Famous Faces on Cash

calendar iconMay 23, 2022

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Do you know who’s in your wallet? Digital publication The Pudding has explored the famous figures representing nations worldwide on cash, making discoveries such as writers being far more strongly represented than politicians, and that being the first to do something in a country is a great way to appear on a banknote.

The Pudding explored currency across 38 countries from across the world, reviewing 236 individual bills and 241 people represented on them. Firstly, they noted the marked gender imbalance, with just 21 percent of pictured individuals being female. Our recent article ‘Noteable’ Women of the World explores who some of them are, and the three heroines who will soon be joining them.

Another noteworthy fact is that writers greatly outnumber politicians, representing 19 percent of all people shown. Figures including Australia’s Mary Gilmore, the Ukraine’s Lesya Ukrainka and Israel’s Shaul Tchernichovsky are more widely represented than heads of government such as Jamaica’s Hugh Lawson Shearer and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

After these, and national founders such as Canada’s John A. Macdonald and Mexico’s Miguel Hidlago, revolutionaries are the next most-represented category. Bolivia in particular favours these individuals, with their notes depicting Juana Azurduy de Padilla and Bartolina Sisa alongside male revolutionaries including Pedro Ignacio Muiba. Scientists, military officers, artists and monarchs follow.

29 percent of individuals on currency are known for being the first ones to do something, such as the first of their demographic to be a member of Congress, the first indigenous person to graduate from a national university or a nation’s first president. Examples include Edmund Hillary of New Zealand—the first to reach the peak of Mount Everest—and Gabriela Mistral of Chile, South America’s Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Only ten people lived to see themselves on a banknote, with only Queen Elizabeth still alive today. The oldest person in the dataset is Hannibal, a military commander from ancient Carthage who first appeared on the Tunisian dinar in 1993 despite having died in 183 BCE. South Korea also favoured older historical figures, with four individuals on its notes having lived in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Pudding concludes there is still much work to be done on creating more representative banknotes, and many currencies are moving away from people altogether and instead showing significant architecture, flora and fauna. The Danish krone, the Euro and the Swiss Franc are examples of this.

The next time you exchange cash, in your native country or a new one, what will you notice about the design and whose history is being represented?
"The Pudding
Last Updated: May 22, 2022