Notgeld, German Emergency Currency - Notes between 1914 and 1923. A private collection.
After 800 years of life in the same region, my family abandoned the motherland. In 1934 Germany under Nazism had become unlivable and the danger was all too clear. They were lucky enough to understand the risk it was for Jews living there and left. Until then, they had been part of a comfortable and prosperous middle class involved in the tobacco business based in the city of Karlsruhe.

This collection of Notgeld was started by our grandfather when he noticed that the issuing of Notgeld was not the norm but the exception in the history of currencies. He started collecting Notgeld during his business travels. Notgeld was issued by many German and Austrian towns and companies to make front to deflation first and inflation later with the objective of providing stability to workers and residents.
Notgeld (emergency currency) was issued by cities, boroughs, and even private companies while there was a shortage of official coins and bills. Nobody would pay in coins while their nominal value was less than the value of the metal. And when inflation became rampant, the state was just unable to print bills fast enough. Some companies couldn't pay their workers because the Reichsbank just couldn't provide enough bills. So they started to print their own money -- they even asked the Reichsbank beforehand for permission to do so. As long as the Notgeld was accepted, no real harm was done--it was just a certificate of debt. It was often a more stable currency than real money, as sometimes the denomination was a certain amount of gold, dollars, corn, meat, or other commodity.

They made it very pretty on purpose: many people collected the bills, and the debt would never have to be paid. Many were specifically made for collecting, they were called "Serienscheine", and special albums were sold for the specific purpose of organizing and displaying these collections. I have one of such albums. They were printed on all kinds of materials: leather, fabric, porcelain, silk, tin foil... I have several bills produced by tanneries which were printed in leather, and other materials, reflecting the nature of the business or town that issued it.

Notgeld was not legal tender, so the only people who dealt in it were those that wanted to. It was stable and debt free. To keep it flowing, sometimes it was set up to loose 2 or 3% of its value every month, which kept people from hoarding it.

There were several advantages to issuing Notgeld. First, it stabilized local government and local markets, so people could sell and buy what they needed. They also allowed for government services to keep functioning. Second, it was a stabilizing influence on the real currency, which was still used. And third, it helped to concentrate the real currency at the government level, so the country could import things not found locally, as well as pay foreign debt.

It was a controlled complementary currency, prices were set by whoever issued it. In effect, this created wide scale and orderly rationing.

At a personal level, my interest in these notes lies in the fact that many of these Notgeld carry the seed of the development of twentieth century artistic and political movements. Some well known artists, most notably Herbert Bayer who later was among the founders of the Bauhaus, designed bills that are still considered masterpieces of modern typography. These artistic and ideological movements still influence our thinking and inform our consciousness, our taste and many aspects of our lives.

I cannot but shiver at the emergence of National Socialism palpable in the art of many of these notes, some of which are openly antisemitic. I admire the level of craftsmanship and obsession that characterizes this nation, evident in the production of this work. But when looking at these virtues in a historical context I see what they have come to mean for our civilization. And it allows me to remember the consequences. Yet, these notgeld cast a redeeming light.

I still buy Notgeld ocasionaly to add to this collection. I have about 5,500 notes. To put this in context, about 125.000 different ones were minted, so I don't expect ever to have a complete collection.

Every once in a while I open the binders where they are stored and enjoy the designs.
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