On the Research

Curated by Manuel Chacón, Numismatics Curator

May 2016

Queens, princesses, “Indians,” peasants, and distinguished citizens are featured in some of the banknotes and coins in circulation in Costa Rica from 1847 up to the present. Who were they? What is the story behind them, and why were they chosen to feature on Costa Rican means of payment?

The Female Figure in Costa Rican Coins and Banknotes explains it in a chronological tour featuring women both known and unknown.

Queen Victoria I of Great Britain, as well as Costa Rican women such as Esperanza Castro, Amada Zeledón, Emma Gamboa, and Carmen Lyra, are among the women featured in this exhibition. Aside from these real women, female figures representing an idealized view of the American “indian” or symbolizing political ideals and economic or artistic activities in the form of allegories are also among those in this exhibit.

Aside from telling the story of the women represented in each coin or banknote, as well as the different backgrounds of the time when they were issued, this exhibition seeks to motivate its visitors to reflect on the visibilization of women in Costa Rican history.

On the Exhibition

The exhibition is divided into four sections and groups roughly 40 numismatic objects according to the type of representation and historical period it belongs to in the lapse of 169 years studied.

The first section addresses the representation of Queens and princesses from Great Britain featured in coins and banknotes in circulation in Costa Rica from 1845 to 1847. The visitor can see the first banknotes issued by the Anglo-Costa Rican Bank, which displayed the image of Princess Alexandra of Wales, possibly motivated by the nationality of some of the founding partners of the bank and the commercial relations between Costa Rica and Great Britain at the time.

The second part includes objects issued from 1847 to 1864. These pieces sought to redeem native and ancient aspects of Costa Rica by using representations of what was known as the “indians.” The “mariquitas” and the “standing indian” coins are among the most enticing objects in this section.

The next section assembles the largest number of of objects in this exhibit, issued from 1850 to 1930. These are known for being engraved with the female allegorical symbols of the fine arts, literature, agriculture, and commerce.

The second to last section shows two banknotes representing the Costa Rican peasant woman, reflecting the agricultural peak of the 1930s. One of the women portrayed was Esperanza Castro Castro —a housekeeper for the Dr. Eduardo Pinto household—, who was photographed by Manuel Gómez Miralles. Her image was engraved without her consent and uncredited on the 50 colon banknote issued by the International Bank (D series).

The last section credits the contributions of two great women: Emma Gamboa and Carmen Lyra, who were included in the last and current family of banknotes.