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A Handful of Beautiful Bills

Posted on 31 August 2015

Cash moves everything around.. us all! To get excited for this week's Curiosity Club on the meaning of money, I've rounded up some of the best designed cash I could find. Saving the points on the philosophy and functionality of currency for the pros, here are some prime examples of just plain pretty money.

Up first, in the Generally Great Graphic Design category: the Dutch Guilder. These guys have a history of beautiful currency, in denominations from the small to the medium. Too bad about that whole Euro thing...



These notes were designed by Robert Deodaat Emile "Ootje" Oxenaar. The restraint in the use of space and color is fantastic, the forms are engaging, and I'm a big fan of putting cultural figures rather than colonizers on money. More jurisdictions could learn something from their minimal patterning and super solid graphics. 

In the Well Rendered National Nature category, I nominate the China's 10 Yuan Renminbi note. This thing shows the dramatic Kuimen Gate, a massive series of gorges on the Yangtze River, and does it with a misty simplicity that's surprising in the heavily-patterned world of cash. Honorable mention to the several other natural landmarks used on other Yuan denominations.


Animals feature heavily on bills from around the globe, and which is best displayed on its particular currency is a matter of zoological and national pride as much as design sensibility. For my points of evaluation I used the beauty of the species, its specificity to the region, clarity of the rendering, dynamic or interest value of its positioning, and amount of resemblance to a fancy chocolate bar. My conclusion: inconclusive. The tie I drew is between the New Zealand 5 note, and the Nepalese Rupee 5. 

In the case of New Zealand's 5, the Hoiho (or Yellow Eyed Penguin) is unique to the region and dashingly good looking. It is accompanied by a swell of other native plant species, a very attractive set of demonstrator windows, and some of the least offensive use of typography in the world. Being paired on the counter side with Sir Edmund Hilary and indigenously used patterns is a startling and lovely balance. 

On the other hand, our offering from Nepal shows similar strengths. A regional cultural figure with a serious hat. Architecture of import. Good use of space breaking graphics without going insane with patterns. And on the flip side: look at these yaks! The framing and use of negative space really draws the eye to the lumpen figures of the regional beasts, rendered simply yet furrily in front of one of the country's epic mountains. Especially when you take note of the background, the mix of patterns is intense, but overall it's a charming layout with much room for... personal additions.

For innovative use of materials Australia gets an honorary nod. Their weird plastic bills have been in circulation for over a generation and they're still going strong. They're also beginning to pay more lip service to their nation's diversity. At least at the mint. 


And last of all, in the category of Least Offensive Use of Typography / Mix of Fonts: another tie. The Hong Kong dollar looks like a poster for the Olympics before the text gets placed, but what text there is... is excellent. Look how simple, consistent and clear! And the heavy mix of tones and patterns is somehow totally under control. Well done.

And this Kenyan 50? It's got camels, landmarks, and culturally relevant figures. What more do you need to know? 

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