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 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.




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.





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







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.


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.



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.

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.


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!


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!

The 1943 Steel Cent

On December 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was launched into WWII.  As the war intensified, more resources were required to keep our military going.  One of those resources was copper.  The increased need of copper for military use, meant less of it for use in other areas of manufacturing, including coins.  The result: The Steel Lincoln Wheat Cent.


In 1942, after several attempts at getting the public to turn in all their pennies, public law 77-815 was passed which allowed the use of metal substitutes for both the Lincoln cent and Jefferson nickel.  The Lincoln cent, at the time, was made of a bronze alloy which consisted primarily of copper, around 12% tin and trace amounts of other metals.  These substitutions were to last no longer than December 31st, 1946.

The first order of business was to halt the production of the Lincoln cent until a different metal could be found that would suffice.  The winner: low-carbon steel coated with zinc. The zinc plating was added to prevent any rust.

Although now silver in color, the images and diameter of the coin remained the same.  The only other difference was the weight.  Because steel weighs less than copper, the coin went from the standard weight of just over 3 grams, to closer to 2.75 grams.

The Philadelphia mint was the first to produce the new steel cent on February 23, 1943, with Denver and San Francisco following the next month.

It didn’t take long for the public to start complaining.  “They look like dimes!”, they said.  Complaints poured into the treasury from all sides.  Vending machine companies were upset because their machines mistook the new coins for slugs (counterfeits) because they were magnetic and underweight.

The Treasury Department definitely heard the complaints and by fall of 1943, they were back to the drawing board.  This time they decided to use an alloy similar to the pre 1943 coins, minus the tin.  In fact, most of the metal used came from the spent brass shell casings coming back from overseas.  The public called these cents “shell-case cents” and they were better received than their counterparts. They were minted until 1946.


After the war, the Treasury recalled all the “steelies” in circulation and by the 1960’s, it was much harder to find them in circulation.  A total of 1,093,838,670 steel cents were produced in 1943.  After the recall, it is estimated that 930 million remained in circulation.  It is not completely uncommon to find steel cents to this day.

From a collecting stand point, two interesting and highly valuable varieties were created during this time, both by accident.  In 1943, when they started making steel cents, a few copper planchets were left in the presses, resulting in a copper/steel mix.  These coins are darker in color because of the copper.  Only 40 are thought to exist, with only 12 being known to the public.  One sold in 2004, for $200,000.

1943 Copper Cent

1943 Copper Cent

A similar error occurred when the switch from steel alloy was made to the brass alloy.  These 1944 Steel Cents are more silver in color and are also magnetic because of the steel.  It is not known exactly how many were minted, but it is estimated to be fewer than the 1943 Copper cent error.  One sold in 2008 for $373,350.

1944 Steel Cent

1944 Steel Cent

Although we do not have any of the error cents, we do have a lot of steel  cents available on both our website and Ebay. While they are not the most beautiful or most practical coin, they represent a vital piece of American history.  Consider adding some to your collection today!

It Costs an Arm and a Leg

According to this common idiom, anything that costs “an arm and a leg” is very expensive.

Many claim to know where the phrase “an arm and a leg” came from. But what is the actual source of this strange idiom?

One incorrect source, part of a popular email titled “Little History Lesson” that spread like wildfire in 2000, claimed that something costing “an arm and a leg” comes from the days of George Washington. Some paintings, the email said, show Washington with an arm behind his back, and other paintings show all his limbs. The painters purportedly charged by the number of limbs in the painting.

But this story is false. While painters might charge for extra details or larger paintings, there is no evidence to suggest a per-limb fee.

The phrase only really shows up after WWII – way after Washington’s time. The earliest known source that finds is from The Long Beach Independent in 1949: “Food Editor Beulah Karney has more than 10 ideas for the homemaker who wants to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and not have it cost her an arm and a leg.”

As part of the cost of WWII, many soldiers had lost limbs during the war. Perhaps these amputations created a dark influence over the English language.

Most likely, however, is the combination of two previous phrases from the 19th century: “I would give my right arm” and “If it takes a leg”.

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.

Picture 7542

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.