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Turner Makes £20 in 2020

After an extensive selection process, British artist J.M.W. Turner has been chosen to adorn the new £20 note starting in 2020.



United Kingdom– The United States is not the only nation in the Anglo-American sphere redesigning their 20 unit paper currency. The Bank of England has announced the upcoming issue of the new £20 note will be adorned with the 1799 self-portrait of famous British romantic painter J.M.W. Turner. The newly designed currency is set to debut in 2020 and will be constructed of a polymer substance. The decision to feature Turner was announced on 22 April after an impressive competition to design the new bill with the image of an artist.

The Bank of England opened the selection process to the British public. In doing so, the nomination process gathered exactly 29,701 submissions. Yet only 590 of the submissions were in fact artists. (See: “Boaty McBoatface“)

The Bank of England composed a selection committee that created a shortlist of five suitable candidates. These candidates consisted of actor Sir Charlie Chaplin, painter William Hogarth, sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth, and designer/potter Josiah Wedgewood.

The current £20 note portrays famous Scottish economist, philosopher, and author of the noted work “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith. The new note will not simply feature Turner, but its background will include Turner’s famous work, “The Fighting Temeraire.”

J.M.W. Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire”J.M.W. Turner

“The Fighting Temeraire.”

The final decision fell upon the Bank of England’s governor, Mr. Mark Carney, who also served as the decision committee chair.

In a statement given by Mr. Carney, he explains his logic regarding the selection of Turner among countless other worthy candidates:

“Turner is perhaps the single most influential British artist of all time. His work was transformative, bridging the classical and modern worlds. His influence spanned his lifetime and is still apparent today.”

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who got involved in the process and that sent us their suggestions for visual artists to celebrate. The range and breadth of these nominations is testament to the UK’s achievements in the arts and the public’s passion for it.”

Mr. Carney’s statement demonstrates how a country’s currency acts as a cultural reflection in its society. From the Caesar’s that adorned Roman coinage in antiquity, to the portrait of the current U.K. Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, which is updated each decade to reflect her age on the currency used in the Commonwealth of Nations, most every society uses the images on their currency to highlight the most prominent figures in their culture.  Additionally, the appearance of any country’s currency communicates internationally a society’s current attitudes.

“I will take my change in Tubman’s!”

Harriet Tubman’s photo portrait by H. Seymor SquyerH. Seymor Squyer

Harriet Tubman.

As previously mentioned, the U.K. was not alone in its decision to undertake a major facelift on its paper money. The United States Department of the Treasury’s decision to replace the seventh U.S. President, Andrew Jackson, on the front of the $20 bill with legendary abolitionist, former slave, Underground Railroad and Civil War heroine Harriet Tubman is a landmark decision in the U.S. Tubman is also set to debut on the $20 bill in 2020.

Tubman is not the first woman to grace U.S. currency. Susan B. Anthony, famous for her role in the U.S. woman’s suffrage movement appears on a U.S. half-dollar coin. Golden $1 coins also depict a woman: Sacajawea, a member of the Lemhi Shoshone Trive whose work made possible the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Harriet Tubman now joins their ranks as the first woman to be featured on U.S. paper currency and the first African-American to receive the honor.

With these prominent impending changes to these power-house nations in the Western world, the appearance of currency remains a strong reflection and self-critique of the popular cultures of the nation states that issue them.

Sources: BBC World Service, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Bank of England, The U.S. Treasury Department.


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Paul K. DiCostanzo is the Managing Editor for TGNR. He is a noted public speaker, an emerging historian of the Second World War, a vocal advocate for Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis, and highly regarded interviewer. Paul K. DiCostanzo is Co-Host for the A.D. History Podcast. The A.D. History Podcast explores world history of the last 2000 years in an unprecedented fashion; with each episode covering a 10 year period beginning in 1AD, until reaching the present day. Ultimately finding the forgotten, as well as overlooked threads of history, and weaving a tapestry of true world history. Paul is author of the reader submitted Q&A column: WW2 Brain Bucket. The Brain Bucket answers readers submitted questions on all things regarding the Second World War. Paul has served as Managing Editor for TGNR since March 2015. Prior to TGNR, Paul has a background in American National Security and American Foreign Policy.