The Greatest Forgery in the World

 

 

Even experts sometimes have a hard time telling genuine 1940’s Bank of England notes from the counterfeits produced during Germany’s legendary “Operation Bernhard.” The goal? Destabilize British currency by flooding the market with high-quality bank notes.

 

The original plan was even more audacious: the German masterminds were going to send the notes up in a plane and have them dropped over English cities and towns, assuming no one on wartime rations would want to turn down free cash. This proved impractical, and so the notes would be sent into the market via cash transactions.

 

One of the counterfeiters was Adolph Burger, a half-Jewish Slovakian printer; as the deportations of Jews in Slovakia increased, he forged baptismal certificates that allowed many Jews to escape deportation. When his work was uncovered by the Nazis, he and his wife were sent to Auschwitz, where she died a few months later. Burger was eventually moved from Auschwitz to the secret Operation Bernhard printing facility in the Sachsenhausen camp where one hundred and forty-two prisoners counterfeited four denominations of banknotes, as well as passports, IDs, and stamps. Nearly nine million notes were created, with a face value of over a hundred million pounds.

 

Towards the end of the war, just before Sachsenhausen was liberated, the forgers were moved to the Redl-Zipf camp in Austria, then to the Ebsensee camp. The Nazis intended to kill all the counterfeiters at Ebsensee, but they only had one truck to use for transferring the prisoners between camps. The truck suffered a mechanical failure on the third trip, delaying the last batch of prisoners. When the prisoners already at the camp were ordered into tunnels (presumably to be killed and buried by explosives), they revolted and the guards panicked and ran. The forgers then mixed freely among the other prisoners at Ebensee, and were rescued a few days later, when Allied forces arrived.

 

The Operation Bernhard banknotes are exquisite in their attention to detail. According to Coin World, “The Operation Bernhard notes are still considered among the most perfect counterfeits ever made, with properly engraved plates, rag paper, correct watermarks, and even valid serial numbers. Today, says Colorado specialist William M. Rosenblum, the fakes can be identified with 99 percent certainty based first on serial number ranges, and then by carefully looking for a minuscule anomaly: ‘ “Bank of England” is found in the watermark at the bottom of the note. There is a triangle at the base of the first “N” in England. On the counterfeits there is line that originates from the center of the base of the triangle while on the originals the line is off-center.’”

 

Adolph Burger survived his experience with Operation Bernhard, and it is from his memoir that most of the surviving information has been pieced together. Mr. Burger passed away on December 6, 2016, leaving Hans Walter, now 95 and living in Ohio, as the only surviving member of one of the greatest teams of forgers ever assembled.

The 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

 

 

2cf8cdd99510ac4ceb98ec4d7688be054bb5ef4a75 years ago today, over 300 Japanese airplanes (as well several midget submarines) attacked the United States Navy ships stationed in Pearl Harbor. All of the 8 battleships stationed there were attacked, and 4 were sunk (6 of the ships were repaired and returned to service.) 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, as well. Though intended to keep America out of the Pacific theater of WWII, it served as a catalyst for the United States’ participation in the war.

 

 

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This event has been commemorated on many stamps over the years. In 2014, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp depicting the USS Arizona Memorial, intended for use on Priority Express envelopes. Army aviator and Pearl Harbor survivor Albert Thomas was on hand to help introduce the stamp.

 

 

18-stamp-bennett-inside.jpgAccording to the Cronkite News, “Thomas, who served as an Army pilot, said he remembers finishing breakfast in the mess hall and walking out to the patio when he saw a mustard-colored Japanese airplane fly over on a bombing run. ‘He was low enough, when he looked out of the cockpit I could see that he didn’t have his goggles over his eyes, that his goggles were over his forehead meaning the cockpit was closed,’ he said. ‘I want to honor the Pearl Harbor survivors that are no longer with us,” he said. “May they be remembered down to the last man. I say to them, rest in peace brothers, rest in peace.’”

 

 

pearlh8The United States isn’t the only place you can find Pearl Harbor stamps. This dramatic Ugandan stamp shows Japanese planes in flight over the harbor after the attack.

 

 

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A series from Sierra Leone earlier this year commemorates the battle with images of the planes of the era.

 

 

 

 

 

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A stunning sheet from Gambia illustrates the history of WWII in the Pacific Theater, beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

 

 

 

75 years after the attack, we still remember the loss of life and the bravery of those who responded on that day, as well as those who sacrificed during the years of the war.

The Truth About Captain America’s Unique World Coins

With the third installment of Marvel’s Captain America movie franchise coming to theaters this week, it’s time to put his story into historical context. Often, it’s the odds and ends that tell us more about someone’s life than the big story moments. What stories would Steve Rogers’ pocket change tell?

 

The story begins

In June 22, 1943, a physically weak but passionate recruit, Steve Rogers, volunteered for an experimental Army super-soldier program, and was transformed into Captain America in New Jersey. Due to sabotage, Steve Rogers was the only such super-soldier made before the lab was destroyed. To avoid being used for research, he joined the USO for a tour of the US, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

So what United States coins might the new Captain America have carried?

s-l1600During WWII, the military needed all the copper it could get, and began minting steel pennies in 1943. This penny rusted quickly, and would not work properly in many coin machines; this made it unpopular with the general public. In 1944-45, the government began issuing “shell-case” cents, made from spent ammunition shells. Some of these coins contain streaks of other colors, due to the mixed metals they were made from. In addition to the unique steel and shell-case cents, the government issued silver nickels  from 1942-45, and silver quarters from 1932-1964.

Captain America likely would have had a mix of these coins in his pockets, as well as coins minted before the copper shortage, as he began traveling with the USO.

 

The UK and Italy Tour

For five months, Captain America toured with the USO as part of a “morale-boosting” show for troops at home and abroad. This show traveled through the United Kingdom and Italy, before Captain America broke away to raid a HYDRA facility in Italy and rescue his best friend,  Bucky Barnes, along with other Allied soldiers.

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British coinage did not change substantially in WWII, and Captain America likely would have found himself with a few British pennies with the 1937 George VI image, as well as the 50% silver shilling, minted from 1920-1946.

 

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Allied troops in Italy were issued a unique banknote: the AM-Lira, worth $1 US. These notes were issued after the Allied landing in Sicily on July 9, 1943, a few months before Cap and the USO arrived.

 

Captain America Becomes A Hero

After the raid on the HYDRA facility in Italy, Captain America created his crack team, the Howling Commandos. Tired of having his abilities used for entertainment, Cap led his team on a whirlwind trip around occupied Europe, raiding HYDRA bases and freeing prisoners of war.

 

Belgium_zinc_coins_World_War_II_1940sIn January and February of 1944, the team destroyed HYDRA facilities in Belgium and Slovakia. Both countries had extensive coinage minted during the years of German occupation. Belgian francs and centimes were minted in 100% zinc as an emergency issue; the centime is 1/100th of a franc. Coins were available in 1 and 5 franc denominations, as well as 1, 10, and 25 centime denominations. While many coins listed the country as “Belgie-Belgique,” some coins reversed this order. 

korunaIn Czechoslovakia (Soviet Slovakia at the time), a wider range of coins were available. The 5 halier coin (1942-47) was minted entirely from zinc, while the 10 (1939-47) and 20 (1940-43) halier coins were minted in brass (92% copper and 8% zinc.) The 50 halier piece had two versions: one, minted from 1941-48, was cupronickel (80% copper, 20% nickel); the alternate piece was 100% aluminium. The koruna was minted in cupronickel in the 1 koruna denomination (1940-47), in nickel for the 5 koruna (1939-47), and silver for both of the 20 koruna coins (1939-47, 1941-47).

 

The End of an Era

In early 1945, Captain America and the Howling Commandos helped capture Nazi scientist Arnim Zola in the Austrian Alps. During this mission, Cap’s best friend and fellow solider,  Bucky Barnes, was lost over the side of the train and presumed dead. To avenge his friend and attempt to end the HYDRA threat, Captain America led a daring mission into the heart of HYDRA, and boarded the Valkyrie aircraft, which was on course to destroy New York City. Unable to change the plane’s course, Captain America chose to crash the plane off the coast of Greenland. He was presumed dead on March 4, 1945, and his disappearance released to the public on March 5. He would not be heard from for another 67 years, when an expedition dug him out of the ice.

 

5_Reichsmark_1938During his short time in Austria , Captain America might not have picked up any Austrian coins at all. Until 1938, the 1, 2, 5, and 50 groschen coins were minted (in bronze for the 1 and 2 groschen denominations, and cupronickel for the 5 and 50), along with 1 and 5 schilling coins (in cupronickel and silver, respectively). After the annexation of Austria in 1938, Austrian currency was replaced with the Reichsmark. 

 

We’ll never know exactly which coins Cap carried during his WWII days, but it’s fascinating to speculate. (And the romantic among us might carry a hope that he kept at least one British coin to remind him of Peggy Carter!)

 

Many of the coins mentioned here are for sale from The Stamp and Coin Place! Click the links above, or browse our selection here.

Sales Tax Tokens. What are they?

In today’s world, in most states, sales tax is common place.  We pay it, we accept it and we move on.  At the turn of the 20th century, this was not the case.  Although several countries around the world had a sales tax of some sort, the idea had not been brought to the United States yet.

In 1921, a national 1% sales tax was proposed in a national finance bill.  It was not passed, much to the delight of farmers and other labor interests.  The state of  West Virginia took it upon themselves to implement a state wide sales tax of 1%, which would serve as an example for the rest of country later on.

By 1929, the Great Depression had struck and state governments were trying desperately to make up for the great loss in income tax and out pouring of relief funding due to the overwhelming increase in unemployment.  Many states started to look at West Virginia’s sales tax as a viable option for making up some of the lost revenue.  In 1929, Georgia adopted a state sales tax and by 1933, 11 other states had followed suit.

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The one main problem with sales tax was the odd sales totals that were created.  The basic idea is as follows: Retailers would pay a tax on everything they sold.  This added cost was passed on to the consumer.  If, for example, a person bought something for 10 cents (remember, this is the 1930’s) and there was a 3% sales tax, the total for the item would be 10 cents plus three tenths of a cents for the tax.  Being as there was no three-tenths of a cent coin, the retailer would either lose money by rounding down, or upset the customer and over collect by rounding up.

Enter the sales tax token.

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sales tax tokens allowed for merchants to round up to the nearest cent with out over collecting (making a 10 cent item 11 cents).  The customer would pay the additional tax, and in exchange would receive a tax token that could be used to pay the sales tax on their next 10 cent purchase since, technically, they already paid it.

Confused yet?

Not only did people have to remember to bring their tax tokens along with them, but with over 500 different types and denominations from 12 states, people quickly grew confused and didn’t know what to use when or where.

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By the time World War II rolled around, ration tickets and food stamps were handed out, adding to the confusion.  Most states began dropping tax tokens altogether.  Missouri was the only state to come out of WWII with tax tokens still on their books.  In 1961, they finally dropped them.

By 1969, all but 5 states had enacted some type of sales tax and today that number remains the same today.  Although we no longer use tokens to keep things even, they do still exist in the world of collectibles.  We just came across some in our shop a few weeks ago. and have them listed on Ebay.  Check them out and consider adding this neat piece of history to your collection today.

WWII Impact on Fashion

From Victory Gardens to gasoline rationing, a lot of sacrifices were made on America’s “home front” during World War II. It may surprise you to know that rationing even impacted the world of fashion!

Before the War, silk stockings were a necessary part of every woman’s wardrobe.  No decent woman would be seen in public without her hose and stockings.  In 1938, during the New York World’s Fair, nylon stockings were introduced to the world for the first time.  Hitting the market on May 14th, 1940, every woman needed a pair and rushed in to buy them by the millions!  They were so immediately and widely popular that 75,000 pairs were sold in their first day of release.  After only a year, 64 million of them sat in drawers and closets across America.  They quickly became an integral part of any classy woman’s daily attire.

Stamp & Coin Place Vintage Ads

Stamp & Coin Place Vintage Ads

Affordable, long-lasting and wrinkle-free, the nylon stocking nearly stopped the production of previous hosiery in its tracks.  During the War it turned out that the men needed them more than the women did!  Nylon was found to be the perfect material for manufacturing parachutes and supplies for our troops.  Raw silk was also seized by the Office of Production Management, causing a very limited supply to be sold while reluctant women had to purchase their nylon stockings for $10 a pair.  Supportive of American efforts, women across the country were called upon to give up their stockings to the effort.

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Because of the huge shortage of stockings, the women back home had to make do.  While some went around bare-legged, reserving their last pair of stockings for special occasions, treating them with immense care, others began faking it.

Nylon stockings were such a style symbol at the time that it seemed graceless to go on with out them.  Many women began penciling in lines on their legs to recreate the appearance of stockings using eyeliner or an eyebrow pencil.  These “drawn on stockings” were normalized so that cosmetic companies such as Max Factor began manufacturing “liquid stockings” which could be drawn on and look great for three days (if you didn’t shower).  Rain became a challenge of its own!

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Through the sacrifices of the War, fashion never failed.  As the War came to an end and rations were eased, nylon found its way back to thousands of longing women crowded around stores to snag a pair.  Helen Beaubier recalls that “after the War was over [she] heard Penny’s had nylon stockings”.  She remembers: “I ran out of the house and was going to run down to the store and get nylons and I got a pair and they were thick and they wouldn’t stay up; they were…just awful those first nylons that came”.  In Pittsburgh, 40,000 women formed a mile-long line competing over just 13,000 pairs.  This became known as the “Nylon Riots” of 1945.  The invention of lycra, in 1958, finally put a rest to the nylon craze, but goes to show that “in difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.” (Elsa Schiaparelli)

We’d love to hear your personal experiences with rationing during the War!  Please share with us on our Facebook or Twitter!

Fill Your Flask

An item in most liquor cabinets, the flask is one collectible which is appreciated by many people beyond those who collect them.  With strong American imagery and a history of popularity, it’s no wonder flasks are so widely used today even though their purpose is much diminished.  Flasks invoke imagery of rugged cowboys, of flappers dancing the night away, of American gangsters and Prohibition.  In America’s short history, the flask has made its reputation as an icon of American grit and freedom.

The use of flasks is thought to have started by Norwegians, who as a nomadic people required a durable, compact receptacle to carry their drinks in over long distances.  These early flasks, also called canteens, were much larger than the modern silver or glass flask and were made of leather.  These were popular in a booming America and were used by soldiers in WWII.

Early 1500’s Stoneware Pilgrim Flask

Before the flask, there are records of alternate and somewhat surprising (but effective) ways to store alcohol.  In the Middle Ages, gutted fruit was used to store liquor.  During the 18th century, women smuggling alcohol onto British warships would gut pig bladders and discretely store them under their petticoats.

Masonic meetings of the early 1800’s were B.Y.O.B. at the same time as window glass was gaining popularity.  It only seemed logical to store liquor in these elliptical glass containers, fitting conveniently in pockets across the developing country.  Because many glass manufacturers were Masons, many of the flasks created during this time bear decorative etchings of Masonic emblems.  And because manufacturing glass requires flame, many of these houses were burned to the ground, necessitating new models while the older designs fell into history.  Their distinct markings over the course of their evolution make flasks an excellent historical reference and a subsequently valued collectible.

As the 1800’s grew, so did the popularity of the flask.  By the 1860’s all shapes, colors and sizes of flasks could be found.  Quarts and fifth gallons were sold and etchings became more beautiful and complex.  Silver was found to be an excellent material for holding liquor and was believed to actually improve the taste of the beverage it held!  As a collector’s item, silver flasks are highly valued for their quality and aesthetics.

Stamp & Coin Place Flask

Stamp & Coin Place Flask

During the Prohibition Era, Americans would not be denied their right to drink!  Small flasks were hidden in coat pockets and tight under skirts.  The shape and small size made them perfectly discreet and manageable.  Much of the reason most Americans today associate the flask with imagery of the daring, defiant anti-prohibitionists is due to this classical time period in American history.

Losing their necessity after Prohibition, the flask never lost its appeal.  It found their way into ballparks and establishment where liquor was not served.  Americans would simply not be kept from getting their lips wet.  Even when open containers were banned from such events, plastic flasks were made to pass metal detectors and glass regulations.  An item associated with discretion, the flask serves a similar purpose today as it did in the beginnings of America.  It’s no wonder these collectibles are so prevalent today.  A proud symbol of American liberation and libation, the flask is here to stay.

That’s All She Wrote

 

“That’s all she wrote” is an American phrase used to say that there is nothing else to say about a subject.

And where did it come from? Well, some say it’s the product of some unfortunate soldier in WWII. The tale goes like this: A soldier eagerly opens a letter from his sweetheart. He starts reading to his buddies: “Dear John.” They tell him to go on. “That’s it; that’s all she wrote.” The poor serviceman knows he just got dumped.

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It’s an entertaining tale, and plausible enough. The “Dear John” phrase started being used around WWII, and a number of newspapers reference the letters. Some people credit Franklin Roosevelt with originating the phrase, though that’s probably only because he wrote a lot of letters to people named John.

Concrete written records of “that’s all she wrote” start appearing in 1942; one of the first references from the St. Petersburg Times said: “The things that brought tears to their eyes included…the downcast GI about whom another told them ‘He just got a Dear John letter.’”

The source might also have come from a song by the popular singers Aubry Gass and Tex Ritter which had the line “And that’s all she wrote, Dear John”. And the musician Ernest Tubb sang the country song “That’s All She Wrote” with the lyrics: “I got a letter from my mama, just a line or two / She said listen daddy your good girl’s leavin’ you / That’s all she wrote – didn’t write no more / She’d left the gloom a hanging round my front door.”

It’s perhaps not the most cheerful of phrase origins; but the original WWII tale made the phrase stick around to this day.

 

How to Start Your Own Victory Garden

Winter is on its way, but some of us are already dreaming of spring. And why not put that anticipation of spring to good use?

During World War I and World War II, the government promoted the creation of “victory gardens” or “war gardens”, vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted on private property and public parks.

On a similar vein, Seattle, WA has confirmed plans to build a “Food Forest” full of fruit trees, herbs, and more, all available to the public free of charge.

Creating victory gardens helped with multiple things at once. The public food system was becoming overburdened, and if citizens created their own gardens, more factory food could be shipped to soldiers. They also made people feel like they were truly contributing to the war effort and boosted morale.

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“A Victory Garden is like a share in an airplane factory. It helps win the War and pays dividends too.” -Claude R. Wickard

Victory gardens can be just as useful today – for slightly different reasons. With a growing movement toward at-home solutions, self-reliance, and locally grown foods, victory gardens fit right into place.

So how do you start your own? With perseverance, yard space, and some seeds.

  • Planning is important, which is why you should take the winter season to read up on gardening and the right plants for your area of the world.

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  • Pick your plants. Which veggies, fruits or herbs do you eat the most often? If you’re new to gardening, which ones are the easiest to grow?
  • Decide where to plant your garden. Will you pick a nice patch in your backyard, or will you need to use creative containers like window boxes?

With some patience and reading up, a victory garden can be yours!

Sources:

Victory Garden Informational pdf
As usual, Wikipedia
Starting a Victory Garden
Wartime Educational Film

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