Category Archives: Banknotes

What we understood by Corona…

It is not easy to be positive about the spread of Covid-19 (the latest Coronavirus) around the world, which as I write has now reached at least 164 countries with a death toll of around 8,000 people.  However, until the start of 2020, “Corona” meant rather different things to people.  I was particularly struck by this while travelling in Pakistan in January and February of this year.  So, I posted a tweet earlier today to explore what people had associated with the word in the past.  This is the result (to be updated should any further suggestions be made!).

Mexico (and Puerto Rico)

Corona beerIn Mexico and indeed in many other countries, Corona was above all else associated with beer!  Produced by Cerveceria Modelo, Corona is a pale lager and one of the five top-selling beers across the world.  In 2013 the Grupo Modelo merged with Anheuser-Busch InBev in a transaction valued at US$ 20.1 billion.  Interestingly, one of the three main breweries in Puerto Rico in the 1930s was called Cerveceria Corona, and it later sold its rights to  Cervecería Modelo de México, which then launched Cerveza Corona as Modelo’s Corona Extra.


indexIn Pakistan, Corona was known above all else as a paint.  It is made by Dawn Coating Industry, which was founded in 1970, and has the ambition of becoming the largest national decorative paint company in the country.  Its advertisments can be seen painted on buildings across Pakistan, but also on hoardings celebrating national holidays.


Screenshot 2020-03-17 at 21.47.25In Spain, Corona, or Coronas, was primarily associated with various wines.  It is perhaps best known in its incarnation in the well-known Familia Torres wine Coronas, which was trademarked as long ago as 1907 by Juan Torres Casals, and is one of the oldest trademarks in the Spanish wine industry.  Today, Torres’ Coronas wine is made mainly from Tempranillo with a small amount of additional Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, Corona in Spanish merely means “crown”, and so the word has also been used for other wines, as in the Corona de Aragón wines, most notably made from Garnacha grapes (produced by Grandes Vinos).


Screenshot 2020-03-17 at 22.00.44In complete contrast, Egyptians thought that Corona was a type of chocolate biscuit (thanks so much to Leila Hassan for sharing this).  Corona was established in Ismailia in 1919 by Tommy Christo (the son of a Greek businessman), as the first confectionery and chocolate company in the Egyptian market.  Corona was nationalised in 1963, and then sold to the Sami Saad Group in 2000.  For some, the association with “Bimbo” reminds them of a roadside café on Route E6 in Mo i Rana in Norway of the same name (thanks Ragnvald Larsen), which provides a neat introduction to that country…


Corona noruegaTo be fair,  very few people made the above connection.  However, the café takes its name from the baby elephant in the Circus Boy series (1956-58) and has persisted since the café first opened in 1967.  Moreover, the Norwegian krone is pronounced in a similar way to the word corona, and as Tono Armas has pointed out in Spanish it is even called “Corona noruega“.


Screenshot 2020-03-18 at 09.40.23The Corona Corporation in Japan traces its origins back to the founding of kerosene cooking stiove factory in Sanjo, Niigata Pref., by Tetsuei Uchida in 1937.  In the late 1970s it entered the air conditioning market, and has subsequently diversified into a range of fan heaters as well as nano-mist saunas and geothermal hybrid hot water systems (Thanks to Yutaka Sato for sharing this).



The Polish Crown. Source: Wikipedia

In Poland “Corona” brings to mind the symbolic significance of the Polish Crown (in Polish: Korona Królestwa Polskiego; in Latin: Corona Regni Poloniae).  This is the term used for the historical territories of the Kingdom of Poland wihtin the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late medieval period.  However, it is also linked to the Homagial Crown of Poland (in Latin: Corona Homagialis), which was part of the Polish Crown Jewels, first mentioned in the 15th century, and possibly referring to the Coronation Crown of Władisław II (Thanks to Jagoda Khatri for sharing this)


Screenshot 2020-03-18 at 09.44.53I am never sure whether California should be seen as distinct from the USA, but for those who live there Corona is a town of about 150,000 people in Riverside County.  It was originally called South Riverside, and was founded during California’s citrus boom in the 1880s.  It was once called “The Lemon Capital of the World” (by USAns), and today is perhaps best known (at least by musicians) for being where the flagship factory,  Custom Shop and headquarters of Fender guitars was established in 1985.


Screenshot 2020-03-18 at 10.10.06

Corona Arch, Utah, USA

One of the most striking “Coronas” is the sandstone Corona Arch in a side canyon of the Colorado Rover west of Moab in Utah, which was once known as Little Rainbow Bridge. This had become a renowned site for rope swinging.  A three mile hiking trail includes Corona Arch and nearby Bowtie Arch.



SolarFor astronomers, of course, a corona is the aura of plasma that surrounds stars including the sun.  More simply, it can be considered as the outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere that extends millions of miles into space, and generates the solar wind that travels across our solar system.  It is difficult to see because it is hidden by the brightness of the sun, but is clearly visible during a total solar eclipse.


For geologists, a corona is a microscopic band of minerals, usually found in a radial arrangement around another mineral.  More generally, it is a term applied to the outcome ofreactions at the rims of structures, where a change in metamorphic conditions can create porphyroblast growth or partial replacement of some minerals by others.


Do please share more thoughts on your memories of Corona before Covid-19.

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Filed under Banknotes, Beer, Uncategorized, Wine

Celebrating the Estonian kroon

On the 1st January 2011, Estonia will join the Eurozone, and its currency the Kroon will fade into the realms of history.  For some this is a cause for great celebration, as Estonia becomes ever more integrated into the European economy.  Andris Vilks, Latvia’s Finance Minister is thus reported as saying that “The introduction of the euro in Estonia will foster long-term economic development in the entire region”. Likewise, as the official site comments, “Estonia’s accession to the euro zone will be in the country’s own interest despite the current crisis gripping the monetary union. The changeover to the euro, a world currency, will boost business confidence, investor confidence, and also the well-being and confidence of the Estonian people.”

However, life is about very much more than mere economic development. Banknotes are thus not only a medium of economic exchange, but are also a fundamentally important symbol of national identity.  On their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, all of the Baltic States thus embarked on a diversity of programmes to reassert their own individual identities. One of the most visible of these expressions was the creation of new currencies and banknote designs that drew on their rich cultural heritages.

In the case of Estonia, the banknotes focused especially on the nation’s original ‘awakening’ in the 19th century, drawing on themes associated with the countryside, small family farms, and the deep significance of  a very particular link with nature.

In summary, the pictures shown were as follows:

  • 1 Kroon – front: image of the graphic artists Kristjan Raud, who illustrated the epic saga Kalevipoeg; back: Toompea Castle
  • 2 Kroon – front: the scientist Karl Ernst von Baer; back: the main building of Tartu University
  • 5 Kroon – front: Paul Keres, an international grand master in chess; back: the towns of Narva and Jaanilinn
  • 10 Kroon – front: Jakob Hurt, the Estonian folklorist who played a major role in the 19th century national awakening; back: the Tame-Lauri oak tree in southern Estonia
  • 25 Kroon – front: Anton Hansen-Tammsaare, author of the saga Truth and Justice; back: Tammsare’s farm at Varagamae
  • 100 Kroon – front: the Estonian poetess Lydia Koidula; back: the northern Estonian limestone cliffs at Panga Pank
  • 500 Kroon – front: Carl Robert Jakobsen, journalist and promoter of agriculture; back: a barn swallow, the Estonian national bird, flying over a rural landscape

Designed by Vladimir Taiger and printed by Thomas de la Rue, I find these banknotes to be exceptionally beautiful, capturing with great insight the aspirations of some of those who strove to create a new Estonia following the Soviet occupation.  To be sure, this vision of a rural heritage did not sit well with those who were determined to turn Estonia into a thriving capitalist urban economy, and it is perhaps symbolic of the shift in political power within the country that it was at the vanguard of those knocking on the door of Europe, both in terms of its original incorporation into the European Union in 2004, and now with its rejection of the Kroon in favour of the Euro.  As I predicted back in 2000 when writing about the creation of these banknotes, “This efflorescence of artistic representations of national identity in the 1990s therefore reflects a brief and poignant moment in these states’ development”.

Let us celebrate the short history of the new Estonian Kroon and hope that its replacement by the bland, anodyne and utilitarian commercial instrument of the Euro will not reflect the complete submersion of Estonia’s proud identity within the selfish, individualistic capitalist mentality that drives the Eurozone and its arrogant bankers.

[I was fortunate enough to speak with many of those involved in the original design and production of these banknotes in the course of a British Academy funded research project with Virginia Hewitt, the results of which were published as:

  • Hewitt, V. and Unwin, T. (2004)  Reconstructing national identities: the banknotes of central and eastern Europe in the 1990s, in: Green, E., Lampe, J. and Stiblar, F. (eds) Crisis and Renewal in 20th Century Banking, Aldershot: Ashgate, 254-275.
  • Unwin, T. and  Hewitt, V. (2001) Banknotes and national identity in central and eastern Europe, Political Geography, 20, 1005-1028.
  • Hewitt, V. and Unwin, T. (2001) Vidurio ir rytų Europos šalių Xxa dešimtujo dešimtecio banknotai, Pinigų Studijos, 3, 88-100
  • Unwin, T. (2001) Banknotes and national identity in central and eastern Europe, The British Academy Review, 46-48]

For further comment, see also this BBC report published on 23rd December 2010 that captures the diversity of opinion in Estonia surrounding the ditching of the Kroon.


Filed under Banknotes