Collection Inspiration: Oxen

Posted on 1/19/2021

As we head into the Year of the Ox, we take a look at depictions of the beasts of burden on world currency.

Paper money collectors often focus on a particular nation or even a particular series. This column is designed to offer ideas for building a collection of notes from around the world based on a common element. This month, we look at oxen.

The ox is the second sign of the 12-year Chinese zodiac. According to legend, the order was determined by a great race sponsored by the Jade Emperor. The kind-hearted ox agreed to carry the rat across a river near the end of the race, and the rat then scurried to a first-place finish.

The current Year of the Rat ends on February 11, 2021, giving way to the Chinese New Year celebrations and the beginning of the Year of the Ox the next day. So we begin our notes with a note from China showing a farmer and an ox.

China, Farmers Bank of China 1935 20 Cents = 2 Chiao graded PMG 65 Gem Uncirculated EPQ.
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Oxen were domesticated thousands of year ago, before recorded history. By the Iron Age, they are clearly well-established in the Middle East, as the Bible mentions them dozens of times. This includes several references in the book of Job, which introduces its eponymous figure by describing his wealth, which included 500 yoke of oxen. This note from Turkey shows a pair of oxen.

Turkey, Ministry of Finance ND (1926) 1 Livre graded PMG 45 Choice Extremely Fine.
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Today, oxen are spread throughout the world, thanks to the Columbian Exchange, the flow of plants and animals between the Old World and the New that followed Christopher Columbus' voyage in 1492. This Cuban note shows how widespread oxen had become by the end of the Spanish Colonial era.

Cuba, Banco Espanol De La Isla De Cuba 1896 10 Pesos with PLATA overprint graded PMG 35 Choice Very Fine.
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This Tunisia note shows the typical yoking of a pair of oxen, which is seen on several of the notes here.

Tunisia, Banque de l'Algerie 1939-42 100 Francs graded PMG 30 Very Fine.
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This Costa Rica note is another example of a pair of oxen. It hails from an era when gasoline-powered vehicles were still relatively new and not widespread in developing countries.

Costa Rica, Banco Internacional 1931-36 2 Colones graded PMG 15 Choice Fine.
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Oxen are typically depicted in agriculture scenes, but they are also useful for their brute strength in transporting heavy objects, as depicted in the scene on this Mongolian note.

Mongolia, Mongol Bank 2000 500 Tugrik Specimen graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ.
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This South African note is interesting because it juxtaposes the oxen used for thousands of years for transportation on one side of the note, while the other side shows a newer technology: the railroad.

South Africa, Reserve Bank ND (1975) 5 Rand graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ.
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Nevertheless, oxen are still associated with productivity and wealth. This French banknote, issued as France was rebuilding after the devastation of World War II, features oxen.

France, Banque de France 1952-54 100 Francs graded PMG 64 Choice Uncirculated.
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Another note issued after a war, in this case one from Reconstruction Era South Carolina, also shows oxen.

South Carolina, Columbia 1872 $1 graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ.
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This Malaya note displays a water buffalo, a bovid species distantly related to the cattle seen in much of the world. Water buffalos are still used today in much of Asia.

Malaya & British Borneo 1961 10 Dollars graded PMG 64 Choice Uncirculated EPQ.
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Other articles in this series
Collection Inspiration: Churches
Collection Inspiration: Women Writers
Collection Inspiration: Notes that Roar

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