It’s already been called “the world’s best-looking cash.” Norway’s central bank (Norges Bank) held an unusually harmonious design competition earlier this year that’s resulted in two winners who will share the front and back of a new series of colorful banknotes all denoting Norway’s long maritime heritage.
The actual theme that designers were asked to communicate in their proposals for new Norwegian currency was “The Sea.” From the Viking Age to the Oil Age, the sea has long shaped and nurtured Norway. Central bank officials felt it was time to break away from years of featuring historic personalities on its cash, and spread the power of the sea instead.
The classic hundred-kroner note (worth about USD 15 at current exchange rates) is now expected to feature, not surprisingly, a Viking ship meant to symbolize how the sea has brought Norwegians out to the world. The smaller 50-kroner note is adorned with a lighthouse (to show how the sea binds Norwegians together) while the 200-kroner note, arguably the one used most in Norway today, shows off a cod fish and how the sea has fed Norwegians for centuries.
The 500-kroner note features a Colin Archer rescue vessel (for a sea that gave Norwegians welfare) and the 1,000-kroner note illustrates a stormy sea itself.
The drawings were not the jury’s first choice. That honor went to design veteran Enzo Finger and his series called Ringvirkninger (Ripple Effects), also showing various vessels and lighthouses dominated by seabirds.
Instead, Norges Bank opted to combine two other proposals, with a design submitted by The Metric System and Terje Tønnessen chosen for the front of the currency, and another “pixel” design from a Norwegian firm best known for its architecture, Snøhetta, to adorn the reverse side of the bills.
“We decided that a combination of these two provided a better foundation for good design and the necessary security elements we needed,” Trond Eklund, Norges Bank’s director for cash payments, told newspaper Aftenposten. An extremely important aspect, if not the main motivation, of the new currency series is to prevent counterfeiting. The so-called “pixel motifs” submitted by Snøhetta Design, called “Beauty of Boundaries,” was particularly well-suited to the incorporation of the “necessary security elements” needed when the bills are printed, according to the bank itself.
Bank officials also called the combined design “light and typically Nordic,” giving both a “traditional and a modern expression” to the new currency. Now comes the work needed to enable incorporation of the security and machine-readable elements needed before the currency can be put into circulation. “For that reason, the finished notes may differ somewhat from the basic design,” the bank stated in a recent press release. The new currency probably won’t be ready to be put into circulation until 2017 at the earliest.
It’s already attracted attention internationally, though, with Snøhetta reporting that its own website showing its currency design logged an unusually high 40,000 page views after Norges Bank chose it, more than when it could boast the winning design for Oslo’s Opera House. “Money clearly attracts more interest than architecture,” Martin Gran of Snøhetta told Aftenposten.
While the new currency didn’t initially get much press coverage in Norway itself, foreign media raved about its “Nordic coolness” and social media flourished with comments like “the world’s best-looking cash.” Norwegian and Nordic design remains popular internationally, often moreso than at home in Norway. Since a country’s currency is often viewed as its form of a national business card, Norway seems poised to literally cash in on this one.