Constellations and common sense

I’m going to start making videos about interesting stuff I come across, and the other day I decided I had a cool topic to start with – these five dots:

EURion constellation
From: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EURion.svg#mw-jump-to-license

Not much to look at – but! – these dots, which are known as the EURion constellation, are interesting because if they exist on a piece of paper you’d like to scan or photocopy, the machine will refuse to copy the paper.

This is useful for two things:

  • Pranks
  • Preventing the copying of banknotes for money counterfeiting

In fact, the EURion constellation is very popular on banknotes! Here is a happy citizen, gazing with love at a shiny new £10 UK note, and sure enough, there’s a bunch of orange EURion dots on the left of the note:

JPEG image
From https://www.flickr.com/photos/bankofengland/35809801882/in/album-72157662787666013/

I guess I’m pretty naive about how money is designed. Unless it’s something like the Euro 1, I assumed that every country designed everything that went on to their banknotes. Wrong – because the EURion constellation crops up on a few other notes.

From the Wikipedia, these include the Armenian dram, Aruban florin, Austrian schilling, Australian dollar, Belgian franc, Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark, Bulgarian lev, Canadian dollar, CFA franc, Chilean peso, Chinese yuan, Comorian franc, Croatian kuna, Czech koruna, Danish krone, Djiboutian franc, Dutch guilder, Egyptian pound, Euro, Faroese króna, French franc, German mark, Hungarian forint, Indian rupee, Indonesian rupiah, Japanese yen, Kyrgyzstani som, Kuwaiti dinar, Macanese pataca, Malagasy ariary, Mexican peso, Moroccan dirham, Namibian dollar, Netherlands Antillean gulden, Norwegian krone, Polish złoty, Romanian leu, Saudi riyal, Singapore dollar, South African rand, South Korean won, Slovak koruna, Surinamese dollar, Swazi lilangeni, Swedish krona, Swiss franc, Thai baht, Tunisian dinar, Turkish lira, Ugandan shilling, United Arab Emirates dirham, United States dollar and Zimbabwean bond notes.

Phew.

So why am I not making a video about this? Weeeeeell, here’s the common sense.

What I wanted to do was make a video in which I would essentially have a slideshow of bank notes, zooming in to the constellations and highlighting five dots, possibly to the beat of something like Take Five, for any watching music nerds.

This would be cool because a) I could show you just how widespread this semi-secret symbol is, b) how some countries nicely use the constellation in their design, rather than the obvious “here are some dots” approach on the current UK notes, and c) it’d probably be more engaging than something like, say, a blog post.

The thing is – as I’d been thinking about, at length – governments across the world do not want you to make digital copies their notes.

They would like it if you didn’t include all, or even parts of, their notes in your projects. They even used things like, oh I don’t know, the EURion constellation to help to prevent people spreading pictures of banknotes.

The Bank of England has a whole page dedicated to the digital use of their notes, as well as a handy list of approved images which you can use without going to prison. You can also contact various countries’ banks asking for permission, but… that was never going to happen.

So in future, before embarking on a project, collecting the highest resolution images of as many of the world’s banknotes as I can find, scoping out free-use music in 5/4 timing and typing “counterfeiting banknotes” into Google enough times to get added to a watchlist, I will try to ask myself “is there any reason I shouldn’t make this?”.


  1. From which the EURion constellation gets its name: a) because it looks a bit like the Orion constellation and b) because it was discovered on Euros – that’s right – discovered. This anti-fraud device was invented, quietly rolled out across the world and it seems like we only know about them because somebody noticed. ↩︎