If you’re among the famous people on banknotes around the world, I guess you can say “I made it” with more than a modicum of confidence. Some faces on banknotes are instantly recognizable whichever country you come from or live in, while others remain as obscure in their own country of issue as elsewhere. Here’s a few of the famous people on banknotes from around the world that you may or may not have heard of.
1 UK – Elizabeth Fry
You’re not alone in scratching your head wondering who Elizabeth Fry is. This lady is on the £5 note, yet very few Brits can tell you anything about her. She was a social and prison reformer in the 18th/19th centuries in England. But, what makes her one of the more interesting famous people on banknotes currently is that the £5 is to be revamped and Mrs. Fry’s image is going to be replaced by Winston Churchill. While the country appreciates the significance of having the Greatest Ever Briton (as voted for in the Millennium poll by the BBC), the feminist lobby are up in arms because the replacement of Mrs. Fry means that there will be no female representation on any of the banknotes other than the Queen, who is on every one according to statute. If you’re interested in the ratio of females to males on banknotes around the world, check out this very interesting infographic: sebastiansalek.com.
2 Australia – Andrew Barton Paterson
I love the way Australia celebrates something so closely associated with their culture on their banknotes with the image of Andrew Barton Paterson on the $10 note. Known affectionately as “Banjo,” Paterson is the man who penned that inimitable Aussie tune, "Waltzing Matilda," among other seminal works. The other thing which is good to know about Australian currency is that 50% of their famous people on banknotes are women, including Dame Nellie Melba, the opera singer, and Edith Cowan, the first Australian woman to be elected to parliament.
3 Mexico – Benito Juárez
The famous people on banknotes generally deserve the accolade. Their achievements usually reflect a major contribution to the nation. This is certainly true of Benito Juárez. Benito Pablo Juárez Garcia – to give him his full name – had the honor of serving as the President of Mexico for 5 terms. His route to constitutional power started in Oaxaca and then through the legal profession, before politics became his calling. He spearheaded the resistance to the French Occupation of his country, restored the republic after overthrowing the Second Mexico Empire and throughout his terms office was focused on modernizing the country.
4 The Philippines – Corazon C. Aquino
Prompted by the political assassination of her husband – Benigno Aquino Jr. – who is pictured beside her on the 500 Peso note, Cora Aquino is recognized around the world for her part in the struggle for democracy in the Philippines and the ousting of the oppressive regime of Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-collecting wife, Imelda. Called the “Mother of Democracy,” Mrs. Aquino was the 11th President of the Philippines and actually, the first female president in Asia. Among the most powerful of the famous people on banknotes, Mrs. Aquino died in 2009, but her legacy lives on; the current President of the Philippines is her son, Benigno Aquino III.
5 Turkey – Fatma Aliye Topuz
Although Zafer Hanım became a published author in 1877, the accreditation of being the first female Muslim novelist is given to Fatma Aliye Topuz. Zafer Hanım had but the one work published, whereas Topuz had 5 novels and credits for translations and co-authorship. As the daughter of a diplomat, Fatma was able to experience travel and new cultures that many other Muslim women didn’t, and also learnt to speak Arabic and French. Highly self-educated, her husband didn’t allow her to read foreign novels in the early years of their marriage.
6 Norway – Edvard Munch
Unlike many countries where most of the famous faces on banknotes are political leaders, there is more romance in the choices of Norway. In the Norwegian collection there is an opera singer, a scientist, a writer, a Nobel Prize winner (literature) and probably one of the most famous ever Norwegians, the expressionist painter Edvard Munch. There are probably very few people who have not seen his painting “The Scream.”
7 China – Mao Zedong
Also known to us as Mao Tse-Tung, the first President of the People’s Republic of China enjoys the very uncommon position in the world of famous people on banknotes. He is in fact the only real life person depicted on Chinese banknotes. There are other human images on notes, but they are representations of various ethnic and social groups rather than specific people. Mahatma Gandhi is another who shares the honor of being the only person depicted on a country’s banknotes, being India of course, as do Mohammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan of Malaysia and Yusof bin Ishak on Singapore banknotes.
I have found researching the famous people on banknotes fascinating. The sheer range of characters chosen is interesting. I like how modern day democracies that have fought centuries of oppression like Croatia depict kings from back in the 10th and 11th centuries, and I like how the choices aren’t always so obvious – like the obscure Julio Garavito Armero, an astronomer who appears on a Colombian note. What about the famous people on your banknotes? Do they have any real significance to you?