Museo al Banco Central de la Republica Argentina [Argentina Central Bank Museum]

You might recall I have visited a bank museum before, that of the Banco Ciudad.  It was a very interesting look at the bank’s founding and role in society, and I was slow to add any other bank museums to my list when I found another one.  I assumed it would be similar.


The new entrance is a bigger version of this one.

Banco Central is the national bank of Argentina, and its history is of course tied to the economic history of the country, which is, to put it generously, bonkers.  The museum, officially known as the Museo Histórico y Numismático Héctor Carlos Janson, takes an entirely different course than that of Banco Ciudad and focuses on the history and development of currency.  That history is also bonkers.

The first room of the museum looks briefly at the history of currency in South America.

Oh, hey, is that a painting the recreates elements of a 17th century map? Probably pretty charming!
Is…is Buenos Aires Mary? Or Jesus? You know what, nevermind.

Anyway, back before Europeans arrived for their extended pillage-murder spree, frequently used currency items included cocoa beans, leaves, small metal pieces, and cowrie shells.

Only nobles had access to cocoa trees and the bean store houses. Yes, there were also counterfeit beans.

Next up are examples of colonial-era currency.

Obviously everything in this museum was in a glass case, so it’s a whole post of just super shitty photography.

The colonial coins were minted in Potosí, in Bolivia, close to Cerro Rico, a huge silver mine that Spain spent years plundering.  A stunning number of miners have died there over time, earning the place the name “the mountain that eats men,” because nothing in colonial history isn’t horrifically grim (mining the mountain continues to be horrifically grim).

VTRAQUE VNUM: “Both Are One” (Spain and the colonies), LOL.

Next up, the first currency minted following independence:



Money was minted by the provincial governments, which is why the gold coin above says “Provinces of the Rio de la Plata.”  The Banco de las Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata was created with the aim of unifying the nation’s printed currency, but the other provinces were not cool with this so it did not happen (had a lot to do with economic troubles from the war with Brazil).  So, money from all over continued.

Notes were printed abroad, and included portraits of important figures of independence in the New World, such as Simón Bolivar, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and William Penn.


Things got weird, as things tend to do, during the civil war.  General de Rosas, blurrily pictured below, dissolved the national bank and created an administration to issue paper money and coins.  These were monedas corrientes.  I am not nearly as well-versed in Argentine history as the museum’s informational panels assume, so I can’t much fill you in beyond that.


You will note, possibly, two things about the following bill: One, its domination is 1000, which means it was rapidly devaluating, generally not at all a good thing; and two, it’s got palm trees and kangaroos on it.


The money was at the time printed in Buenos Aires, but the plates were engraved in London.  The museum notes that printing houses at the time worked for several countries and contends that’s why the kangaroo and llama appear together on an Argentine banknote, but frankly I still have a lot of questions.

I also find the next phase of currency a wee bit confusing, something that can likely be attributed once again to my lack of knowledge of the nation’s history, but next you get “pesos fuertes” and “pesos corrientes.”

If there is any unifying lesson to this museum, it’s that the Argentine economy has never been all that stable.

Here we take a small detour into a historical oddity.  A French lawyer showed up in the west of the country and in 1860 declared himself “King of the Araucania and Patagonia.”  He then created a constitution, a flag, and a national anthem, and started minting money.

Orélie-Antoine de Tounens, looking a lot like a dude that would just go do something like that.

He was arrested, declared insane, and deported, but he apparently took his claim very seriously and tried, for the rest of his life and without success, to really make it stick.  He died childless, but people have claimed to be his heirs for awhile now, and they actually still mint (technically worthless) coins, I guess for the sole purpose of having them displayed at the Central Bank museum.


Now, I’m going to hop forward about 100 years, skipping a major financial crisis, to get to the financial crises of recent history.  There was a substantial devaluation during the military dictatorship, which attempted to stabilize things, but, spoiler alert, did not.

These are from the last couple years of the dictatorship, the early 80s.

The military dictatorship fell and democracy was restored in 1983, but there was still a huuuuge problem in the form of a massive external debt, currency devaluation, and serious inflation.  The new government started whacking off zeroes, so that 10000 old pesos would equal one new peso.


It did not work.  These were printed in 1983; by 1985, 10000 peso notes were back in circulation.  That year, the president decided what the country really needed was to start from scratch.  The peso was old and busted.  The Austral was the new hotness.




The name “peso” made its return with the “pesos convertibles” in the 90s, when the peso was pegged to the US dollar at a 1 to 1 rate.  This also didn’t work and led to the financial crisis of 2001, which many Argentines can tell you absolutely wild stories about.  The president famously fled the Pink House by helicopter.  Some of the bills from this period are still in circulation; I could dig some out of my wallet right now.


This time of utter economic collapse led to a widespread return to a barter economy, leading to the use of these barter network vouchers.


Things got…okay after that.  And then less okay.  That’s kind of how it goes here.

The current government, for political reasons I’m not going to get into, decided that the money needed a makeover, so now it’s all about the nature.

Oh, hey…we’re back up to 1000 pesos notes.  Huh.

After the rooms of currency, the museum has some historical artifacts related to the history of banking in Argentina, including French scales used to weigh coins.


Eva Perón spent a few months working out of the Central Bank, and they have her office furniture.

I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s hard to overstate Evita’s importance here.

I’m going to wrap this us with the museum’s most endearing feature, a selfie point.

These denominations should be good for a few months, at least.

The Banco Central Museum is located in the financial district of Buenos Aires, blocks from the Plaza de Mayo, at San Martín 216.  It is open Monday through Friday, 10am to 4pm, and is free.  There are some information cards in English for each room, although several were missing when I visited, and they are not particularly complete.  The main signage is solely in Spanish.  As it is located in the city’s heart, you can get to the museum in a million, billion ways.

Museo de la Deuda Externa [Museum of External Debt]

Currently, there has been a lot of protesting around public education, the lack of funding, and the teachers’ and professors’ terribly low pay, so I will be making an effort to visit the museum network of UBA. The Museum of External Debt is the second one I’ve posted on.


One of the consequences of growing up middle class in the USA is a general sort of insulation from macroeconomics.  At least for me, there just wasn’t an awareness of what went on at the national level.  Part of that was childhood, sure, but I don’t think you really find economic turmoil that really disrupts the political institutions of the US after the Industrial Age–and really, not *that* disruptive.

You don’t have to go back very far to find that kind of chaos in Argentina.  You can see damaged door handle of a bank in the post on the Banco Cuidad museum.  There were riots, police brutality, dozens killed, and an iconic image of the president fleeing the Casa Rosada in a helicopter.

Against that backdrop of economic chaos in 2001, students and professors in the Universidad de Buenos Aires’s economics department began to discuss a museum on Argentina’s external debt.  In 2005 the museum display opened at its first location.  It is currently located within the economics building of UBA, and it has a travelling version and also a healthy online presence.


It’s tucked into the first floor, and you can it through the windows on the other side of the building.


The physical space of the museum is just the one exhibition room.  And it is basically a room-sized pamphlet.  It is all text and photos.  None of that text is in English.  But, an English audio tour is available if you ask at the desk.  There’s a pretty slick booklet about the museum available, with text in four languages: Spanish, French, Italian, and German.  Haha.

These are postcards that were designed at UBA’s architecture, design and urbanism department, for the museum, and they are pretty eye-catching.

If your Spanish kinda sucks, you are definitely going to want the English audio tour.  It doesn’t read the displays word for word, but it gives you a solid idea of what’s there, and it’s simple to follow along.

There’s plenty to parse on the disastrous war of the triple alliance against Paraguay, but there are two things widely agreed on:  1) Argentina owed Great Britain money, and 2) Great Britain made out pretty well as a result of the war. 


In the interest of national sovereignty, paying off external debt was a priority during Perón’s first term.

The history of Argentina’s foreign debt is sketched out, along with the problems the debt (and whatever attending corruption came with it) contributed to for the population of Argentina.  Things get super ugly, as things do, during the military dictatorship of the 70s/80s.

The debt gets very huge and the economy tanks, but the population can do very little about macroeconomics when the leadership is actively murdering opposition.

Argentina has really been in a state of economic crisis or at least crisis-adjacent ever since.  Being unable to untangle itself from a considerable foreign-held debt has had some pretty crippling effects, and addressing the problems has been insanely complicated.

Economic collapse and a president evacuated from the Casa Rosada by helicopter.  NOT IDEAL.
The next four guys came and went within EIGHT DAYS.

The museum ends with the economic policies of Néstor Kirchner and the restructuring of the debt.  Wish I could say it stops in 2007 because everything got super rad after that, but alas. As of this posting, Twitter is flush with memes by Argentines laugh-crying their way through the latest plunge of the peso.

Comics and Debt

The museum has created a heck of a lot of sophisticated supplementary materials, including four entire comic books and a board game (you can read the comics online for free here).  There is a documentary.  There is a cartoon miniseries.  There is a stunning array of media available on the topic.

The museum is open from 9am to 9pm, Monday-Friday, and it’s free.  It’s across the street from the Facultad de Medicina stop on the D line of the subway.  If you aren’t near enough to visit, the website is quite robust, so you can absorb it from afar.  As a bonus, unrelated factoid, if you look at the top of the economics building, you’ll see a medical scene, as the building was originally the medical school.

“Today, we will be conducting the autopsy of the economy of Argentina…”