Narodowy Bank Polski: A Surprising Museum

Tucked along one side of Świętokrzyska Street is an unassumingly grey building which houses the National Bank of Poland (Bank Narodowy Polski) and a Centre of Money, which really turns out to be museum about the history of money.

I had arrived earlier than usual for a meeting with a family friend and their nieces, so I waited around, and enjoyed the scenery. For some reason, there were a lot of fancy cars driving through the street all at once, which showed how far Poland has come since the 1990s, when it became it’s own independent country again.

Soon after, the friend and the nieces showed up, and we made a ladies’ day out with the trip to the Centre of Money. I was expecting something boring, with types of really old money is exhibited behind glass casings, so I was pleasantly surprised when this Centre was anything but that.

In fact, it was huge on interactive displays for the children, as a way to explain the history of money, and how back in the days, people would trade goods that they made for other goods, and determined the worth on what was necessary at that time for each other. The Centre was the first time that I have seen someone explain this fact by making it a game for the kids, and honestly, the adults to try and play.  The four of us were standing there, enraptured with these screens, trying to figure out whether the chicken, the sack of potatoes, the clothes or the weapons were the ones that the other person wanted for their goods.

The centre did have exhibitions about the first types of money available, some of which was so intricate I thought it was jewelry. The truth was that it jewelry made out of silver was at one point considered valuable to pass as money.  As our time through the museum went on, we found an exhibition about Polish Money through the ages, and the banking structures throughout Poland’s partitions as part of the Prussian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires. I didn’t get much time to spend on this portion because the nieces were getting tired.  I do find this interesting, considering that my day job is in the financial industry, so this is something that I would like to learn more about–I’m sure there were key differences in how banking was handled in the different territories of Poland that once were part of different empires. The exhibit also had the different types of Polish money throughout the centuries, which was really cool to see.

 

At the end of the self-tour, we went to the “vault” of the bank, which really was a replica of the vault, and had numerous faux safety-deposit boxes.  One of the most fascinating items that I found in this section was the exhibits on different types of coins from around the world.  Suddenly, I was seeing 50 mexican pesos from 1947, 1929, and 1959,  20 Canadian dollar coins from 1967 and 1976, 20 US Dollars from 1904, 1907, and 1908, 20 Spanish Reali from 1861, 25 Spanish pesetas from 1877, and tons of other types of coins. What really struck me dumb was the fact that all of them were in gold. I’m not sure if these are a replica of the real thing, or the acutal thing, but they were all in gold, which I guess for the time period that they were produced makes sense, as gold was considered the standard around the globe for many years.

In addition to that, one of the nieces and I headed into the section of the exhibition where explore the topic of real and fake notes. The girl was curious about what was going on, and how you could tell real from fake money, because it’s really difficult to look through the glass and tell the difference. This was an opportunity for me to put my knowledge of the finance industry into play and showed her a real US dollar and a real Polish Złoty under the UV lamps so that she could see what safeguards the funds have, and this is probably the only time I’ve seen UV lamps that are accessible to the general public to try them out on their own money. Most of the time, this stuff is in the back, behind the teller line, where they check your money before you deposit it.

This museum surprised me and it definitely has become one of my more favorite museums in Warsaw, especially because of how interactive it is, and the amount of history it has.  So if you’re in Warsaw, and you’re looking to learn about money, this is one place you should definitely visit!  In addition, the museum is very DHH friendly, because all of the screens have closed-captioning and everything is clearly written out, with very little requiring verbal explanation.

 

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