Hidden Symbols & Meanings on Currencies Around the World – 

When it comes to currency, consumers are typically only concerned about what their money is worth and what it will buy them, leaving the design aspects to be widely overlooked. Often, the only time a banknote is truly examined is when there’s a chance it could be fake, but have you ever inspected the notes from your own country or that of a nation you were visiting and thought “What’s the meaning behind this?” or “Who is this person? And why is his face on everything?” We’re about to closely examine and explain 5 different bank notes and any hidden symbols that may change the way you look at currency.

1. The American Dollar Bill

The $1 bill has the oldest design out of all U.S currency. Despite its low worth, the bill has become a staple to the nation and has been in production since 1957. It features the first president, George Washington’s, portrait on the front, a design that was based on a painting of Washington by Gilbert Stuart. To the left and right of the president, is a series of green numbers in between two letters, which can be used to identify which Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) printed the bill. Does it contain any hidden symbols?

Arguably, the more interesting part of the bill is the back, where we first see the words “In God We Trust, which became a staple to the note by 1964, a decision that was made due largely because of the religious sentiment that was present during the Civil War. To the right of the statement resides the Seal of America which depicts a bald eagle, wings outstretched with arrows seen in the bird’s right talon, and an olive branch in the left, symbolizing both war and peace. The left side of the dollar shows a pyramid surrounded by words in Latin. “Annuit Coeptis” which translates to “Providence Has Favored Our Undertakings,” and below it reads, “Novus ordo seclorum” which means “A New Order of the Ages.” This holds significance in the country’s gaining of independence from Britain in 1776.

The thirteen arrows in the bird’s right talon symbolize the nation’s original 13 colonies.

Note that although the bill is often referred to as paper money, it is actually made of 75% cotton and 25% linen, making it not a product of paper at all. Because of these materials, the note has a lifespan of roughly 5.8 years, falling out of circulation around 10.5 years before the nation’s 100 dollar bill even reaches close to its lifespan.

2. Chinese Yuan notes

The official name for China’s currency is called renminbi (CNY), abbreviated (RMB) which is literally translated as “The people’s currency,” in English. The People’s Bank of China issues banknotes, Yuan, that have the same yen symbol ¥ as Japan and can be used throughout the entire mainland except for Hong Kong. This might be important information for those seeking to visit the vast country, as Hong Kong actually has its own bank that issues its own currency, and will not accept yuan from the mainland.

But for now, let’s focus on the rest of China to see if it has any hidden symbols. Below is a picture of a 5 yuan note.

It shows a portrait of Mao Zedung, famous Chinese leader, who not only led the country’s communist revolution but was also chairman of the People’s Republic of China–which are the very words translated in English residing next to his picture. You’ll notice upon examining China’s banknotes of higher value that Zedong’s face is seen on all of China’s recent currency ranging from ¥1 to ¥100.

The back of the note here is an illustration of Mount Tai, an adored symbol in Chinese culture that signifies renewal and sunrise. It has been a place of worship for centuries and is now one of China’s most popular tourist spots. Every yuan portrays a different landmark on the back of the bill to exemplify China’s beautiful land and culture.

What’s interesting about the banknotes is that although the back changes, Mao Zedong’s portrait on the front never does, which showcases loyalty and admiration for the the former leader. However, the people of China are so accustomed to seeing this face, that they sometimes find unique and hilarious printing errors upon inspection, such as two left eyebrows or an extra mole on the revolutionary’s chin. All of which have been reassured by the Bank to be viable despite the errors.

3. Canada’s 10 Dollar Note

Canadian bills are one of the most fascinating bills to examine. Their symbol is $ very much like U.S currency, although values in both countries differ. These notes are known to make a statement with their design features and rich Canadian history but, do they contain any hidden symbols?

Source: Bank of Canada

Sir John A. Macdonald is the name of the man whose portrait is visible on the front of the dollar. As far back as 1971, Canadian money has always pictured the same historic faces, and Macdonald is significantly paired with The Canadian, a train on the back of the note. This is because, during Macdonald’s influence in government, the Canadian Pacific Railway was developed, a proud accomplishment for the young nation in the 1880’s, as this, also contributed to colonization in the West. The map branching around the train is meant to show the passengers rail network.

The building depicted below Macdonald’s portrait is the Library of Parliament, which is significant in that it is the only remaining part of the resource center that survived a devastating fire.

The 10 dollar note pictured above is made of polymer which allows it to carry certain design elements that would otherwise be impossible with paper. For instance, if you shine a laser light through the maple leaf, you can see the banknote denomination through the other side.

4. Japan’s 1000 Yen Note

Japanese culture has become something of a phenomenon with other cultures and countries taking a liking to her history, art, and influence, but how many ever bother to examine her currency? The note below shows a portrait of Hideyo Noguchi, the most distinguished bacteriologist in all of the country who discovered the agent for syphilis.

The back of the banknote showcases Mt. Fuji, the most prominent attraction in all of Japan, standing at an impressive height of 3,776 meters, it is the tallest mountain in the nation. Because of its popularity, it’s become an inspirational model for artwork all around Japan and is deemed a symbol of the country. Surrounding this mountain is depicted a beautiful array of cherry blossoms, which are a symbol of renewal and popular festivities.

Source: Currency Guide

5. 20 Swiss Franc

Since 2005, Switzerland had begun the process of changing how the face of their currency would be presented to the world. The 20 franc featured above is one of nine in the new series of banknotes that are expected to be fully released by 2019. Years prior, the Swiss nation had depicted only the portraits of famous peoples on their notes, but this will be the first series in their history to break away from that tradition and instead, feature a hand. The hand on this 20 franc is meant to symbolize the whole people of Switzerland and can be interpreted as the nation working together towards a purpose. The hand is depicted in action to be holding a prism, reflecting light, and the light itself is designed to be the key motif of this note. The other notes, designed by Manuela Pfrunder, are said to represent the many facets of Switzerland and each of them will portray the concepts of time, light, wind, water, matter and language, which are key aspects of Switzerland’s growth and scientific discovery.

Source: Bloomberg


Travelers often visit a foreign country to admire its landmarks and learn more about its history. Studying a nation’s currency can easily be the best place to start. Uncovering secrets hidden symbols and learning about a nation is almost like treasure hunting in history class. Taking time to discern the designs that graphic artists work so hard to create can definitely be rewarding too, as it not only brings the observer satisfaction in having greater knowledge about another country, but it can also leave them with a higher appreciation of their own.

3 thoughts on “Hidden Symbols & Meanings on Currencies Around the World

  1. Matt

    The Canadian 100 dollar bill smells of maple syrup as a security feature (thought that is cool fact to share here ‘)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *