Carrying Around Cash in A Wheelbarrow

World War One officially ended when Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th, 1919.  Fighting had essentially ended with the Armistice of November 11th, 1918. One of the main provisions of the treaty forced “Germany to accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage.” Article 231, later called the “War Guilt Clause” required Germany to disarm, give up territory, and pay reparations amounting to 132 billion marks, equivalent to $442 billion US dollars in 2018.  Because Germany could not pay with gold or currency backed by reserves, they ended up printing more paper money causing massive inflation.


GermanInflationMarks (2)The price of one gold mark in German paper currency at the end of 1918 was two paper mark, but by the end of 1919 a gold mark cost 10 paper mark. This inflation worsened between 1920 and 1922, the devaluation of the paper mark rose from 15 to 1,282 paper mark. In 1923 the value of the paper mark had its worst decline. By July, the cost of a gold mark had risen to 101,112 paper mark, and in September was already at 13 million. On 30 Nov 1923 it cost 1 trillion paper mark to buy a single gold mark.  In the month of October 1923 alone, Germany experienced 29,000% hyperinflation, a mark that has only been surpassed three times in history.


Because of the speed and amount of inflation, the Reichsbank created larger and larger currency denominations.  The largest pre-war denomination was 1000 Mark and was worth about $238 US Dollars. 10,000 Mark notes were created in early 1922.  100,000 and 1 million Mark followed in 1923. At the peak of inflation in October of that year, a 100 trillion mark was introduced, and it was only worth approximately $24 US Dollars.  At the time it was said that Germans would carry their cash in wheelbarrows just to pay for groceries because they needed so much of it to purchase anything and kids would play with it, using stacks as large building blocks and using it to make kites.  


Germany began rebuilding their economy under Gustav Stresemann, leader of the GermanInflationMarks (3)German Peoples’ Party, through international diplomacy and investment.  The reparations repayment schedule would be modified and the US would loan Germany large sums of money that helped stabilize their economy.  This is when the new Rentenmark was introduced as a replacement currency.  One Rentenmark was equivalent to 1 trillion papiermarks.  By limiting the amount of credit and the amount of the new money in circulation, the economy and inflation was brought under control throughout the late 20’s, only to be faced with new challenges with the crash of the US Stock market that effected all of Europe, and then the rise of Hitler leading into WWII.

The Monetary Terrorism of the Holy Roman Empire


Mike Dash calls the “Kipper und Wipper” period of the Holy Roman Empire “arguably the most bizarre episode in all of economic history.” Not only was the currency in a state of increasing debasement, but many city-states actively participated in the debasement in an attempt to weaken their neighboring states.
This is actually considered “monetary terrorism,” and while uncommon today, was a standard practice for Germany in past centuries. The phrase “Kipper und Wipper” has debatable beginnings; kipper could be translated as “clipping” or “to tilt,” with wipper being “seesaw” or “to wag.” Either way, the phrase indicated dishonest practice with coinage: clipping the coins themselves, and unfair measuring practices that allowed debased coinage to be exchanged for precious metal coins.
page1-427px-Der_wartzke_mann.djvu.jpgThe coinage of Europe had already suffered a blow with the influx of precious metals from the New World. The city-states of Europe were already accustomed to having foreign currency circulate freely; this was possible largely due to the public’s faith in the value of the coinage. A reeding had not yet been invented, a precious metal coin could be easily clipped; in addition, the metal in a coin might have been mixed with lower-value metal. As the Thirty Years’ War got underway in the early half of the 17th century, Holy Roman city-states began to actively debase currency, hoping to raise revenue for the war coffers. When brought in for exchange, high-value coins were placed on rigged scales, or the exchangers would keep the scales moving so as to fool the eye. The high-value coinage was then swapped for debased currency.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, “The coins minted in the Empire reflected this barely suppressed chaos. In theory the currency was controlled and harmonized by the terms of the Imperial Mint Ordinance issued at Augsburg in 1559, which specified, on pain of death, that coins could be issued only by a select group of imperial princes via a limited number of mints that were subject to periodic inspections by officials known as Kreiswardeine. In practice, however, the Ordinance was never rigorously enforced, and because it […] cost more to mint low-denomination coins than larger ones, the imperial mints soon stopped producing many smaller coins.”
This vacuum of smaller coinage lead to a strong demand for smaller-denomination coins, since these were used in most daily transactions. Smaller coins began flooding into the states of the Holy Roman Empire, and unauthorized mints popped up frequently. As the number of mints increased, demand for coins rose, and the mints began to issue debased coinage, trying to stretch the precious metal further. Brunswick, for example, had 17 mints in 1620, and 40 by 1625.
saxony_60_kipper_groschen_1622_711919Most states did not debase their own coinage, hoping to maintain a reputation for high-value coins. Instead, the state would issue debased imitations of the coins of neighboring states, and spend them in states even farther away. Charles Kindleberger, an economic historian, writes, “Debasement was at first limited to one’s own territory. It was then found that one could do better by taking bad coins across the border of neighboring principalities and exchanging them for good with the ignorant common people, bringing back the good coins and debasing them again. The territorial unit on which the original injury had been inflicted would debase its own coin in defense, and turn to other neighbors to make good its losses and build its war chest. More and more mints were established, debasement accelerated in hyper-fashion.” This actually worked, for a little while, but soon the public realized what was happening; riots occurred, and in many places, soldiers refused to fight unless they were paid in verified non-debased currency.
The increasingly-corrupt mints constantly found new ways of sneaking debased coinage into circulation. Many kept a certain number of good coins in storage, to be brought out when investigators came poking around. Bad coins were coated in precious metal, or hidden in produce to be smuggled past city gates. Such mints could not stay in business long, of course; once their bad coinage was identified, the mint was forced to close. However, not only did the minters often open new mints, but even formerly-reliable mints were forced to issue debased coinage, as they could no longer afford to produce good coins at the current rate of inflation.
A pamphlet from the time reads, “As soon as one receives a penny or a groschen that is a bit better than another, he becomes a profiteer.… It follows that doctors leave the sick, and think more of their profits than of Hippocrates and Galenus, judges forget the law, hang their practices on the wall and let him who will read Bartholus and Baldus. The same is true of other learned folk, studying arithmetic more than rhetoric and philosophy; merchants, retailers and other trades—people push their businesses with short goods.”
In addition to civic unrest over the economic crisis, the states began to receive taxes and fees in debased coinage; the practice of coin debasement ended around 1623, but the damage was done. The low-value coins were now in circulation in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary. It was common to see children in the streets playing with piles of worthless coins. The cost of food rose an estimated 800%, leaving the poor (and those in cities without the means of producing food) in dire straits. The rulers of the Empire eventually decided to go back to the terms of the 1559 Mint Ordinance, but it was many decades before the effects of the Kipper Und Wipper began to fade.

Emergency! How Crises Resulted in Creative Porcelain Coins


Times of emergency such as war, recession, or other economic crises, often result in shortages of metal. Occasionally, this has led to the use of non-metal materials for coins and tokens, such as the wooden nickels of Depression-era Washington. One of the most interesting materials used in lieu of precious metal was porcelain. The two most famous instances of porcelain coins are the gambling tokens of 18th and 19th century Siam and the German notgeld of the early 1920’s.


Siamese Gambling Tokens


AN00031107_001_l.jpgSiamese gambling tokens were produced in the mid 18th century and in use until 1875. They were made in China (hence the use of Chinese characters on the coins) for use in private gambling establishments in Siam. However, the locals began to use the tokens as legal tender.


an1613091710_lAccording to a post on the Collectors Society website, “the gambling houses were ‘tax farms’ where every year, or some say every three years, the government accepted bids for the right to operate the gambling monopoly for the next period. There were between 500 and 1,000 different firms called ‘hongs’, that issued tokens. To reduce counterfeiting, issues were recalled frequently, and new pieces were issued to replace them. More than 10,000 different varieties are known. They were issued in denominations of from one Att to one Salung. It is believed that between 2,000 and 6,000 pieces of each design were minted.” The tokens were created in a stunning array of colors, shapes, and patterns.


an1613091590_lIn his monograph, Siamese Porcelain and Other Tokens (available in full online from the Cornell  library), H.A. Ramsden quotes Joseph Haas’ book Siamese Coinage: “These counters being issued under authority granted in the gambling licence or concession, they rapidly became a medium of exchange, and were found to fill a long felt want of small money so well, that the circulation went much beyond its legal sphere.”


an1613091955_lRamsden continues, “It is mentioned by Haas that the control of these tokens by the Siamese government became more and more difficult, and at last in 1871, it became necessary to prohibit and stop completely all circulation of these counters […] Schlegel is more explicit, giving August, 1876 as the date on which an order was issued by the government prohibiting the further issue of porcelain ‘coins’ (Porzellanmiinzen) after December of the same year. Weyl is not very clear on this matter, but mentions that coins made of porcelain were current until 1876 [… ]They are all agreed, however, that the circulation of these tokens continued long after their prohibition.” After the turn of the century, gambling was prohibited everywhere except in Bangkok, and after a decade, gambling was prohibited there as well, rendering the tokens useless.


(Note: all gambling token images are courtesy of the British Museum. Please check out their extensive photo gallery for more of these exquisite coins.



German Porcelain Notgeld
10_mark_rsNotgeld is a type of German emergency currency, issued when there was a problem using the standard currency. It took many forms, from base metal coins to colorful paper money, but one of the most unique is the porcelain notegeld. Porcelain notgeld was used between 1915 and 1923, during a coin shortage before the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic. Most of these coins were made from red Böttgerstoneware by Meissen, though some were made from white porcelain; a few even had gilt detailing. Primarily issued in Saxony, these notgeld coins were also used in Thuringia, Silesia, and other parts of Germany.


Hochbahn_hamburg_40.jpgThe porcelain notgeld met the need for small coinage, but proved impractical to use, due to the fragile nature of the coins. The red porcelain was the preferred material, since it showed dirt and grime less than the white china coins. The first porcelain notgeld are noted for having rougher surfaces and less sharp lines, due to being struck from plaster molds. Later coins, made with steel molds, have much sharper details.



The Meissen company continued to strike medals in stoneware and porcelain, even after the notgeld was no longer in use. Their mark, the cross-swards, can be seen on the notgeld and other items made by the company.

Colorizing Postcards

Photo postcards used to only be in black and white. While black and white is all well and good, postcard publishers quickly wanted to add a little color to their offerings.

Did you know that some companies specialized in colorizing postcards? Before cards were actually printed in color, greeting cards and postcards were sent off even to different countries to brighten the cards with exotic colors. This started with holidays like Christmas and Easter, but soon grew into a year-round practice.

The first colorizing started in Leith, Germany with a business called Lundy. Lundy started printing business messages in color.


The first color postcards emerged starting in 1893, more than 20 years after the first postcard was published. Soon the color caught on, and everybody wanted color in their postcards! That set the ball rolling for a lucrative color postcard business, making postcards more in-demand than ever before.

Often, publishers sent photographs to India or Italy to be colored. Their exciting colors stood out to consumers. The brighter the colors, the better.

Colorful & Delightful German Notgeld

Notgeld is quite possibly the most beautiful currency around, which is why it’s so popular with collectors.

Notgeld comes in thousands of designs, all of which have beautiful colors or tell small stories in a tiny space. For any kind of currency, notgeld is remarkably colorful. Notgeld can be printed as a banknote, coin, or in another form.

If it’s not official currency, why was notgeld created in the first place?


During World War I, German villagers started making their own, local currency. Inflation had caused the material of coins to have a higher value than the coins’ denominations, causing people and businesses to start hoarding the coins. Said metals were also needed for war supplies, making coins less common and paper banknotes more practical.

Towns and villages started making their own currency. The first notgeld wasn’t so exciting; the issues were not colorful and existed only for practical purposes. However, later notgeld featured local buildings and landmarks, making each kind of notgeld more personal for locals.

If a German banknote has Reichbanknote written on it, it’s a note created by the state and is not notgeld.

Not = emergency or necessity

Geld = money



Soon, collectors noticed notgeld for its lovely colors. Printers started making sets even after they ceased to meet any economic demand. These were the more colorful sets, which included local folklore stories. These sets, which didn’t go into circulation, were called Serienscheine. They were produced up until 1922.

Germany saw a hyperinflation starting in 1922, causing the need for new runs of notgeld in order to keep up with inflation. But soon other materials became their own kinds of notgeld, like wheat, rye, sugar, coal, or gold, as pieces with a fixed value.

The rarest kind of notgeld is made of coal dust. Coal notgeld burned for fuel, making a coal piece a rare find.

Germany was not the only country to print notgeld: Sweden, Belgium and France also printed notgeld (coins or currency) at one time or another.

Traveling with Art: Bamberg, Germany

The site of major 17th century witch trials and Adolf Hitler’s Bamberg Conference, the historical Bamberg, Germany is today a quaint and pleasant town known for its beer brewing industry and remarkable architecture.

The print you see above, signed by F. Rufuer, shows a far-off view looking down on Bamberg. The subtle colors suggest a peaceful day, and you can see the distant cathedrals and monasteries atop the hill. Even in this print you can see that the town is filled with beautiful architecture.

St. Michael's Church in Bamberg, Germany

St. Michael’s Church in Bamberg, Germany

The first recorded mention of Bamberg was in the year 902, and today its medieval city layout can still be recognized.

In the 17th century, the wave of witch trials and mass hysteria found itself caught in Bamberg, where the famous Drudenhaus was built in 1627, a “witch prison” that was the site of many witch trials and executions. Johannes Junius, one such person accused of witchcraft, made a name for himself in Drudenhaus after confessing to witchcraft under torture then writing a letter to his daughter prior to his execution admitting that he had been forced into a confession of witchcraft. His letter is one of the most valuable records of the witchcraft trials.

A print depicting a woman about to be burned at the stake after a witch trial.

A print depicting a woman about to be burned at the stake after a witch trial.

Today, Bamberg is a pleasant town with old roots. It is not among the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, but for those who do visit, it has pleasant medieval architecture and countless historical sights.

One of its most notable attractions is its brewing industry. Unlike other German breweries that each have their own distinct beer styles, Bamberg’s brewing style cannot be categorized as easily. There are about 300 breweries within a fifty-mile radius of the town, most of which are very small and deliver to only a few pubs.

A bird's eye view of Bamberg.

A bird’s eye view of Bamberg.

Bamberg, Germany has left behind its chaotic periods of history, but it remains a fascinating look at how the past forms the present. Why not take a little trip and sip a local brew while admiring the architecture in this one-of-a-kind town?



Town of Bamberg


Toytown Germany

The Wild Man on Coins and Minds

Civilizations from every era all over the world have each had their own version of a similar myth — that on the fringes of the known world lived savage, shaggy-haired humanoids.

Their names vary from the African Gorilla, the Woodwose of the British Isles, and Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest. The medieval Germans called this creature der wilde mann, or “wild man”. These mysterious creatures, bridging the line between man and beast, appear in the legends of all the continents. Lying outside the realms of organized states and religions, der wilde mann, in all its incarnations, symbolizes the origins of the human species, perhaps even the lost freedoms which civilization attempts to suppress.



It’s not surprising that German-speaking territories were among the areas where the most references to the wild man are to be found. The highest percentage of forested land remaining in Europe can be found in Germany.

One of the last remaining wild places in Germany are the Harz mountains, where silver was mined since the Middle Ages. Legend held that the forests of this region, such as Brunswick-Luneberg and Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, were home to the wild man.

His image can be seen on a high percentage of the talers, or silver dollars and their fractionals, of the area. Coins are not the only place the image of the wild man can be found. The great Gothic cathedrals of Europe feature likenesses of wild men supporting flying buttresses. They also appear in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth sagas, where they are known as “woses”.

German Coin

German Coin

Today these inexpensive coins are popular with collectors and prized by numismatists world-wide. This could be because they contrast so strongly with the stereotypical image of industrial development, heavy machinery, and finely engineered automobiles for which Germany is known.

Even today, in German, to express an idea such as “I feel like a million bucks”, one might say “I slept so well I feel like ripping out trees.” The German language continues to be colored by its origins in the primeval forest.