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Expo ’58, the Atomium and the National Bank of Belgium

The Universal and International Exhibition – Brussels 1958, Expo ’58 for short, opened its doors 17th April north of the Brussels city centre at the Heysel plains with the Osseghem Park in the middle. Before the final closure of the gates on October, 19th almost 42 million people visited the Expo and Brussels was completely transformed: amongst new buildings that had sprung up main avenues had been transformed into urban motorways. The Atomium, one of Belgium’s contributions to the Expo, became a national emblem and a Brussels identity mark. Expo 58 has marked the country as well as its population to such an extent that even years afterwards coins and notes were brought into circulation that commemorated this major event.

Expo 58

The 50 francs coin of 1958

Coin of 50 francs struck on the occasion of Expo 58On the occasion of the Expo an entirely new silver coin of 50 francs was struck. The engraver, Carlos Van Dionant, represented the head of King Baudouin to the left on the obverse and the Brussels Grand’Place with the town hall on the reverse. On the obverse the legend was put either in French or in Dutch, two of the three official languages of Belgium: .BAUDOUIN.ROI.DES.BELGES. or .BOUDEWIJN.KONING.DER.BELGEN. On the reverse the effigy was completed by a star with five unequal rays encompassing the date and a terrestrial globe. This silver coin with a fineness of 0,835 measures 30 mm and weighs 12,5 g.

The 20 francs note of 1964

Front side of the 20 francs noteThe note of 20 francs of the 1964 type belongs to the collective memory of all Belgians who already turned thirty. Thanks to its low facial value and, hence, its small size , it was commonly used for day-to-day payments. Its popularity challenged the printing works of the National Bank of Belgium to find a method that would enhance its life span. The solution they came up with was a slightly plastified note and indeed, the average life was prolonged to 26 months. This 20 francs note is the one and only type of Belgian paper money which had a plastic coating. This note is also a tribute to the young king Baudouin. His portrait appears twice on the note: once as the main feature on the obverse, a second time more discrete as a watermark. This mark impressed in paper replaced the more than 40 years old watermark of one of King Baudouins forefathers, King Leopold I. Since its introduction in 1962 it can be found on all Belgian notes, except for the last series.

Back side of the 20 francs noteThe notes of 20 francs of the 1964 type, as well as the 50 francs notes issued from 1966 onwards were printed by the Printing Works of the National Bank of Belgium for the account of the Belgian Treasury. They are part of the limited number of note types that have been issued by the Treasury from 1927 to 1989. Values that have been printed for the Treasury are 5, 10, 20 and 50 francs. The intention was that those notes should be replaced by coins, that’s why they are also called “coin notes”. Another characteristic of these notes is that, in contrast with banknotes issued by the National Bank of Belgium itself and printed after the monetary reform of October 1944, they are no longer exchangeable at the counters of the NBB.

The obverse of the 20 francs note shows the portrait of the young king Baudouin. It has been designed by Luc De Decker and Henri Decuyper made the engraving. On a background of guilloches or line ornaments the name of the issuer, i.e. Royaume de Belgique Trésorerie, as well as the facial value, the date and the signature of the Director-general of the Treasury can be read. In between the watermark and the text, the coat of arms of the Belgian Kingdom and its motto “L’Union fait la force” (= strenght in unity) is shown. Finally, to deter potential forgers, there’s also the statement “La loi punit le contrefacteur” (= the forger will be punished by law). On the obverse all text is printed in French.

On the reverse the structure of the iron molecule as well as the symbolic representation of the movement of the electrons can be seen. This structure, which probably makes you think of the Atomium, refers to the nine provinces that Belgium had at that time. On the reverse all text is printed in Dutch (issuer, value, date, signature, anti-forgery statement).

These notes were redrawn from circulation in 1982 and finally replaced by coins with a much longer life span. These coins which were struck by the Royal Mint also came in very handy to insert in vending machines.

The Belgian 2006 commemorative coin of € 2

commemorative coin of € 2When in April 2006 the two year restoration work at the Atomium came to an end, Belgium grasped this occasion to issue its second commemorative coin of € 2. The Atomium is represented in the coin’s core together with the initials of the designer, Luc Luycx, the Brussels’ mintmark (a cherub’s head) and the mintmastermark (scales). In the outer ring twelve stars encircle the Brussels’ monument. On top a B refers to Belgium and the issuing year can be found at the bottom. A limited number of five million coins of this type have been struck by the Royal Mint of Belgium.

Those coins and banknotes which can, amongst many others, all be admired in the Museum prove that the Universal and International Exhibition – Brussels 1958 also left its marks in our wallets and purses.

Laurence Herman
Museum guide

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