Why doesn't British currency feature politicians/soldiers?

While looking at this article about changes in the Bank of England’s currency notes, one thing stuck out to me. There isn’t a single politician or military figure on the currency notes mentioned. Compare this to American currency, where all currency notes feature a politician of the past and many were also significant military figures. Why doesn’t the Bank of England put the likes of Churchill or Admiral Nelson on their currency?

Wellington was on the £5 notes during the 1970s and 1980s.

But the mixture of writers, scientists and other non-political figures used by the Bank of England since 1970 (when historical figures first began to appear on the reverse of its banknotes) is not so very different from what most of the other major European countries had on their banknotes before the introduction of the Euro.

The Duke of Wellington was on the £5 note for twenty years.

Also, the United Kingdom wasn’t always united. Putting pre-unification military figures might be divisive, especially if they fought against other component-nations

Does everyone have to do things just the way Americans do?

Why are there no non-politicians on American money? So far as I am aware, indeed, the only person on American money who was not actually President is Benjamin Franklin, and he was an important political figure.

Alexander Hamilton was never president.

Politicians might be divisive – while Churchill might look uncontroversial outside the UK, he would stll be disliked by many in the British Labour Party.

Australia has avoided politicians too: if you look at a list of people on Australian dollar notes, you’ll find only one politician, Sir Henry Parkes, who is not remembered now as a Premier of New South Wales, but as the most prominent of the founders of the Australian federation.

We British love footwear designers

Good point

Re: Australia, General Monash is on the $100 note.

Still a politician, though, which is the point.

This picture apparently shows that there was once a 10 cent note :eek: featuring one William M. Meredith. :confused: However, according to the Wikipedia page on him (which shows the note, but does not explain it) he too was a U.S. politician. It is not clear to me why he was ever considered worthy to be on money. I guess that, in America, being a politician is enough. You do not even have to be a particularly distinguished one.

And Benjamin Franklin was President of Pennsylvania.

Let us not forget Salmon P. Chase who graced our $10,000 bill. Still a politician though, and eventually a justice on our Supreme Court.

The Mint probably thinks the bastards are in our wallets often enough without having them on our currency.

what’s the point of putting a person’s likeness on notes in the first place? why not put something useful like a zombie apocalypse survival guide or something?

The boring answer is that coins, and subsequently banknotes, have borne the likeness of the monarchs under whose authority they were issued since before the birth of Christ.

I presume that the practice of putting historical figures on money instead of the current head of state originated in non-monarchical countries and spread back to monarchies like the U.K.

In Canada, bills of all or nearly all denominations featured the monarch and/or members of the royal family until the 1969 issue, when former prime ministers were added. The prime ministers in question have remained the same up to the present day, unlike other countries where the persons so honoured change with every issue or every few issues.

Jack Nicklaus featured on a Royal Bank of Scotland (It’s not just the Bank of England who issue Sterling denominated notes) five pound note *. I wonder if he’s the only living non-Monarch to feature on a Sterling note?

  • not to scale

He had been Secretary of the Treasury and he died while the note was being designed, so my guess is somebody said “Hey, this dead guy was Treasury Secretary. Lets put him on the bill.”

In addition to Hamilton already mentioned Sacajawea is on the dollar coin. Of recent memory Susan B. Anthony was on the previous dollar coin.

The U.S., boringly, hasn’t changed the persons on its bills for at least this long and I think not in the 20th century. On coins, other than the special issues like the Presidential quarters, the U.S. has changed only the dollar coin from Susan B. Anthony to Sacagawea (in PC one-upmanship) and Franklin to JFK on the 50 cent piece in my lifetime. Neither of these coins really circulate.

Any attempt now to put a President on a coin or dollar would, I suspect, be fought by the party not represented until two were changed. You want a Reagan dollar? you’ll need a Clinton half. (Of course he’s still living.)

Robert Fulton and Samuel F. B. Morse were featured on the $2 bill for the 1896 “educational” series:


That series also had portraits of Martha Washington and Philip Sheridan, arguably not political figures. Although one being the wife of a political figure, whose husband is shown on the same bill, and the other being a general probably makes them more “normal” choices.

The 1896 notes were interesting. Unfortunately, the idea didn’t go over to well, partially because some members of the public objected to “Electricity”'s nekkid boobs on the $5.