Money in crisis

Posted on 22nd July 2015 by simonbeattie

Notgeld 1

By 1919, all low-value coins in Germany had vanished, due to a shortage of metal, a shortage which gave rise to a printed phenomenon known as Notgeld, or ‘emergency money’.  Neil MacGregor explains: ‘as there was no longer an effective national currency for the lower denominations, every town and city had to make its own.  High-value notes from the Reichsbank continued to circulate.  Notgeld is the small change of daily life: that is what makes it so interesting.  As the central state faltered, regional memories and loyalties revived, and the diversity that had marked coinage of the eighteenth-century Empire found an exuberant twentieth-century parallel in colourful explorations of local identity and civic pride …

Notgeld 2

‘Looking through these notes is like flicking through a travelogue of Germany, each town presenting its distinctive aspect most likely to appeal to the curiosity of the visitors and the pride of the local inhabitants.  But the interest of these notes is not just topographical.  They present a remarkable survey of the public mood in the years 1919–23, as the Weimar Republic struggled into life; of the issues that alarmed, fascinated and preoccupied the population …  These notes are a compendium of German memories, hopes and fears in the early 1920s’ (Germany: Memories of a Nation, 2014, pp. 419–22, 425).

As many of the notes were beautiful pieces of design in their own right, people started collecting them, and you can sometimes come across whole albums of Notgeld, such as the one here.  This collection had about 800 different notes in it.

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