On the Money

October 26, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I suggested that Americans were much more likely to name streets after military heroes than after luminaries in other fields as the French do.* As Denis Colombi noted in his comment on that post, the French don’t ignore their military victories. But in looking for people to name things after, they cast a wider net.

Whose praises do we sing? Follow the money. If you’re an American, you know the greenback line-up: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, Franklin.

How surprising to go to France and see a bill like this – something you would never have seen in the US. (You won’t see it in France any more either, now that the Euro reigns.)

An artist (Delacroix) and bare breasts.

Or this:

A female scientist, Marie Curie, and her husband Pierre.

Or this.

Voltaire, a writer remembered chiefly as a satirist. Why not a Mark Twain bill for the US?

Who else filled the bill? Eiffel, Cézanne, Saint-Exupéry, Hugo, Molière, Racine, Voltaire, Debussy . . . .

* We do sometimes confer these naming honors on artists. I myself attended a primary school named after the great composer Stephen Foster.


maxliving said...

I believe another sociologist (or at least a criminologist) commented on the stricter requirements of the US for its currency images. See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sy0VRRVs9wM&NR=1#t=02m15s

XavierM said...

You forgot Blaise Pascal, who was represented on the old 500 francs bank note.


At that time it was the biggest existing bank note, and it was commonly named after the french philosopher : un billet de 500 francs = "un pascal"
(apologies for the bad english...)

PCM said...

The old Dutch notes, particularly the 50, 100, and 250(!) guilder notes didn't have people at all, but a sunflower, a bird (a snip), and a lighthouse. They didn't celebrate artists, but were were works of art themselves. They were beautiful.

(I also miss the fl 2.50 coin, not that you asked.)