Currency
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The Type of People Celebrated on The Currency of Countries Around the World

Some of them probably look familiar to you.

Although the advent of such technology in finance as credit cards, digital wallets, instant transfers of funds between banks, and cryptocurrencies increasingly seem to portend the demise of coins and bills, we still use currency in some form — whether we stay in our local neighborhood or travel around the world — and on almost every form of physical currency is the portrait of someone who has had an impact on the country or territory which issued the currency…

The Type of People Celebrated on The Currency of Countries Around the World

…but what type of people are celebrated on the currency of countries around the world?

To find out the answer to that question, a list of all coins and notes currently in circulation around the world was created, using only currencies from countries that feature a person on the obverse or reverse side. They were created using these Wikipedia lists: people on banknotes and people on coins. Countries with only one coin or note that featured a person were excluded.

The people on each banknote were then researched and assigned an “honor” category — for example, artist, monarch, politician — based on their role in society, allowing the split of honors within the currency of each country to be calculated.

To calculate the average value of honors across the world, all currency was converted into dollars and averaged the value of each currency for each honor.

The data was collected in March 2022.

This article from NetCredit gives more details about the type of people are celebrated on the currency of countries around the world; and I have been given express written permission to use the graphs and the verbatim text from the aforementioned article in this article. While NetCredit has endeavored to ensure the information provided is accurate and current, it cannot guarantee it, as this information is general in nature only and does not constitute personal advice. Neither NetCredit nor The Gate accept any liability — and assume no responsibility — for any and all information which is presented in this article.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here is the article.

What Type of People Are Celebrated on The Currency of Each Country?

Whose face would you put on a new dollar bill if the decision was yours? Maybe… your own?

It sounds vain, but that’s just what Spencer Clark, Superintendent of the U.S. National Currency Bureau, did in 1864. Instructed to put “Clark” on the new 5¢ note, he ‘misinterpreted’ the instruction and printed his own face rather than that of explorer William “Lewis and Clark” Clark.

Already a controversial figure, Spencer Clark’s moment of vanity triggered Congressman Russell Thayer to ban the appearance of living celebrities on U.S. currency — or, in his own words, “off with their heads!” To make sure of it, congress also banned the issue of banknotes under the value of 10¢. (These low-value notes were introduced because folk kept melting down nickels and dimes for the metal.)

A country’s banknotes and coins are almost a personality test for the country itself. At NetCredit, we’re passionate about cash as a cultural artifact, and not just a tool for living. So, we’ve counted the faces on the world’s currencies to find the types of people each country chooses to represent on money — and even how much each celebrity type is worth.

Key Findings

  • Over half of the faces on the world’s coin and banknote designs belong to monarchs or heads of government, making up 89% and 20.83% respectively.
  • Over 5% of the people on world currency are poets. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 88.89% of all ‘currency characters’ are poets – thanks to a rule that states local currency can only feature writers.
  • Queen Elizabeth II appears on one side of every piece of currency in England, Wales, and Australia, and on all Canadian coins – so ‘monarchs’ account for nearly half of the faces on those countries’ currency.
  • Historians have the highest currency value overall due to the presence of Jacob Burckhardt on the 1,000 Franc ($1,067.82) note – the second-most valuable note in the world.

Famous Faces: Around the World In Every Currency

Start by playing with this interactive tool to rank the countries by how many of each profession they have on their cash. And then scroll on for the rest of our money nerd charts and graphs.

Queen Elizabeth II Leads Monarchs to Front of One-Third of World’s Currency

Monarchs are the clear favorite choice for currency celebrities – and Queen Elizabeth II is the clear favorite monarch. Top royals appear on 29.86% of all currency that features people, according to our analysis.

English currency has starred a living monarch since Henry VII’s gold sovereign in 1489. Before then, only generic king and queen illustrations were featured. Today, Queen Elizabeth holds the world record for ‘most currencies featuring the same individual’ – including Australia, Bermuda and Canada.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: NetCredit.

There aren’t many places where you’ll see military figures (8.23%) and poets (5.13%) shoulder to shoulder, but these are the fourth and fifth most common types of people to appear on national currency. In fact, the wordsmiths are giving the generals more than a ‘run for their money’ – when you combine poets with authors (2.26%) and other writers (1.51.%), the scribes overtake the militants with a combined share of 8.91%.

U.S. Currency Among Most Diverse of Major Countries

The U.S. has among the most diverse sets of currency figures. While two-fifths of U.S. currency features a politician and another two-fifths features presidents, 12 other celebrity types make up the remainder. These include a mountaineer (John Muir), a poet (Maya Angelou) and a native American explorer (Sacagawea – Shoshone interpreter for the William Clark) on the dollar.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: NetCredit.

There is a definite military bias on Venezuelan currency, which has become so devalued that some notes are worth more as a crafts material. But in Norway, the humanities have their day: writers, artists, singers and authors occupy a combined 57.16% of currency, with King Harald V on 28.57%. Non-human celebrities on the Norwegian krone include Ulvær Lighthouse, a Viking ship and a cod. Sadly, Norway’s Conservative party has pledged to discontinue paper money by 2030.

Average Ballerina-themed Currency Outvalues that Featuring Nationalist Leaders

It’s a world where mathematicians are worth more than monarchs. The latter is spread over such a variety of currencies that their value is dragged down to a mediocre $31.21, while mathematicians feature only on paper currency, worth an average of $41.02.

But historians take home the bacon. Appearing on just 0.45% of the world’s peopled currency – and no small coins – historians rack up an average of $176.56 across Peru, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine. The clue is Switzerland: historian Jacob Burckhardt features on the 1000-franc ($1068) note of this wealthy country.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: NetCredit.

Spare a thought for the philosophers, though. They still can’t make a buck. Philosophers feature on the currency of just three countries: Nicaragua, Tajikistan and Venezuela, on notes to a value of $0.63. Nicaragua’s green C$10 note features the philosopher, lawyer and poet Miguel Larreynaga, a “hero of Central American independence” who was among the party sent to Spain to negotiate for independence.

A Place in History You Can’t Buy

The Spencer Clark 5¢ remained in print until 1866, and Clark eventually resigned over book-keeping issues in 1868. But his face remains better known than that of the average civil servant because it achieved that rare honor of gracing a national banknote.

Becoming a currency celebrity is one of the surest ways of staying in the public eye. Notes and coins occupy pockets and are handled daily; discontinued, they become collector’s items for decades or centuries. A coin is more durable than a history book, and a meaningful banknote will be illustrated in multiple history books. Which tech moguls, social media influencers and reality TV stars do you think will get the dollar bill treatment in years to come?

Bonus: Who Appears On the Most Currency In The World?

As a bonus feature which was not included in the original article, who appears on the most currency around the world?

The answers may — or may not — surprise you.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: NetCredit.

Final Boarding Call

I have always considered currency one of the best souvenirs one can keep from another country: it is likely created in that country; and it contains a snapshot of that country…

…and yet, I honestly never really cared about whose portrait was featured on the currency. I prefer when an animal or flower or other natural product which is indigenous to that country is featured instead…

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

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