I always state that you can tell a lot about a country and their history by the images on their banknotes. One of the most common features of any note is a portrait of someone synonymous with that country. Whether someone like Gandhi on the Indian rupee, or Saddam Hussein on the Iraqi dinar; those immortalized on their currency could be for heroic, historical, or horrific reasons. However could you imagine being featured on a banknote, completely by accident? And not just one note, but over 30? Well that’s the story of Bartholomeus Vermuyden, who became the face of the South African rand all because of a slight mix up.
Jan Van Riebeeck was a Dutch national and navigator, who is credited with the finding and settling of Cape Town in 1652. Jan Van Riebeeck is a name widely known in South Africa today, he was so well known that in 1948 he made his appearance on the South African banknotes… or so it was thought.
Years later it was discovered that the portrait of the man credited to be Jan Van Riebeeck, is in fact not the Dutch settler but someone who never even stepped foot on the continent of Africa. The photo above shows on the left the real Jan Van Riebeeck in comparison to the widely recognized image on the right (now known to be Bartholomeus Vermuyden). How could a mix up of this magnitude happen? A time before photos had to be Instagram verified you were reliant on paintings to identify a person. I find it fascinating that the man who appears on coins, stamps, even statues is Bartholomeus Vermuyden. Bartholomeus is thought to have died around 1650, I wonder how shocked he would have been discovering his face plastered on the currency of country he’d never even visited, for over 40 years.
I find this amazing story just another reason banknotes are fascinating windows into our past and history. You can see our collection of South African notes, as well as those featuring “Jan Van Riebeeck” here. We also have a great collection of the new notes featuring Nelson Mandela.