Collection Inspiration: Famous Women

Posted on 3/16/2021

For Women's History Month, a look at banknotes featuring women, from well-known rulers to revolutionaries to a star of the silver screen.

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, which is Women’s History Month in the United States, we look at famous women featured on notes from around the world.

The United States is currently considering adding a woman to its paper money roster: Harriet Tubman, an African American who escaped slavery in 1849 and then campaigned to abolish it. Though there are currently no women on US paper money, it’s not unprecedented. First Lady Martha Washington appeared on the front of the 1886 $1 Silver Certificate, and on the back (with her husband George) of the 1896 $1 Silver Certificate.

1891 $1 Silver Certificate graded PMG 50 About Uncirculated EPQ
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The woman who has had her face on the most banknotes is Queen Elizabeth II, whose rule of the United Kingdom began in 1952. She has appeared on the currency of dozens of colonies and countries, including ones that no longer exist, like Southern Rhodesia (which is now Zimbabwe). This Southern Rhodesia banknote shows the young queen.

Southern Rhodesia / British Administration 1952 1 Pound graded PMG 45 Choice Extremely Fine
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Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother was Queen Victoria, whose 63-year reign ended in 1901. Bank of England notes during Victoria’s time did not show the monarch, but she does appear on certain banknotes from Canada, which was part of the British Empire at the time.

Canada Colonial Bank of Canada 1859 $4 graded PMG 20 Very Fine
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Isabella I was the Queen of Castile who ruled with her husband Ferdinand II over a unified Spain. They are best remembered for supporting Columbus’ 1492 expedition, and they are memorialized on this Spanish banknote issued nearly 500 years after their rule began.

Spain, Banco de Espana 1957 (ND 1958) 1,000 Pesetas graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Not every woman on a banknote earned her power through birthright, of course. Golda Meir was not only Israel’s first female prime minister (serving from 1969 to 1974), she was also one of the first female prime ministers in the world.

Israel, Bank of Israel 1992 10 New Sheqalim graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Corazon Aquino became the first female president of the Philippines in 1986, following the People Power Revolution. She is shown on this Philippine note with her husband Benigno, a senator who was an outspoken critic of the Marcos dictatorship. The assassination of Benigno at the Manila airport in 1983 helped galvanize support against the regime.

Philippines, Bangko Sentral 2010-16G 500 Piso graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Florence Nightingale is famous for her role in revolutionizing nursing in the 1800s, as well as her heroic attempts to save the lives of soldiers wounded in the Crimean War. A newspaper gave her the nickname "The Lady with the Lamp" for tending to these soldiers late at night, and that imagery is incorporated into the back of this England note celebrating her achievements.

Great Britain, Bank of England ND (1975-80) 10 Pounds graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Marie Curie was a trailblazer for women in science as the first female recipient of the Nobel Prize. She and her husband made major discoveries involving radioactive elements. The element curium and a unit used to measure radioactivity (the curie) are named after them. Sadly, she died of anemia related to her exposure to radiation. This note from her native Poland honors her legacy.

Poland, National Bank 1989 20,000 Zlotych graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Greta Garbo was an international movie star during the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. She was a star for the MGM studio as it made the transition to movies with sound. After 28 films, she retired at the age of 35 in 1941. She is honored on this banknote from her native Sweden.

Sweden, Sveriges Riksbank ND (2016) 100 Kronor graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Possibly the oldest woman to appear on any banknote is Queen Nefertiti, who was born about 3,400 years ago. She was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, and their embrace of monotheism was revolutionary in ancient Egypt. Some scholars think she ruled as Pharaoh after the death of her husband. She is shown on this 20th century banknote from Egypt.

Egypt, Egyptian Republic 1940 (ND 1952-58) 5 Piastres graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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One other woman you've probably heard of is Jane Austen, an English writer best known for her novels "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice." She was featured with other women in an earlier Collection Inspiration column about Women Writers.

If you want to see more women on banknotes, PMG features them every Wednesday on its social media accounts. Find links to them and learn how to receive PMG's free monthly newsletter via email at

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