What could be more symbolic of Valentine's Day than a love letter, a declaration of love, a "valentine," typically heart-shaped or decorated with love hearts. The heart motif symbolises love and friendship and was so important for several of the designers of Czech and Czechoslovak banknotes that they incorporated it into their designs. Do you know any of them?
The first Czechoslovak treasury notes, designed by Alphonse Mucha and put into circulation in 1919, bore the heart symbol. It was placed between the heads of two girls on the reverse side of the 10 Kč note and between the heads of two women on the obverse side of the 100 Kč note. The denomination was inscribed in the middle of the heart. As was typical of Mucha, the numeral was intertwined and completed with a floral ornament. This was based on Slavic symbolism often employed by Mucha and ornamental design found in Czech folk art, such as embroidery, lace, interior design or the exterior decoration of buildings.
Only a year later, a poster created earlier by Mucha for the Slavia insurance company was used for the obverse side of the 100 Kč treasury note. The female figure sitting in the middle - Slavia, the embodiment of the Slavs - is complemented with tiny hearts, again denoting Slavic symbolism and love.
The 50 Kč note dating from 1929, which was the first banknote to be made fully by the Banknote Printing Works of the National Bank of Czechoslovakia, is often said to contain numerous hidden Masonic symbols. If we look beyond this theory, there are obvious motifs inspired by folk culture, especially the ornamental hearts on both the obverse and reverse sides. While until then the heart was largely only in the background on the banknotes designed by Mucha, it became the central motif on the reverse side of the 50 Kč banknote. A young woman in a folk costume is holding up a heart from which a sprig is growing. The sprig has four linden leaves, symbolising the linden tree, the Czech national tree. So that there is no doubt that this is really the key motif, a circle, formed of tiny stars, is around it.
It is much more difficult to spot the heart motif on other Czechoslovak banknotes. In addition, it is important to distinguish it from a very similar motif - the linden leaf. The only clue is the stalk on the linden leaf. A clearly distinguishable heart symbol can be found, for example, on the reverse side of the 500 Kč treasury note dating from 1938, both in the underprint and in the microtext. Hearts are incorporated into a folkloric plant motif on the reverse side of the 20 Kč banknote issued in 1945 as part of the currency reform. The unissued 500 Kčs banknote also featured a similar design. However, it did not make it into circulation due to the currency reform in 1953.
The heart did not reappear on Czech banknotes until 1993. It then featured on the CZK 50 banknote portraying Agnes of Bohemia, which was designed, like the other Czech banknotes, by Oldřich Kulhánek. However, unlike the previous designs, the banknote depicts a flaming heart, symbolising mercy and self-sacrifice. The tear in its centre was originally round (on the 1993 banknote) and was later changed to the shape of a drop (all versions of the CZK 50 banknote from 1994). A graphic symbol - again a heart - was also placed on the coupon from 1994. However, the banknote ceased to be legal tender in 2011.
If you are still in doubt that Czech banknotes can make you feel that there's love in the air, look carefully at the reverse side of the 100 Kč banknote dating from 1931. The portrayal of love in the form of two doves must make even the most vocal opponents of the Valentine's Day tradition decorate a message to their sweethearts with the very symbol of love on 14 February.