Collection Inspiration: Nobel Prize Laureates

Posted on 9/21/2021

Many Nobel honorees are featured on banknotes from around the world.

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 previous Nobel Prize laureates in anticipation of this year’s honorees, who will be announced October 4-8, 2021.

The annual awarding of the Nobel Prizes began in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s will to honor those whose work benefited humanity. The idea started when Nobel read his obituary in the newspaper — a case of mistaken identity. The paper dubbed him “a merchant of death” for inventing and profiting from dynamite. Distraught and wanting to improve his reputation for posterity, Nobel set aside much of his wealth for awards in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. To date, there are nearly 1,000 laureates, including the ones honored on these notes.

Selma Lagerlöf (1909 Nobel Prize in Literature)

Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf is the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. She wrote over 30 books, including her famous children’s book Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils). Filled with vivid imagery, the story tells of a boy named Nils who learns about Sweden’s history and geography as he explores the country while riding on a goose, as illustrated on the back of a Swedish 20 Kronor.

Sweden, Sveriges Riksbank 1997-2002 20 Kronor graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Bertha von Suttner (1905 Nobel Peace Prize)

Bertha von Suttner was a fervent pacifist and became a leading figure in the peace movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The success of her novel, Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!), led von Suttner to found the German Peace Society. She worked endlessly promoting peace by meeting with several leaders of state and urged the establishment of an International Court of Justice. It is said that her hard work toward the advocacy for peace influenced Nobel to add a Peace Prize.

Austria, National Bank 1966 (ND 1970) 1,000/- Schilling graded PMG 58 Choice About Unc
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Marie Curie (1903 Nobel Prize in Physics and 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)

Passionate about science, Marie and her husband Pierre worked tirelessly developing the theory of radioactivity — a word she coined. She discovered the elements polonium and radium, and invented techniques for isolating the radioactive isotopes. During World War I, Currie’s development of mobile X-ray units aided field hospitals in helping countless soldiers. Currently, she is the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields of science. Marie and her husband, also a laureate, are on the front of this 500 Francs note, with a colorful representation of their lab on the back.

France, Banque de France 1994-95 500 Francs graded PMG 67 Surperb Gem Unc EPQ
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Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903 Nobel Prize in Literature)

Known as one of “The Four Greats” in Norwegian literature, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was an extremely talented poet, novelist and playwright. He is celebrated for writing the lyrics to the Norwegian National Anthem and countless published works. Also, he was an original member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee from 1901 to 1906.

Norway, Norges Bank 1976-83 50 Kroner graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Nelson Mandela (1993 Nobel Peace Prize)

Nelson Mandela, featured on the South Africa 200 Rand note, is known as the “father of the nation.” Mandela fought hard to end apartheid, a battle that resulted in him spending 27 years in prison. In 1989, Mandela was released and he met many heads of state to encourage the end of the apartheid government. The first multiracial general election took place in 1994 and Mandela won the presidency.

South Africa, Reserve Bank ND (2012) 200 Rand graded PMG 70 Gem Unc EPQ★
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José Echegaray (1904 Nobel Prize in Literature)

First and foremost, José Echegaray was a professor and a scientist, but his passion was for the theater. He wrote numerous plays involving moral themes. His famous play El gran Galeoto (The Great Galeoto) focused on the dangers of gossiping and later inspired two films.

Spain, Banco de España 1971 (ND 1974) 1,000 Pesetas Commemorative
graded PMG 65 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge.

Henryk Sienkiewicz (1905 Nobel Prize in Literature)

Henryk Sienkiewicz became a famous author after he wrote his historical fiction trilogy: With Fire and Sword, The Deluge and Sir Michael. Another popular book was Quo Vadis, which is set during the reign of Emperor Nero. In fact, the novel exploded onto the literary scene with more than 800,000 copies sold in 18 months in the United States, and it was made into a film in 1951.

Poland, National Bank 1990 500,000 Zlotych graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
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Gabriel García Márquez (1982 Nobel Prize in Literature)

Celebrated Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez popularized the literary style of magic realism, where the world is portrayed realistically but with the appearance of magical elements. His popular novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera explore the essence of aloneness. His portrait is prominently displayed on the front of a Colombia 50,000 Pesos.

Colombia, Banco de la República 2015 50,000 Pesos graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Sir Howard Walter Florey (1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine)

Penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 from mold that developed on culture plates. Years later, Sir Howard Florey and Sir Ernst Chain, driven by curiosity, developed a drug from penicillin and gathered valuable data from clinical trials. The results led to a mass production of the drug, which saved millions of lives during World War II. This Australian is honored on a 50 Dollar note from his native land.

Australia, Reserve Bank ND (1979) 50 Dollars graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Guglielmo Giovanni Marconi (1909 Nobel Prize in Physics)

Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi is credited as the inventor of the commercial radio. Building on the work of other physicists experimenting with radio waves, Marconi added an antenna to extend the range in the summer of 1895. The system became the first working transistor radio.

Italy, Banca d'Italia 1990 2,000 Lire graded PMG 68 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Albert Einstein (1921 Nobel Prize in Physics)

Albert Einstein is known for being the eccentric genius who was the world’s most-renowned physicist. Over the years, Einstein developed the theory of relativity, including developing the formula for mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2. One of his important discoveries is the law of the photoelectric effect, which is the emission of electrons when electromagnetic radiation — such as light — hits material. He is shown on this banknote from Israel, which offered him the position of president in 1952; he politely declined.

Israel, Bank of Israel 1968 5 Lirot graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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Neils Bohr (1922 Nobel Prize in Physics)

This Denmark 500 Kroner honors Danish physicist Neils Bohr. He developed the Bohr model of the atom, which illustrates the revolution of electrons around the atomic nucleus. Even though modern models replaced Bohr’s original, the essential theme of the relationship between the electrons and their nucleus remains the same.

Denmark, Nationalbank 2000 500 Kroner graded PMG 67 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
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If you like historical figures and want to expand your collection of famous people, check out the Collection Inspiration columns on composers and famous women.

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