Pretend you are a regional strongman and you decide that your vision of managing the country is better than the vision of the incumbent boob. What is one to do? In a country where the rule of law is tenuous, as it was in Mexico at the turn of the 20th century, you loaded your supporters onto iron horses, slugged back a shot or two of liquid courage (tequila), and rampaged to the capital, rifles blazing.
This is exactly what half-a-dozen revolutionary leaders did during Mexico's oh-so-complicated decade-long revolution in the early part of the 20th century.
Naturally, with each new regime change, so changed the money. According to American Numismatic Society Money Museum curator Lawrence Lee, "The money produced during this time is one of the most complex of the modern age. It is through these bits of metal and paper that we reinterpret the story of this great struggle."
This trail of paper and coin currencies is currently on exhibit at the Money Museum in an exhibit called Viva la revolucin!: The Money of the Mexican Revolution.
The exhibit starts in 1910 when Francisco Madero attempted to oust the incumbent, Porfirio Daz, who ruled Mexico for a quarter of a century. Daz was forced into exile in 1911 only after a group of revolutionaries including Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Emiliano Zapata aided Madero. The following decade became a seesaw battle for Mexico City between numerous forces pitted against each other in equally numerous alliances and betrayals. Although a veritable nightmare for an economist, each of the revolutionary leaders struck their own coins and printed paper currency to pay their troops, buy supplies and set up provisional governments.
One particularly well-designed aspect of the exhibit is its chronological arrangement, introducing each protagonist as he enters the conflict, thereby giving as much a semblance of order to the chaotic time as possible. The history is succinct and (attention Spanish teachers) the presentation is in both English and Spanish. There is also a considerable collection of paper money ranging from the highly detailed and officious to the buffoonishly simple.
The exhibit also contains other pieces of interesting memorabilia from the time including medals, battlefield literature and, of particular interest, a tobacco card featuring Venustiano Carranza, one of the many leaders during that period. (Apparently tobacco producers used the same gimmicks to push their product as they do today.)
A set of black-and-white photographs by Agustin Victor Casasola at the back of the display could probably stand alone as a solo exhibit. Casasola was a Mexican journalist at the turn of the last century who took over 60,000 photographs, many of the Mexican Revolution. While many photographers of the time preferred staged photographs, Casasola believed in "action" shots, making him one of the first photojournalists to combine traditional journalism with the visual image. In stark black-and-white images, the collection of over two dozen photographs shows the nature of the revolution including the fighting in the streets, executions and the cult of personality that surrounded many of the leaders.
-- Aaron Menza
Viva la revolucin!: The Money of the Mexican Revolution
American Numismatic Association Money Museum
818 N. Cascade Ave.
Nov. 20 through Oct. 1, 2004 Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.