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If you take a closer look at the Singapore Ship series, you should see a colourful lithographic printed mythical creature, on the central panel, unique to every denomination (except the $2). I could easily recognize the creatures on the $1, $5 and $10 notes, but beyond that the creatures are so stylised I find it hard to tell what they are. So I asked myself: do other people know and can they tell or it’s just me?
To encourage participation, I thought of giving away a small prize (a Ship $2 Red 3-in-1 uncut sheet) to anyone who can tell me the answers of the mythical creature depicted on the $5, $10, $50 & $100 notes. Contradict to the idea, as the organizer I must know the answers in order to determine the winner!
So I checked the MAS website and to my surprise, they are not all mythical but rather auspicious creatures in the Chinese culture.
Why auspicious creatures? And why only in the Chinese culture and not other cultures? Is it about Feng-Shui, the ancient art of geomancy and astrology?
The Ship series (1984 – 1999) was the third series of banknotes after the Bird and Orchid. Clearly no mythical or auspicious creatures were found in those earlier series. So what were the designers and stakeholders thinking that led them to use auspicious creatures in our currency? What influenced them?
Let’s take a trip back into history at the time when the notes were designed. I guess it would be between 1980 and ‘81 when the design directions were decided and production begun in ‘82 and ‘83.
Singapore in 1975 had just survived the first decade of its independence and the seventies were tumultuous years not for the faint hearted. In the short span between 1975 and ‘79, catastrophes, communism and the cold-war machinery were not far away from our door-step.
Communist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975- cities were purged and over 1.7 million people murdered in The Killing Fields. Communist North Vietnam captured Saigon and eventually unified as Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. In the same year, Indonesia invaded East Timor and the Great Tangshan earthquakes killed over 240,000.
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrown the Khmer Rouge; China retaliated by invading northern Vietnam and in less than a month, both sides suffered a combined casualties of over 100,000.
The political landscapes in the region were transformed so quickly, you could almost smell it coming. So as a small country, we need to do whatever we can- every man and every creature, shall do their part, moving from strength to strength, to fulfil our destiny. And yes . . . we did.
So whether it was a desperate or intended attempt to improve our feng-shui and ward off bad luck, or merely a form of stylised art by having the auspicious creatures to make our banknotes look “auspiciously” better, as long as the promissory notes give confidence to the holders, then they have served us well. And I’d like to thank the designers and their higher-up for giving us this beautiful and majestic Ship series.
Auspicious Creatures in the Ship Series (1984 – 1999)
$1 Chinese Crane (鹤 symbol of longevity)
$5 Chinese Lion with a Ball (狮 symbol of power & majesty)
$10 Phoenix (凤 凰 symbol of prosperity, peace & good government)
$50 Mandarin Ducks (鸳鸯 symbol of fidelity, conjugal affection, peace & prosperity)
$100 Chinese Crane (鹤 symbol of longevity)
$500 Chinese Peony & Butterfly (牡丹 symbol of happiness & prosperity; 蝴蝶 joy & warmth)
$1,000 Stylised Phoenix (凤 凰 symbol of prosperity, peace & good government)
$10,000 Chinese Dragon (龙 symbol of benevolence, prosperity & longevity)
*The above information is taken from mas.gov.sg and primaltrek.com
Now if you’re the note designer for the 5th series, to keep your job, you better have more Mandarin Ducks!! :-)))
I’m sorry I can’t show you photo of the $500, $1,000 & $10,000 notes because I don’t have any. If you have them and would like to share them with fellow enthusiasts here, pls email me.
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