – 1 Dollar; Dominican Republic P.140 – 500 Pesos Oro; El Salvador P.147 to 157 – all denominations; Italy P.98 – 500 lire and P.102 – 5000 lire; Costa Rica P.131 to 150A (and others); El Salvador – on the back of nearly every note issued since 1934; USA P.173 – 1000 dollars and P.184 – 1000 dollars; Spain P.118 – 100 pesatas, P.126 – 1 peseta, P.129 – 5 pesetas; Nicaragua P.43 to P.51– all denominations; and Pueto Rico P.47 – 5 dollars. Of course Columbus has also given his name to a country – Columbia – and to the currencies of Costa Rica and El Salvador. The Spanish rendition of our hero’s name is Cristobal Colon, and it is ‘colones’ that circulate in Costa Rica and El Salvador.

            Having reached the climax of this quiz, it is to be expected that the editor of the IBNS Newsletter will receive numerous letters and e-mails identifying more people who have appeared on the banknotes of more than one country. That’s good, because this researcher won’t have to go looking for them. The subject of this quiz is certainly a challenging theme to collect and it creates a lot of fun in identifying the many people depicted on various world banknotes ... just to see if they have been depicted elsewhere.

This article was completed in June 2002
© Peter Symes