Paper Money

UK movement focuses on developing currency diversity

A movement to achieve greater representation among the people depicted on the UK’s coinage and paper money continues, as shown by this illustration from the “Art Newspaper.”

Image courtesy of Art Newspaper.

As the United States continues to dither about revising the antiquated designs of its paper money, even more change may loom for currency in the United Kingdom.

The Art Newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph, and other outlets reported that, among the international consequences of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the killing of George Floyd in May, Conservative Party Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak came out in support of a campaign to put a BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) person on British coins and paper money.

The Banknotes of Color advocacy group includes artists, activists, and social commentators. One of them, Patrick Vernon, an author of the forthcoming 100 Great Black Britons, said, “The wider issues around Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter have thrown a spotlight on the lack of BAME representation. The coins and banknotes have such symbolism — why can’t we have greater representation?”

Another proponent is artist Pen Mendonça, who said, “As a graphic facilitator/cartoonist who works [for] social justice, I developed graphics for the campaign, helped out on social media and let people know how they could get involved.” One of her works has BAME teachers, writers, and musicians under the heading: “Bank of England: it is time for the first ever ethnic minority on a British banknote.”

This is not the group’s first foray into currency design. Last year it was active in a push for minority representation on the new Bank of England £50 note. Among its candidates were Mary Seacole, a nurse during the Crimean War, and Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim wireless operator who assisted the French Resistance during World War II.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney finally chose code breaker Alan Turing for the note, which will enter circulation late next year. Turing has been called one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century — a father of modern computing, a legendary World War II code-breaker who led the effort to decrypt the Nazi Enigma machine, and a philosopher. Yet he was a man who died a criminal in 1954 because of his homosexuality. It took the British government until 2009 to apologize and award him a posthumous knighthood.

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