Collection Inspiration: Explorers

Posted on 9/19/2023

Explorers often grace world currencies, immortalizing their famous (and infamous) contributions to discovery.

Explorers have left an indelible mark on human history through their daring journeys and groundbreaking discoveries. Figures like Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama ventured far, greatly expanding Western Civilization’s geographical knowledge.

But while explorers are celebrated for their achievements, their actions often carry a shadow of controversy, as their exploration narratives frequently reveal both incredible determination and complex moral dilemmas. The multifaceted impact of explorers on the world presents an interesting opportunity for collectors to create a set that has a rich story to tell.

Ten Banknotes Featuring Explorers


Henry the Navigator, born in 1394, was a Portuguese prince and an influential figure in the Age of Discovery. He played a pivotal role in advancing maritime exploration during the 15th century. Under his patronage, Portugal developed advanced shipbuilding techniques and navigational instruments, paving the way for successful long-distance sea voyages. Henry's support also led to the exploration of the West African coast, greatly expanding European geographical knowledge and trade routes.

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Costa Rica

Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, is renowned for his voyages that led to the European discovery of the Americas. Sponsored by Spain, Columbus embarked on his first voyage in 1492, believing he could reach Asia by sailing westward. His journeys laid the groundwork for significant interactions between Europe and the New World, leading to widespread colonization and what is known as the Columbian Exchange, a historic exchange of crops and other goods as well as diseases. The currency known as the Colombian peso is often referred to as the Colon, named after Christopher Columbus, reflecting his historical impact on global exploration and commerce.

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Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Portuguese navigator and explorer, is best known for leading the first European expedition to reach Brazil in 1500. While en route to India, his fleet veered westward across the Atlantic and made landfall on the coast of what is now modern-day Brazil. This discovery marked the beginning of Portuguese colonization in the region. Cabral's voyage also had significant implications for the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided newly discovered lands between Portugal and Spain.

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Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, is well-known for his pivotal role in the conquest of the Aztec Empire in present-day Mexico. In 1519, he led an expedition to Mexico and established alliances with indigenous groups opposed to Aztec rule, which aided his conquest. Cortés and his forces, with superior weaponry and strategic alliances, managed to capture the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1521. This marked the end of the Aztec civilization and the beginning of Spanish colonization in the region. The conquest had far-reaching consequences, leading to the establishment of New Spain.

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Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, is renowned for his ambitious expedition that resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth. Setting out from Spain in 1519, Magellan's fleet aimed to find a western route to the Spice Islands. Although Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines in 1521, his expedition continued under Juan Sebastián Elcano's leadership and completed the journey in 1522. This historic voyage provided crucial insights into the Earth's vastness and the true nature of its dimensions. Magellan's exploration significantly expanded European understanding of global geography and opened up new maritime routes for trade and exploration.

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United States

Lewis and Clark, American explorers, led the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804 to 1806. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, their goal was to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and find a water route to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition covered vast territory, encountering challenging terrain, Native American tribes and diverse wildlife. Their journey provided invaluable geographical knowledge, scientific observations and diplomatic interactions with indigenous peoples.

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David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer, is well-known for his extensive travels and efforts to promote Christianity and abolish the African slave trade. He embarked on multiple expeditions to Africa during the 19th century, extensively documenting geographical and cultural information. Livingstone's most famous achievement was being the first European to discover Victoria Falls, which he named in honor of Queen Victoria. His explorations also focused on understanding Africa's interior and potential routes for commerce. Livingstone's commitment to humanitarian causes, exploration and missionary work left a lasting impact on African history and exploration, and his writings inspired further interest in the continent.

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Sir Douglas Mawson, an Australian Antarctic explorer, is renowned for his leadership in the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-1914). He conducted pioneering scientific research and geographical surveys in Antarctica, adding significantly to humanity’s understanding of the region. Mawson's leadership skills were demonstrated during a harrowing ordeal when he and his team faced extreme conditions after losing his two companions during a sledging expedition. He managed to survive through remarkable resilience and courage. His subsequent work included advocating for the establishment of Australian Antarctic territorial claims and promoting scientific exploration.

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Knud Rasmussen, a Danish-Greenlandic polar explorer and anthropologist, is celebrated for his significant contributions to Arctic exploration and the study of Inuit cultures. His expeditions during the early 20th century focused on understanding the indigenous peoples of Greenland and their way of life. Rasmussen's most famous journey was the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921-1924), during which he traveled extensively across the Arctic region using dog sleds. He conducted ethnographic research, documenting Inuit traditions, stories and language, which led to the publication of the comprehensive work "The People of the Polar North."

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New Zealand

Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer and explorer, is best known for being one of the first two individuals, along with Tenzing Norgay, to successfully reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. This historic achievement marked a significant milestone in the field of mountaineering. Beyond Everest, Hillary was deeply involved in various mountaineering expeditions, including to other challenging peaks in the Himalayas. He was also committed to philanthropic efforts, particularly in Nepal, where he helped build schools and hospitals.

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Notable Mention

Charles Darwin, a British naturalist, is renowned for his groundbreaking theory of evolution by natural selection. His seminal work "On the Origin of Species," published in 1859, revolutionized biology by proposing that species gradually evolve over time through a process of adaptation to their environments. Darwin's five-year journey of exploration on the HMS Beagle laid the groundwork for his research.

Darwin is featured on the Great Britain 2000 10 Pounds, which was included in the Famous Ships PMG Collection Inspiration.

If these notes inspired you, check out our other Collection Inspiration columns for more collecting ideas. Also, be sure to follow PMG on Facebook, PMG on Instagram and PMG on Twitter for articles and interesting notes posted daily.

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