Pressure on the availability of metals and the reduced value of the German Mark during World War I led local communities to create their own currency. It was not backed by anything more than the trust that local merchants and people would accept them and trade them for valuable products. These pieces of paper became known as Notgeld which translates to Emergency Money or Necessary Money. This “money” was needed to facilitate local commerce. There were no credit cards and few coins or even paper marks to be found, so the local communities filled the need, and the federal bank either didn’t have the power to stop it, or just let it happen.

Soldiers During WWI
Source: AS

There was no restriction on the design or even denomination of the Notgeld. While during the war, the designs were often pretty basic and had a local government stamp or a signature of the town leader- the Buergermeister. After the war, the artists and local officials went wild.

Allenstein 10 Pfennig Notgeld | 1921 | Designs before implementation of German Mark |
Source: Banknote World

Notgeld Design Before German Mark

Each community created a notgeld and often designed them to show off local history, culture or buildings. Remember at the time, there was significant unrest in Germany. In 1919 there was a civil war that led to the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the Weimar Republic. Germany was burdened with unrealistic debts from the war which led to massive hyperinflation. Notgeld was the way local communities could promote themselves, express themselves and maintain a reasonable level of local commerce.

Bielefeld 5 Mark Notgeld | 1920 |
Source: Banknote World

This variety, messaging and graphics led to significant levels of collecting. It seemed to start with returning soldiers who travelled through many towns and got to see many of the different notgeld. Quickly many Germans collected notgeld from neighboring communities.

Many people today might compare this to collecting matchbooks or general currency. I thought it was similar to bar paper napkins my father collected when I was a kid. These napkins (which I still have, but that is for another blog) had jokes or recipes or other art on them. Maybe I thought this because the first piece of notgeld I collected was made of silk and was the size and shape of a bar napkin. This one was from Bielefeld, which was known for textiles. As you can imagine, this was a very difficult time for Germans. Some notgeld showed their frustrations by depicting death and sickness or anti-government messages.

German 20,000 Mark | 1923 | P-85 |
Source: Banknote World

Production of Notgeld officially ended in 1923 when the German government and the Central Bank created the German Mark. There are probably over 1000 different notgeld designs and localities. The variety has led to an entire sub-segment of collectors. And if you read German, they can be even more fun.

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