The Euro symbol (€), supposedly but not certainly designed by Alain Billiet, was selected from a pool of proposals. According to a very official-looking document from europa.eu:
Some thirty drafts were drawn up internally. Of these, ten were put to the test of approval by the general public. Two designs emerged from the survey well ahead of the rest. It was from these two that the President of the Commission at the time, Jacques Santer, and the European Commissioner with responsibility for the euro, Yves-Thibault de Silguy, made their final choice.
The BBC writes that the runner-up design is now "all but impossible to trace". However, if the above is true, members of the public saw nine alternate designs, one of which they considered acceptable. Perhaps the survey conducted was small, but unless respondents had to sign nondisclosure agreements, information about it may survive. What were the nine other designs?
It is indeed improbable to see these now, as non-disclosure is the exact thing the European Commission had asked for.
Even if Arthur Eisenmenger claims to be the designer.
Despite claims by the European politicians to the contrary, the Euro symbol was first designed by a German designer, Luxembourg-based euro-fanatic, Arthur Eisenmenger (b. 1915), who was the former Chief Graphician of the European Community until his retirement in 1974. He also designed the European Union flag. Eisenmenger claimed that it was in fact he who created the symbol a quarter of a century before its unveiling in 1997.
But an article about Alain Biliet explains:
Billiet shows me some of his designs, which the EU has ordered not to publish in the newspapers.
"I also designed single-stripe euro signs and also rectangular signs. The rectangular ones were shot off, because in the southern European countries, for example, it has a negative connotation.
Some people from test panels even saw a swastika in it. The current design was preferred."
The euro became visible at the end of 1996, which was very important for the currency that everyone was talking about, but which was not due to become tangible until 1 January 2002. But getting 340 million people behind something, as Billiet has already experienced, is almost impossible. The world of typographers, in particular, is reacting in a very negative way. A thing that in no way fits into texts is what it says there. Billiet acknowledges that typographical requirements were not considered during the design process: "But the logo can be adapted to their requirements, can't it? It is up to the typographers to deal with it creatively. I don't have a problem with it if the sign has to be distorted in order to fit into texts."
Nevertheless, Dutch DTL font provider uses, in Argo, the Unger proposal for a Euro sign symbol:
Which is not necessarily coming from the Commission's internal work, but might give a glimpse into possibilities.
A new glyph for the European currency
But for all the intransparency the European Union is often loathed for, the history of that symbol is just such a symbol.
Given the important role the euro plays in the world's financial markets, and since it came into being relatively recently, you'd think it should be possible to present a definitive account of the origin of the euro's symbol, €. However, as with much else that emanates from the European Union, the story is less than clear.
Provisions for a European currency were first laid down in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The name of the currency, 'euro', was adopted in December 1995. But it wasn't until December 1996 that we first got to see the € sign, when Jacques Santer, the ninth president of the European Commission, unveiled the proposed currency symbol in a special ceremony. And it wasn't until 1997 that specifications for the symbol were made public. So according to this timescale, the € sign must have been developed some time in the period 1992-96, and probably towards the end of that period. But who actually designed it?
The European Commission own the copyright to € and, according to the official EC website, the symbol was chosen from an initial pool of 32 proposals. When submitting those initial sketches, the designers were asked to be mindful of three criteria.
First, the design had to be a recognisable symbol of Europe. Second, the design should have a clear visual link with existing currency symbols. Third, the symbol should be aesthetically pleasing and easy to write by hand.
According to the European Commission's official website the initial 32 proposals were whittled down to ten; a public survey reduced the candidates to two; and then from those two, the EC chose the winning design. Their choice of the € symbol could certainly be said to have met the criteria they set. Regarding the first criterion: the shape of the € symbol is entirely appropriate. It not only evokes the first letter of the word 'Europe', it is similar in form to the Greek letter epsilon and thus it harks back to the cradle of European civilisation. The symbol is now seen around the world and it's immediately recognisable. The second criterion has likewise been met with the € sign: two parallel lines appear on some versions of various currency symbols - $, £, ¥, and so on - and are probably there to certify currency stability (although with the events that have happened since the inancial calamity of 2007, and the strains on the eurozone caused by the Greek debt crisis and Brexit, this seems like a bad joke). The third criterion was partly subjective, and several graphic designers have expressed negative comments about the symbol - but the € sign is certainly not difficult to write by hand.
Unfortunately, even though the process for adopting a sign for the new currency resulted in an entirely appropriate choice, the European Commission chose to keep the details of the process secret. So we don't know what the other proposals looked like, nor do we know the identity of the winning designer. (Santer said that a team of four people created the design, although Alain Billiet, a Belgian graphic designer, is widely regarded as the creator of this important symbol.)
In the summer of 1997, Arthur Eisenmenger - a German artist who had once served as the chief graphic designer for the European Economic Community - watched on television as Jacques Santer discussed the new symbol for the euro. Eisenmenger, who was then 82, got up from his wheelchair and shouted to his wife 'Mechthild, look, that's my E, my E!'. Eisenmenger claimed he designed the € as a symbol for Europe about a quarter of a century before the single European currency was established. So in the absence of open information from the European Commission, there remains controversy over who designed the €. Was it Eisenmenger? Billiet? An anonymous graphic design team? We might never know.
- Stephen Webb: "Clash of Symbols. A Ride Through the Riches of Glyphs", Springer: Cham, 2018. (DOI)
Curiously, the process of designing and choosing one design for the coins and banknotes is much more readily accessible.
Heike Winter: "The Design Of Euro Banknotes. Drafts and decision processes", in: Reiner Cunz: "Money and Identity. Lectures about History, Design and Museology of Money", [Proceedings of the 11th Meeting of the International Committee of Money and Banking Museums (ICOMON), Seoul, 2004], Hannover 2007. pp.81-101