Images Seen On Banknotes And Coins Through The Ages

Posted by Allison on 6 April 2009, 15:16

One of the world's most recent currencies – the Euro – is a perfect example of how a currency can reflect the country in which it is issued.  Even though the Euro is used in lots of countries across Europe, the coins which have been released for general use all depict different images.  This was deemed to be a way of making the coins more familiar to each country that adopted them.

So while the Euro banknotes all show the same images – bridges and different styles of building are used rather than specific locations which would be seen as being loyal to one country rather than to Europe as a whole – the coins are very different.

For example, the most popular design to have been chosen by many European countries which use the Euro is one which shows the reigning monarch of that country.  Again, depending on what country you get your Euros from, you may see that every single one has the same design on the back, while other countries have chosen a different design for each one.

The Euro is a great example of how images are used to portray a message or a sign on the currency of a particular country.  In this case the design of the banknotes must remain impartial, but in other cases it is purely devotional to the country concerned.

Take the Canadian one cent coin, for example.  The reverse of this shows the Canadian maple leaf, which is also shown on the national flag.  Meanwhile, the one hundred Yuan banknote used in China depicts a dragon, and every coin in the Thai baht series of coins features a well known temple in Thailand.

The choice of images on various coins stretches way back into history too.  Given the huge impression that Roman coins had on the world of money as it existed back then, it's not surprising that we can see some great examples of images struck on their coins even as long ago as it was.

Images Seen On Banknotes And Coins Through The Ages

Take a typical coin minted around the year 114 BC, for example.  If you flip it over you can clearly see a statue of a horse standing on an arch.  Given the fact that this coin was minted so many centuries ago, the detail is quite remarkable and very impressive.  The year 105BC saw another Roman coin minted which depicted a bull in full charge, stocky and very foreboding. 

But the Romans weren't the only people to be using images other than humans on their coins.  The Greeks were also highly adept at using their coins to display detailed pictures of different things, although the owl was the favoured image to show on the backs of many of the coins which were struck and used in Athens, from around 393 BC to 112 BC.  One of the most remarkable things about these particular coins – or drachms as they were known, similar to the drachmas which were used as a currency in Greece until fairly recently – is that if you take a look at the owl on the backs of the coins over that span of time, there is very little different between them.

It seems that animals and similar beasts are a rather popular choice to be shown on coins throughout history.  Ancient Indian coins showed such beasts as elephants and deer.

Of course it's not just animals that appear on coins; there is a wide selection of images of buildings and other famous structures which appear on them as well.  In fact banknotes can often be more interesting in this respect, since the reverse of a banknote by its very definition offers far more in the way of space to display an image than even the largest size of coin does.

An old design of the one hundred Shekel bill which used to circulate in Israel displays a formidable looking building – devoid of many features – that looks rather like a fortress.  The Republic of Moldova goes a step further on its single leu bill – the scene is one of a city which you could look out over every time you took one of the notes in your hand.

The banknote for twenty Swiss francs is perhaps one of the more colourful and impressive ones you will ever see.  It uses the theme of music and you can see musical notes printed on the back of the banknote, as well as part of what could be either a trumpet or a trombone.

Another impressive sight is the United Arab Emirates banknote for twenty dirhams.  This has a wonderful picture of a sailing boat with a huge and billowing sail carrying it along – and on the left hand side, as if watching it to see where it will go, is what appears to be a bird of prey.  Watching for stray fish, perhaps?

The advent of banknotes made it easier to put different and more versatile images on the back of currency.  Coins are limited by their very size and lack of colour, while the banknote offers plenty of room and as the Swiss francs show, they can be wonderfully colourful as well.

Different countries tend to re-issue the designs of their banknotes from time to time, perhaps simply for a change or sometimes to highlight different people and events from that country's history.  Sometimes the centenary of a country or another national event will prompt such a re-issue.  In this case it is often true that the mint of that country will make a souvenir issue available for collectors as well as releasing the notes into general circulation.

But whether it is animals or birds – which can be seen on many different currencies throughout the ages – or impressive buildings such as the Independence Hall on the rear of the one hundred dollar bill used in the United States of America, one thing is clear – as time goes on, our desire to depict all kinds of images on our currency is not diminishing.