News-Antique.com - Oct 07,2010 - Portraits as Art Market Currency pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com
The last installment of “Portraits as Art Market Currency” received an interesting comment from a reader who said: “Is that why we have portraits on our banknotes? hehe! Maybe that’s what they thought when they designed them….”. All jokes aside, this comment is actually a good introduction to the concept of the portrait as a historical document – a concept that I want to explore with this post. Although we tend to think of paper money as merely a means of acquiring goods, the coins and notes that we use everyday are in fact historical documents of great value. The fact that there is such a vibrant and growing market in old and obsolete coins and notes confirms the fact that we place a considerable level of value on the historical value of money. I constantly hear of coins and currency notes being sold for astronomical amounts of money, thousands of times beyond their face value, because of their rarity and historical significance. There is no doubt in my mind that bank currency often has an intrinsic historical value and that most forms of bank currency could be considered to be historical documents in themselves. Considering that one of the most recognisable and common features of paper money is a portrait of some sort, it would be reasonable to assume that those portraits which appear on notes and coins also have a significantly high level of historical value. And if you think that people don’t care what the portraits on money look like then think again. When Australia changed over to decimal currency in 1966 a new portrait of Queen Elizabeth appeared on the one dollar bill . The new decimal currency bills were designed by Gordon Andrews who was widely criticised for portraying the Queen with what some people thought was a look of unhappiness, and for giving the Queen what some people saw as a slight scowl. Mr. Andrews defended the portrait by pointing out that “if you have someone grinning at you on a bank note, which you have to look at over and over again, you get to hate the sight of it”. A fair point I think. Another example of the extent to which the portraits on paper money are assigned value is a newspaper article from 1962 about counterfeit currency in which a US Secret Service Chief advised people to look at the portrait. According to Chief James J. Rowley “Counterfeit currency has a lifeless portrait, the fine cross-lines are not clear or distinct”. Sounds more like the musings of an art critic than a secret service agency.
Some may disagree with the concept of historical value as a type of intrinsic value but I think there is more than enough proof to suggest that the historical value that many portraits have can be considered to be intrinsic. The sort of value I am talking about is the value of what a portrait can tell