Masterpieces from the golden age of banknote designing

Pengő and korona were regarded as real masterpieces with their special banknote designing solutions in artistic aspects. Beyond the meticulously elaborated patterns that reflect the sophisticated graphical-artistic culture of the period, their speciality is that their portraits show not only famous persons (like Sebestyén Tinódi Lantos) but also common people, for example Palóc girl from Bény Valéria Rudas, and Rózsi Tóth on the 5 pengő banknotes, or Lúcia Lendvay from Székesfehérvár, who posed on the 1 billion millpengő banknotes. Despite their anonymity, the persons of “money models” sometimes got into the focus of media and public interest.

200831112.JPGThe decorative graphic solutions of pengő and korona were born in the golden age of illustrations of banknote designing, between 1880 and 1930. Although experts usually do not consider it a separate period in the aspect of art history, its importance is outstanding because graphic illustrations had a central role in making typographic illustrative pictures during this time, due to the lack of photographic images. 

200831512.JPGThe huge demand in graphic works can explain why so many graphic works having excellent artistic value were made during this period, and why graphic illustration became more sophisticated then. Besides the illustrating trends of the era, this sophistication is reflected on the images of korona and pengő as well. 

Opening the door to the devil of greediness? – Opinions from the time of korona

beolvass0009.jpg“Since money was invented as a general unit of exchange, all other powers have been dwarfed by the extraordinary effect of this new power. This became a blessing to humanity on one hand and a curse on the other hand. By providing a much easier way for exchanging values instead of the rather difficult bartering: it brought a blessing to humanity; but by spinning the values as fast as possible, it invited clever cunningness: opening the door to avarice, the devil of greediness too.” – Zalamegye, 1895.

2008309111_msolata.JPGBesides being the tool of accounts, an almost indispensable tool of different transactions and of keeping assets, money is also an instrument of power, of which a great quantity is required for those who want to have power and influence the society. This idea was shared in the period of the Austro-Hungarian korona (Krone) as well:

“Merely knowledge, intellectual and emotional excellencies are not considered the base of the modern elite. But money and fortune (even without knowledge and spiritual or moral grandeur) provide everybody with social distinction at a certain degree.” – Zalamegye, 1895.

Female models on the portraits of Austro-Hungarian koronas

200830511.JPGSome models of the portraits on Austro-Hungarian korona that was introduced in 1892 were unknown persons, but some models were well known. A famous one was opera singer Mina Wiesmüller, whose portrait was made by her husband graphic artist Heinrich Lefler. Mrs. Wiesmüller was on the one-thousand and the ten-thousand korona banknotes as well.

A two-hundred-pengő salary makes you live easily!

200831411.jpgIndeed! At the end of the twenties, a monthly income of two hundred pengős was considered a rather high salary. The name “pengő” had already been used for labelling metal coins that gave a nice twanging sound when knocking them to a hard surface before introducing the currency. Its popularity was probably hidden in the fact (besides beloved portrait illustrations) that its style was similar to other popular banknotes like dollar in the beginning, and its illustrations copied the Austrian krone regarding portraits for example.

200831412.JPGThe verso of the currency was often illustrated with landscapes, townscapes, buildings from paintings, or drawings made of other artistic works, like sculptures. In the thirties, the image of pengő was renewed owing to Endre Horváth mainly. His works became the exemplary samples of the Hungarian banknote graphics, creating a new era in banknote design. His merits are indisputable, although he used Ferenc Helbing’s banknote designs in his own works from time to time.

The woman who became a celebrity due to the ten pengő note

200831111.jpgThe young Mária Böhle was a casual hand at the company, where her father worked as a typographer. It was the father’s idea that his daughter should pose to the ten pengő note. Later, this made her famous, because the contemporary press was interested in the model very much. An interview with her was published in the journal Est for example. Some of her fans even proposed to her. Newspaper Magyar Nemzet announced a prize draw in 1939 with the title “Who is this woman, whom millions adore?” After recognizing herself, the model applied for the prize, and won two books. A quote in one of the books was fixed in her mind so much that she could tell it by heart, when Károly Leányfalusi visited her in 1987:

“I am the money, the wage, the shop, the price, I am expected by everyone’s love. Father against son, knife against brother, the world stands in blood, for me, for me, for me, because I am the money!” – Az érem (The Coin) 1987.

Károly Erdélyi

Translated by Zita Aknai


  • Leányfalusi Károly: Bőle Mária arcképe a 10 pengős bankjegyen. (1987). „Az érem” (43). 2. (in Hungarian) 
  • Rádóczy Gyula, Tasnádi Géza: Magyar papírpénzek. Budapest, (1992). ISBN 9637434119 (in Hungarian)
  • Holmár Zoltán: Női modellek a magyar bankjegyeken( 4. September 2016. (in Hungarian)
  • MTI: Nyolcvanéves lenne a pengő( 30. december 2006. (in Hungarian)
  • „Pénz és előkelőség" (1895). Zalamegye(14). 5. (in Hungarian)
  • On the cover photo: "10 Pengő from Hungary" (, (PDM)


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