New Zealand Wins Bank Note of the Year

New Zealand’s $5 Bank Note

The International Bank Note Society has awarded its annual prize for best designed bank note to New Zealand for its $5 polymer note. The design features the face of native mountain climber Sir Edmund Hillary, with a backdrop of Mount Cook and, for fun, a yellow-eyed penguin seemingly printed in metallic ink.

I know a lot of people complain about U.S. bank notes being unimaginative and not particularly attractive, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot of other bills that strike me as significantly better. Like this New Zealand note, most seem overburdened with too many colors and too many details. I realize that a lot of these design decisions are security focused and so any evaluation of their aesthetic worth needs to be seen through that lens. But for me, most all of them fall down on the job of creating a distinctly original currency brand for their respective countries. It’s unfair to say that you can spot American money from a mile away—the notes themselves benefit from the huge worldwide brand that is the U.S. of A.—but for better or worse, our greenbacks are distinctive.

The New Zealand $5 note beat out runners up from Sweden, Russia, Kazakhstan and Scotland, but I bet if you mixed them all up, most people couldn’t tell at a glance whether they were from different countries or all from the same country, much less identify their origins. That seems like a missed opportunity.

Read more about the competition in this article at