Sunday, 1 May 2016

She's on the money!

The two new faces of Scottish banknotes



Anna (Nan) Shepherd, a Scots-born poet and novelist and Mary Somerville, a Scottish science writer who studied mathematics and astronomy have been chosen as the ''faces'' of the Royal Bank of Scotland's new polymer £5 and £10 banknotes - the first time that women have appeared on Royal Bank of Scotland banknotes. The new notes will be printed on a polymer plastic, with enhanced security features, making them harder to forge and more durable than the traditional cotton-based banknotes - up to 2½ times more durable in fact. They will also be about 15% smaller than the banknotes currently in circulation.

MARY SOMERVILLE

Photograph of Mary Somerville
Mary Somerville: 1780-1872
Public Domain image from Wikipedia

After her death Mary Somerville became known as ''The Queen of 19th-Century Science'', having been elected to the membership of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Irish Academy, the Italian Geographical Society, the American Geographical and Statistical Society and the American Philosophical Society. She was also awarded the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and was an honorary member of the Société de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève. Considering that the times in which she lived frowned upon women having more than a basic education that is a very impressive list of accomplishments for anyone, let alone a woman!

Mary was born in Jedburgh, in the Scottish borders but spent much of her childhood in the small town of Burntisland, on the east coast of Scotland (not much more than a stone's-throw from my home) and it was here that her interest in science was kindled - collecting shells and stones and gazing at the stars glittering in the night-time sky. As a science writer she was noted for her ''clear, crisp'' style of writing. Her choice as the face of the new £10 note, which will be issued next year, came after a public poll chose her over the other two famous Scots who were on the shortlist - James Clerk Maxwell (a scientist most noted for his theory of electromagnetic radiation which led to the discovery of radio waves) and Thomas Telford (a civil engineer and architect noted for building roads, canals and bridges).


Photograph of Nan Shepherd
Nan Shepherd: 1893-1981
© the estate of Nan Shepherd
ANNA SHEPHERD

Anna Shepherd (known as Nan Shepherd) was a novelist and poet who spent all of her life in her native Aberdeenshire. Her writings dealt with life in the small communities of the north-east of Scotland with which she was so familiar but she was also something of an outdoors girl being (like myself) a keen hillwalker and the only non-fiction book she wrote The Living Mountain is about her perceptions of the hills she climbed and obviously loved so much. Nan wrote this book towards the end of WW2 but for some reason did not publish it until 1977 just four years before her death.

Nan was a noted feminist (in the days when that phrase was not commonly used) and a radical who lived an unconventional life. She never married but undoubtedly had several lovers, not all of whom were male - or so it was said. This was reflected in her poetry and her books some of which contained ''eyebrow raising'' amounts of sex. She spent 40 years as a teacher at Aberdeen College of Education where she imparted a distinct feminist edge to her lectures. Being a feminist she had sympathy with the suffragette movement and in later life she turned towards Buddhism reading much on the subject.

Not well known in Scotland, neither in her lifetime nor after her death, her appearance on the new Scottish £5 note (due to be issued later this year) will surely change that. I, for one, have just ordered a copy of her book The Living Mountain and I suspect I won't be the only one seeking to know more of this intriguing Scottish woman.

PS: The introduction of polymer banknotes is not without controversy. There are people who are allergic to the polymer plastics used in this type of banknote and there is some evidence to suggest that polymer banknotes can carry and retain germs for longer than conventional cotton-based banknotes - definitely a case of ''filthy lucre''!

Some information from Wikipedia (in-text links)

15 comments:

  1. That's interesting that the bills will be printed on polymer. The US is also getting a new $20 bill with the first woman on it.

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    1. Martha, I didn't know the US was getting a new $20 bill either. It's about time we featured a woman, although we did have the Susan B. Anthony dollar coins that sort of flopped.

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    1. Clean or dirty I never seem to have enough of it! :)

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  3. The £5 note is very striking! Our $5 is also blue. I wonder if there is some sort of tradition to do with the colours for different denominations?

    I'd not heard of the allergies. I don't think we've had any publicity for such concerns here, though it may be there are people who have the same issues and we just aren't aware...

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    1. The allergies seem to be the results of very frequent contact with the polymer. Bank employees, for example, are amongst those most likely to be affected.

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  4. Interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Interesting, seems everyone is getting on the bandwagon and recognizing women by putting them on currency. Canada is on that bandwagon too.....it's about time.

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    1. I'm all in favour of famous people appearing on banknotes as a way to honour and remember them but the day any of the Kardashians appear on Scotland's currency is the day I emigrate to Mars! :)

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  6. Interesting to read about these two women on the bills.

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    1. I think that more women should be represented on banknotes from all countries.

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  7. It's interesting that no politician appears on the new banknotes - just people who actually achieved something worthwhile. It seems women are in when it comes to photos on currency this year.

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    1. In my opinion none of the current or recent crop of politicians deserve to be commemorated on banknotes - with the notable exception of the late Donald Dewar, Scotland's first First Minister.

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