Take note of fine art in your wallet

Local | Bernard Charnwut Chan 7 Oct 2020

Hong Kong has some of the world's most beautiful money.

We tend to overlook everyday items like banknotes - and many of us have given up cash for mobile apps - but it's worth taking some time to appreciate the extraordinary designs, evocative images and rich, ink-saturated colors that decorate our dollars.

Our banknotes hold history along with art.

Many visiting friends don't notice until I point it out that each denomination in Hong Kong has three distinct designs since currency is issued by three banks - Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp, Standard Chartered and the Bank of China. (Only the ten-dollar note is issued by the government.)

In the 1930s Hongkong and Shanghai Banking issued a 500-dollar note that featured a small drawing of a farmer and his cow. Locals dubbed it the Dai Ngau - Big Bull.

The Hong Kong dollar has changed considerably since its 1846 introduction (with a banknote so large it got nicknamed "The Big Blanket"). Images of colonial rule and British kings and queens made way for Hong Kong themes and scenes in the 20th century. At the handover, banks were engaging world-class graphic designers to create memorable local Hong Kong images.

Hong Kong's latest banknotes, with their themes of Chinese culture, may be the most stunning ever. They are miniature works of art tucked in our wallets.

Bernard Charnwut Chan is chairman of Tai Kwun Culture & Arts Co Ltd.


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