In the course of the twentieth century, banknotes became increasingly elaborate. Guilloches and other graphical embellishments (designed to make counterfeiting more difficult) were complemented by allegories, symbols, and portraits, either of the reigning monarch, or else of notable personalities from the nation's history. In many cases, the personalities chosen were from the fields of arts and sciences, which provide a more consensual and less party-politicized gallery than that of statesmanship, or else from the early, 'heroic' stages of the nation's history.
In the process, European banknotes from the pre-Euro period provide, from country to country, an intriguing and visually interesting menu of the commemorative culture and self-image of the twentieth-century nation state. Widely disseminated and in everyday use, they were hardly noticeable as an ideological factor but imperceptibly reinforced the recognizability of historical figures in national terms, and legitimized the modern state as the end-product of a national growth process.
This portion of the SPIN website presents a selection of those European banknotes that carried historical portraits, often of writers or intellectuals. In many cases, it provides us with engraved portraits of important national consciousness-raisers whose likeness is not widely available elsewhere.
Note: The interest of the material presented here is not numismatic - for that we refer to the websites http://www.banknoteworld.com and http://colnect.com/en/banknotes/countries, as well as to René Brion & Jean-Louis Moreau, Het bankbiljet in alle staten. Van het eerste bankpapier tot de Euro (Antwerpen: Mercatorfonds, 2001).
Rather, it follows the notion of what Michael Billig has termed Banal Nationalism in his book of that title (London: Sage, 1995), and which is further explored in: Marcia Pointon, "Money and nationalism", in Imagining nations, ed. G. Cubitt (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 229-254. T. Unwin & V. Hewitt, "Banknotes and national identity in Central and Eastern Europe", Political geography, 20 (2001): 1005-1028. Eric Helleiner, The making of national money. Territorial currencies in historical perspective (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).