Money talks: banknote iconography and symbolic constructions of Scotland

Jan Penrose, Craig Cumming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has become common for scholars of nations and nationalism to use banknotes, coins and postage stamps as passing examples of everyday objects expressive of nationalism. Until recently, however, it has been less common for these objects to form the focus of empirical enquiries that substantiate their contribution to the creation and transmission of national symbolism. This article addresses this lacuna through an empirical investigation of over 300 years of Scottish banknote iconography. In their symbolic content, banknotes are shown to be amenable to the service of both national and non-national political agendas. To explain this phenomenon, we advance three interrelated arguments. First, we contend that variations in banknote iconography reflect the different political contexts in which notes were produced and the distinctive loyalties and customer constituencies of the banks that issue them. Second, we argue that changes in banknote imagery reflect changes in the scale of their circulation. Third, we argue that Scottish banknotes have always included iconography that constructs the image of the bank and advertises its reliability, often through association with national images. The article concludes by addressing Scotland's place in wider understandings of the iconographic power of banknotes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)821-842
Number of pages22
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011


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