Popped into the National Archive for the small, temporary exhibit on women workers! Not super sure on the best translation. Let’s go with “Impressions of Working Women.”
There’s an exhibit room just inside the Archive, where visitors don’t have to go through security. It’s pretty small, but a nice place for a curated show of documents.
Plenty of great old photos, which, of course. It’s the Archive.
Actually, though, know what was most impressive? The freaking exhibit room.
That’s all for this minipost! If you’re in Microcentro taking in the government-affiliated tourist sights, you’ll be close to the Archivo General de la Nación. Pop in for a few minutes to see whatever historic documents they have out for eyeballing and the amazing exhibit room at 25 de mayo 263, weekdays from 10 to 5.
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.
BUT IT WASN’T.
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.
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.
Next up are examples of colonial-era currency.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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’m going to wrap this us with the museum’s most endearing feature, a selfie point.
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.
Well, hello, 2019. I have been a terrible writer. I was in the US for the end of December and all of January, and even though I took with me a backlog of museum visits to work on while I was there, it obviously never happened because a good 97% of my focus at home is devoted to getting tacos. Thank you for your understanding.
So now I’m home, and also sick, which is a great condition for acclimating to the change in time zone, but whatever, my point is I have time. So–
This is the Museo Judío de Buenos Aires, and if you’re thinking that’s a bit unassuming and you might miss it, don’t worry, because this is the temple next door:
The museum is connected to the Templo Libertad, the central synagogue of Buenos Aires. It faces the same stretch of squares as the Teatro Colón and the Supreme Court building. I’ll touch on the history of Jewish Argentines lightly as I go here, but Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, and their history is, of course, extensive.
Visitors to the museum will encounter first a heavy, locked door, and they must be buzzed into the antechamber. Visitors are at this point required to show identification to the doorman, who sits behind a shield. After that, the doorman is able to buzz visitors through the next heavy, locked door. You will find extra security precautions at many Jewish schools and synagogues in the city; 1992 and 1994 saw two major terrorist attacks against the Jewish community (the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center [AMIA], respectively). They are accustomed to foreign visitors, and passports are welcome forms of identification.
Inside, you will find a warm and welcoming staff. The signage is in Spanish, although an audioguide is available in multiple languages for download on smartphones, so bring some headphones. It does not appear that the guide is linked on the museum’s website, so it requires Internet access within the building or a local data plan. I hope they consider linking it in the main website so it can be downloaded prior to visiting. I also hope they expand the content someday, as it is on the lean side, but nevertheless a pleasant way to tour the museum.
The museum’s collection is entirely donated, and it includes ancient artifacts:
As well as a few contemporary art pieces here and there:
…which is a nice touch, a reminder of the museum’s place within a community that is both ancient and living.
Most of the items are from the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a 19th century Polish Tanahk (Hebrew Bible) in miniature that could be hidden on one’s person as necessary.
There are other religious texts and cases:
…as well as items related to Jewish life from all over the world:
In the late 1800s-early 1900s, there was a large number of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe, escaping violence and attracted by Argentina’s liberal immigration policy. Thousands settled into agricultural life, and Jewish gauchos became a thing.
My favorite part was the Menorah collection!
Also the Torah pointer, which is just a really practical design.
Visitors can also see the temple itself, which is very impressive, and hosts an active congregation.
The museum has a small gift shop.
A unique history museum and worthwhile visit, the Museo Judío de Buenos Aires is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm. The entry fee is a relatively steep US $10 for foreigners (but currently 80 pesos for Argentine residents and 50 pesos for Argentine retirees). It’s easy to get to via the B and D subway lines and a multitude of buses, and just down the street from Teatro Colón, so it’s right in the thick of things.
Stepping inside, however, reveals a slick space of vibrant color, from the enormous performance posters to the magic, clown, and practical joke props for sale. Visiting during normal shop hours will also grant you a look at a (small for museum but large for personal, which it is) collection of magic artifacts, including original posters from the 19th and 20th centuries, props, photos, and books. Most of it centers on one stage magician in particular.
There was once a famous magician named David Bamberg, who was the seventh, and final, member of the Bamberg dynasty of Dutch magicians. During the first half of the 20th century, he performed in Chinese-style clothing under the fakey Chinese and remarkably racist name Fu Manchu.
Odd place for a lot of the stuff belonging to a UK-born itinerant magician of Dutch extraction to end up, right? Well, David Bamberg started using the stage name “Fu Manchu” in Buenos Aires, and eventually retired here and opened a magic school. He died in the city in 1974.
The museum is a small room, so it only takes a few minutes to look around, but if you’re interested in vintage magic stuff in general or David Bamberg in particular, you’re going to like it.
There is also a cabinet of mid-century Argentine magic props. The sign says the staff will not tell you how they work.
Visit the Argentine Museum of Magic in the Bazar de Magia during store hours every day but Sunday, but they break for lunch–check the website for hours. The store not only has magic props and gags, there’s also books on magic (even some in English). You can walk there from the Plaza de Mayo, and it’s around the corner from the Avienda de Mayo stop on the C line.