18 June 2009

Money with mathematicians on it

Banknotes featuring scientists and mathematicians. Including the two in-print US bills that we're all least likely to see: the $100 (Franklin) and the $2 (Jefferson). For the non-US readers: the $100 is the largest bill in general circulation. For some reason the $2 bill has fallen out of favor, and although it's legal it's very rare, to the point that some people don't know about them and urban legends circulate about the $2 being suspected as counterfeit)

There seem to be more "scientists" than "mathematicians" on the list, but this may just reflect the fact that there are more scientists than mathematicians in general. In fact, "scientist" is a broad enough category that I don't think too many people would describe themselves as "scientists" when asked "what do you do?", rather responding with something like "physicist" or "biologist"; but I think a lot of mathematicians would answer "I'm a mathematician" to this question. (This seems to correspond roughly with the way departments are organized in most universities; there's usually a "department of mathematics" but very rarely a "department of science".)

(via a comment at Gil Kalai's blog)

Edit, 6:20 pm: the linguists seem to be compiling their own list of linguists-on-money, over at Language Log.


Anonymous Rex said...

I used to carry around $50 in two-dollar bills and use them instead of two ones. (Small cash tips look classier with twos, but I would also just use them for normal purchases.) No merchant even considered rejecting them, though none had a place in the cash drawer for them. Lots of people mentioned that they haven't seen one in years/ever.

Anonymous said...

I saved a 5 Mark(?) note from Germany that had Gauss on it. I got it as change and suddenly blurted out loud "They have math on their money!!"

Anonymous said...

Whoops, looked at the links and realized my memory was off...10 Mark note....

Michael Lugo said...


it's a 10 mark note; somebody sells them as "portraits of Gauss".

Unknown said...

Seems they missed the turkish 100 lira note with the image of Arf (inventor of the Arf invariant in topology, related to the famous Kervaire invariant one conjecture).

Glen Mark Martin said...

They left out the 1896 "Educational Series" Five Dollar Silver Certificate with Samuel Morse and Robert Fulton on the reverse. See http://www.peterplanchet.com/educational_series.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_Series .

Glen Mark Martin said...

Pardon me. That was the Two Dollar silver certificate.

Joe said...


Conforms with Gauss's Law: Acme refuses to sell magnetic monopoles, so the net magnetic flux out of any closed surface is zero.

While almost unknown to Americans, many Europeans have treasured these portraits. Yes, millions of citizens once carried these pictures -- some had collections of five, ten, and even TWENTY portraits. Indeed, thousands of railway workers went on strike to demand portraits of Gauss!

Very amusing!

CarlBrannen said...

Franklin is also on a fairly common US (silver) half dollar, 1948-1963. They're considerably less expensive than $100, even in essentially perfect condition.

As far as current circulating US bills go, the only ones that don't have "dead presidents" on them are the $10 (Hamilton) and $100.

andy said...

Mathematician vs. scientist:

I'm a PhD candidate, but what I answer when people ask what I do depends on the person that asks. If I don't feel like explaining what PhD involves I usually answer researcher or student. Most people accepts it as an answer without asking more what that entails.

Efrique said...

if we're talking scientists, Australia had on the old paper currency:

Joseph Banks ($5) (naturalist/botanist)
Howard Florey ($50) (Nobel prize in medicine for penicillin)
Ian Clunies-Ross ($50) (parasitologist, head of CSIRO)
John Tebbutt ($100) (astronomer)

(Arguably, William Farrer ($2) - an agronomist - might be classed as a scientist, and Lawrence Hargreave ($20) was an astronomer among other things, though his presence on the currency was for his pioneering work in aeronautics)

- but no mathematicians, sadly

So science was pretty well-represented ... (4 and a half and a half out of 14 note-faces)

However, the paper notes were phased out in the 1990s, and new polymer notes with similar colours but different people were produced:

On the new plastic notes, I don't think we have even a single scientist, in spite of there being many dozens of excellent candidates (including enough nobel prizewinners in science or medicine to cover both sides of almost all our notes)

Very sad state of affairs; I guess it shows that science is no longer held in any regard in Australia.