Common Currency

June 22nd, 2005

In a previous experiment, I explored amalgamations on the occasion of Valentine's Day. A correspondent came across that page and suggested that banknotes might make another good subject for an amalgamation. The idea is a natural one. The set of banknotes issued by any given country over one time period tend to have a lot of common structure. Of course, I chose to take a look at Canadian banknotes, divided into two groups: the issue of 1971-1975 and the issue of 1986-1988.

Presumably, the values of these new bills would be the averages of the notes from which they were produced. Thus, based on the 1971-1975 issue, I offer you the Canadian $26.86 bill:

And here, based on the 1986-1988 issue, is the $169.57 bill (this issue included a thousand dollar bill).

The front of the $26.86 bill works very well, as does the obverse of the $169.57 bill. All these images could have been a lot cleaner if the source images had been better registered. For example, the large "Canada" on the front of the $26.86 could be perfectly crisp, since it's in the same spot on every bill. But I was working with the images I could obtain, and was not willing to take extra steps to obtain better images or do the necessary image processing to register them. Perhaps another day.

These amalgamations also suffer because of the relatively small number of source images being averaged together. Jason Salavon's works tend to average together dozens or hundreds of images, whereas each issue only offers seven front images and seven obverse images to work from. I might have been able to create an interesting result by averaging together hundreds of notes from all over the world, but I'd have needed to be more selective in choosing compatible images so as to not end up with a washed out mess. And again, getting the images is difficult.

Those of you concerned for my well-being may wonder exactly how many laws I'm breaking by posting these images. Well, I did look it up, and I should be in the clear. Obviously, none of these images is the likeness of any one banknote. They certainly conform to the bank's goal that "there is no risk that the reproduced image could be mistaken for a genuine note or misused by counterfeiters". I suppose I could also argue that my use is for educational purposes. Still, it's best to be certain. So I sent a query to the Bank of Canada. Here's the response I received the same day, from a senior analyst at the Bank:

The Bank of Canada has no particular problem with this provided that the images only appear on your Web site and are not used to create something that could be confused as a genuine bank note.

Mind you, it would be fun to whip out one of these bills at a store and watch the cashier rub their eyes and wipe their glasses.

Craig S. Kaplan Last updated: