Showcasing currencies of the communist world…

To mark 100 years of Russian Revolution, the British museum displayed currencies of the communist world in October 2017.

Communism proposes that money has no role in a utopian society. To date though, no communist state has successfully removed money from its economy. In the last 100 years, communism has existed in various forms in dozens of states all around in the world. From eastern Europe to Southeast Asia, this display examines the role of money in communist states, as well as the iconography and imagery associated with it.

Within communist economies, concepts of value and wealth are eroded and distorted, and the national currency becomes just one of various means of exchange. The display features examples of how the value of money has been reduced by communist states. East German coins made from aluminium demonstrate how communist currency was deliberately made to feel light and cheap. Adverts for savings banks from the USSR show how consumer benefits were left out of advertising in favour of information explaining how savings benefit the state.

With the reduced role of currency, communist states introduced different reward systems, starting in Russia in the 1930s. Stalin said people were to be measured ‘by their heroic feats’. A worker who exceeded their factory quota may receive the Order of the Badge of Honour, and a mother who raised nine children would receive the Order of Maternal Glory, First Class. These awards came with monetary bonuses, and allowed recipients access to a better quality of life due to the perks that came with them.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition to democracy in the early 1990s had a huge effect on former communist states. With borders and economies suddenly open after many years, new ideas and imagery soon began to circulate, along with new national currencies. Today there are only four states with planned economies – China, Laos, Cuba and Vietnam. Trading relations between them and capitalist countries have become normalised, but concepts of currency and political ideology continue to evolve.

This Guardian article has some pictures of these notes:

They are banknotes that show cheerful farm workers, enthusiastic soldiers and committed intellectuals as well as foundries, factories, fields, dams, lorries, railways and guns – and they are as aesthetically pleasing as any of the world’s currencies, a new exhibition hopes to show.

There will be posters, medals, bonds, coins and banknotes that show bountiful agricultural productivity, major industrial progress and unmatched military prowess. “I think they are beautiful,” said the curator, Tom Hockenhull. “Especially compared to western notes of the same period, these are far nicer, far prettier.

“Even though the currencies were devalued and people were told they weren’t worth anything, the banknotes, in particular, carry some of the most glorious designs that have ever been committed to paper.”

Helped by money from the Art Fund, Hockenhull has been researching and acquiring communist currency to fill gaps in the museum’s extensive money collections.

Here is a video of the event.

Superb bit…So much to learn about different currency systems across the world.

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