British Museum showcases communist currency

The 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution will be remembered in a new exhibition highlighting communist currency that’s slated to launch next month.

Curated by Tom Hockenhull, of the British Museum, and with financial support from the Art Fund, the exhibit will open on Oct. 19 and run until March 2018. By combining banknotes and coins with posters, advertising and other documents from socialist and post-socialist governed countries, “The Currency of Communism” explores how communist states radically re-structured their economies to reflect Marxist ideology.

“I think they are beautiful,” Hockenhull told The Guardian last month, adding there are about 100 items on display.

This 100-shilling banknote issued by Somali is among the highlights of the exhibition. (Photo by Trustees of the British Museum)

“Especially compared to western notes of the same period, these are far nicer, far prettier. Even though the currencies were devalued and people were told they weren’t worth anything, the banknotes, in particular, carry some of the most glorious designs that have ever been committed to paper.”

Communist regimes have been established all over the world, leaving a rich visual record of life under the planned economy. The display looks at all aspects of the monetary system—from the coins and banknotes issued by the state—to barter, voucher systems and the black market. Part of these other systems is the shadow economy that typically takes root when a national currency is devalued—and when commodities like vodka, glassware and Western goods become powerful objects of trade.


Supported by the Art Fund’s New Collecting Award, Hockenhull acquired a wide variety of artifacts that illuminate a highly nuanced narrative, in which money is only half the story. For example, items on display include civilian medals and honours, which became one of several substitutes for monetary reward under the communist system.

Hockenhull said his aim with the exhibition is for visitors to ask themselves what they value and why.


On display will be banknotes, coins, medals, bonds and posters symbolizing the agricultural productivity, major industrial progress and military prowess of communist countries.

“It has been fascinating,” Hockenhull told The Guardian about acquiring the items and researching the exhibition “I’m English; I grew up in a capitalist society. It has been a window into a completely different world and different way of looking at things.”

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