*What is notgeld?

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A brief history......

During and after WWI, money, especially small change, was in short supply and this was down to several reasons. There had been an expansion of the German occupied territories and too much 'real money' had flowed to those new areas. Nickel coins were gradually withdrawn from circulation so that the metal could be used in the war efforts and people's natural tendancy to hold onto something of value, (ie) coins and banknotes, furthered the shortage. The value and price of silver had also risen dramatically so all the silver coins vanished from circulation, as their intrinsic value was higher than their face value. There had been a lack of small face-value regular change since 1916 and this was felt throughout the entire country. The striking of 50pf coins had taken far too long, it was stated by the national bank......possibly due to lack of workers because of the war. The coinage was now being made from zinc and iron...........and today, there are still many metal notgeld coins from around 1917 that can be found by the collector.

To alleviate this problem of the shortage of small change that was needed for day-to-day business, the state bank (Reichsbank) appears to have agreed to allow towns, villages and municipalities to issue their own money. These issues, initially were actual emergency issues. The word not means emergency or necessity and geld means money, so notgeld means emergency money....... These highly collectable 'German Gems', interesting old banknotes, with their different colourful motives and designs, can usually be found at flea markets etc. and will fascinate the collectors out there!! They have certainly kept my interest for over 46 years now!!

Notgeld was issued by several countries, but this website is primarily interested in the non-metal notgeld issues of Germany....... and also, but to a much lesser extent, Austria.


The note above tells of a 'miracle' - the ploy of an abbey to get its coffers full again! (Full translations are available for my GNCC members)

('Notgeld'.....awaryjne pieniadze" i ich niemieckie wydania sa z lat 1914-1923. Wydawane byly glownie z powodu braku drobnych. Wiekszosc jest bardzo kolorowa i pieknie zaprojektowana. Kolekcjonerzy doceniaja ich rozmaitosc (serienscheine). Sa rozsadne w cenie, dlaczego wiec nie rozpoczac ich kolekcjonowania czy rozszerzyc dodatkowo kolekcji? Obecnie uzywam niemieckich nazw miast z ktorych pochodza, ale z czasem bede dodawal takze polskie nazwy miast.)


As time went on, more and more towns and villages jumped on the band wagon to print their own money, so that eventually, individual towns were able to produce notes that depicted their town's buildings or things that were important to their identity. If the town produced a commodity, eg) silk (Bielefeld), then the notes quite often depicted these manufacturing processes. In the above example, several of the Bielefeld notgeld issues were actually printed on silk and linen. Local 'heroes' could be depicted as could scenes from around and about, so the beauty of the notes' designs furthered the demand of the collectors. It was a popular hobby of the times.......collecting these notgeld issues.....with some people seeing notgeld as a record and recorded history of the turbulent times!

Different bodies started to issue notgeld that included (but were not limited to).......city authorities, town authorities, municipal savings banks, parish councils, chambers of commerce, church authorities, political parties, cultural societies, trade associations, military associations, transportation companies.....................and also independent businesses like cafes, hotels, spas and health resorts, cinemas, shooting clubs, sports clubs and tournaments, festivals, fairs and other 'private' issues. There were even notgeld exhibitions ('notgeld sammlerbund') where notgeld were produced for that specific event! 

Weimar ausstelung2


I am fascinated by the opportunity the local artists seem to have had to design money  - not primarily burdened by the rules applied in designing official banknotes (with all the anti currency-fakers devices and tricks they need nowadays).

In any case, there was plenty of 'swindling' going on in the notgeld issuing arena itself!! Over time, the validity periods on notes were shortened to the extent that they were only valid for a few days. Even that was stretched  to the extreme......and notgeld were issued with invalid validity dates (the date had already passed). There were issues from towns or places that didn't exist and issuing authorities charging collectors of the time, 'admistration costs' or selling pieces above their face value because they knew the collectors wanted their notgeld issues.

So most of the notgeld issues were official documents, signed by the Burgermeister, commissioned by the city and stamped with the relevent authority stampmark - they were not an individual artistic gesture (in most cases), but a collective expression of feelings, fears, love for places and peoples, hatred against some ethnic groups or professions, outcrying of grief and the despair felt by the German people after the Treaty of Versailles.................they are a history lesson in themselves!


So many of these notgeld were so colourful, that it was inevitable that collectors would soon become interested in them - investing time and effort in research and cataloguing and better understanding why they came about and why their issues were so prolific. Emergency money collecting had first become really popular when returning soldiers, from WWI, had returned to civilian life and became interested in them, after 1918. All the slight variants in the pieces made (and still make) notgeld collecting so interesting!!

The Heidelberg 'Teitel' platen press, manufactured in Germany, was introduced in 1914 and could print up to 1,000 copies an hour. Along with the development of offset lithography in the early 20th century, these innovations made the efficient mass production of high quality printed material widely accessible. It helps to explain why so many of the 1921 issues are so well printed. The commercial lithography or letterpress printing is simple and robust, so coupled with the fact that the serienscheine issues were printed for the collectors of the time and not issued for general circulation, means that collectors can pick up pieces that are in almost mint condition. Some collectors contact me stating they look too good to be true!

(Can you spot the differences with the 2 notes above? I've pencilled around one of them.............)

When a collector gets a notgeld in, be sure to compare with what you already have - it may not be the same piece! Different paper, different colourings, different watermarks.......