Visual Guide To Banknotes Around The World

by Shelli

I know that many of us have given up on currency. I don’t mean the value of money. I’m talking about using paper currency in our day to day transactions. And even if you still use currency at home, I’m guessing when you travel it’s the credit and debit cards that come out of your wallet, not paper money. It’s likely then that even if you did pay attention to what currency looks like, you’ve long forgotten. However, currency, or banknotes as they are often called, are really works of art. They are colorful, elaborate, and offer a window into the history or importance of images for each country they represent. Currency then gives visual expression to the world around us.

I found a cool article to share with you that provides an amazing visual guide to banknotes around the world. Does that make me a currency nerd? Maybe so! Take a look and see for yourself.

The color of currency

Did you know that experts predict that by the end of the decade less than one in ten payments will involve cash? And yet, it will still take time before we put our wallets away for good.

Currencies have what researchers call “the DNA of individual currencies”. Naturally, banknotes differ around the world.

The article analyzes 157 currencies in circulation. They looked at everything from dominant colors, the profession of the feature figure, gender representation, and the appearance of any buildings or animals. Interested in the most common and rarest features of banknotes worldwide? It’s a fascinating read!

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The color of currency map

Did you know that the internationally recognized currency color, the green ink used to print US Dollar banknotes, was originally chosen to prevent photographic knockoffs in the 1860s? I didn’t.

Around the world, though, there are many different colors chosen for banknotes.

You can explore the interactive map in the article to discover the most dominant color of each currencies’ banknotes, as well as the most commonly featured components of all their notes combined.

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Pantone Colors of the World’s Currencies

If you’re the kind of person who, when choosing colors to decorate your home, enjoys spending time looking at all the possible colors and tones available, you’ll LOVE this.

You can see the universal Pantone color palette and code for each currency. You can even switch to view both an A-Z of currencies or sort by hue. If you look at nothing else in the referenced article, look at this. So cool to see all the colors and tones.

Want to guess the most common color used on banknotes? Did you guess green? Currencies including the US Dollar, as well as the Swedish Krona and Uruguayan Peso all feature various shades of green.

Occupations of the folks featured on currency varied a lot. Turns out it depends on the currency and value of note they appear on. If you’re guessing the top three, did you guess political figures, royals, and writers?

Queen Elizabeth II is the most popular figure on banknotes. She’s on 45 different note designs across 11 countries. Just 7% of the notes analyzed featured a female figure. Jersey, the UK, and Australia do have a gender-balanced or female-favored gender profile.

Both animals and buildings are also featured regularly across banknotes worldwide. There are 35 different types of animals, including 13 variations of birds, and 212 notes featuring a variety of buildings.

Birds, more specifically eagles, were the most popular animals. They appeared on 41 designs around the world. Castles were the most popular building to be depicted on banknotes, followed by monuments, and then churches.

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The Global Note

The article even takes it one step further. Designs around the world may differ, yet the researchers wondered what a global note could potentially look like.

Considering what the researchers learned and the commonalities found in all of the 157 currencies, they created the ‘Globos’, a fictional currency featuring the most popular components found:

The color green – the dominant color for 23% of all banknotes

A male figure – 93% of all people featured on banknotes are male

A politician – 39% of people depicted are political figures

An eagle – 25% of all animals featured were a bird and 46% of those were eagles

A castle – 12% of all buildings depicted on banknotes were castles

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Final Thoughts On Banknotes Around The World

I know topics like this one don’t interest many people. Heck, maybe they interest no one but me 🙂

I can’t help but be curious, though, about what we might call the softer side of travel. Once the trip is planned, bags packed, and we’ve reached our destination, I like to pay attention to the nuances of a place. Mostly that means local food, history, culture, and customs.

But for me it also includes learning about the world through lenses I might not have otherwise used. In this case, it means reading and enjoying the colors, visuals, and history of currency. Maybe you enjoyed learning something new and unusual as well. Hope so!

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derek April 4, 2023 - 11:13 pm

America is on the wrong track. Instead of 39% being political figures, the U.S. is much higher.
$1 – President Washington
$2 – President Jefferson
$5 – President Lincoln
$10 – Secretary of Treasury, Congressman Hamilton
$20 – President Jackson
$50 – President Grant
$100 – President of Pennsylvania, Ambassador Franklin (the least political of the above).

This is not good. The following might be better.

$100 – Benjamin Franklin (keep him because that represents stability of the U.S. dollar overseas)
$50 – Harriet Stowe (author and abolitionist)
$20 – Albert Sabin, MD (polio vaccine)
$10 – John Foster Dulles (diplomat)
$5 – I. M. Pei (architect)
$2 – Orville and Wilbur Wright (aviators)
$1 – discontinued

$1 coin – Sacagawea (unchanged)
25c – Washington (ok, keep him)
10c – Jane Cooke Wright, MD (African American physician, chemotherapy pioneer)
5c – Ansel Adams (photographer)
1c – Lincoln (ok, keep him, a penny is not worth much)

Shelli April 5, 2023 - 9:46 am

Interesting ideas, derek. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

JRG April 8, 2023 - 1:05 pm

I was in Switzerland in December; had about 150 CHF with me. Went to use one of the 20CHF bills and found out they were no longer accepted. Guess they changed the design a few years ago (2018?); something to do with the picture of whomever on the bill. Anyways, I had to visit the Canton bank (easy to do – lots of banks in Switzerland; I was in Lucerne), where they checked all my bills, took three and exchanged them.

Shelli April 8, 2023 - 1:15 pm

What an interesting experience, JRG. Thanks for sharing, and yes, I imagine banking in Switzerland to be easy going.


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