¡Viva la Revolución!

Posted on 3/25/2014

What happens to a country's bank notes when there is an unexpected change in rule?

Throughout history, banknotes have carried artwork that often displays the ideals, accomplishments and important figures of a nation or empire. This allows a nation to show its individuality, distinguishing itself from its neighbors. But what happens when those ideals suddenly change due to, for example, a revolution? Once revered figures are now considered illegitimate or even an embarrassment. Today I want to show you some examples of how countries’ banknotes had to adapt to revolutions and other sudden changes of power.

One of the most interesting banknote responses to a revolution would have to be Iran. Pre 1979, all of modern Iran’s banknotes carried a portrait of Shah Reza Pahlavi, basically the King of Iran. Along with his portrait, the banknotes also carried artwork depicting more historical Persian designs as well as national achievements like bridges, monuments and oil fields:

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, which overthrew the Shah, the new regime would not use banknotes depicting their former ruler. They came up with a quick solution until a new series of notes could be designed and printed. That solution was to simply print over the pictures and watermarks of the Shah, as seen below:

Source: http://futurepresent.typepad.com/blog/2007/01/hypocrisy.html

Not the most elegant way, but it got the message across: the Shah was out, a new order has begun. Eventually Iran created a new series of notes, this time showing religious leaders, such as the leader of the revolution, and new ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini. The notes also displayed more religious sites than before, personifying Iran’s new moniker as an Islamic Republic.

Iran’s neighbor, Iraq, also had a drastic change in their banknote designs. When Saddam Hussein came into power in 1979, close to all of Iraq’s banknotes carried his picture until the fall of his regime in 2003. This seemed to be a common theme among countries with authoritative leaders.

Afterwards, the banknotes depicted Iraq’s history, monuments and important figures in their history, quickly removing Hussein from the people’s currency and memories.

Another famous revolution depicted through banknotes is the communist revolution in Russia. Russian notes often portrayed pictures of royalty and the national arms which took the form of a double-headed eagle:

Following the series of revolutions that began in 1917, which eventually lead to communist control of Russia and the creation of the USSR, Russian notes began to replace the double-headed eagle with a hammer and sickle. Along with this, past figures of royalty were replaced by communist leaders like Vladimir Lenin:

There are countless other examples of nations changing their banknote designs to reflect changes in their society, but for brevity’s sake I’ll end with these.

Banknotes contain not only monetary, but also historical value. If one wants to learn about the history of a nation at a certain time, a good start would be with their currency at that time. Banknotes remind us of our roots as well as how fleeting one’s significance can be. One day you can be the ruler of millions of people, the next, you might find yourself with a large overprint on your face and being the most reviled person in your nation’s history. Savor the moment.

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