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Different examples of German notgeld notes, 1917-19

Notgeld (German for "emergency money" or "necessity money") refers to money issued by an institution in a time of economic or political crisis. The issuing institution is usually one without official sanction from the central government. This occurs usually when sufficient state-produced money is not available from the central bank. Most notably, notgeld generally refers to money produced in Germany and Austria during World War I and the Interbellum. Issuing institutions could be a town's savings banks, municipality and private or state-owned firms.

Notgeld was mainly issued in the form of (paper) banknotes. Sometimes other forms were used, as well: coins, leather, silk, linen, wood, postage stamps, aluminium foil, coal, and porcelain; there are also reports of elemental sulfur being used, as well as all sorts of re-used paper and carton material (e.g. playing cards). These pieces made from playing cards are extremely rare and are known as Spielkarten, the German word for "playing card".

Notgeld was a mutually-accepted means of payment in a particular region or locality, but notes could travel widely. Notgeld is different from occupation money that is issued by an occupying army during a war.

In Germany and Austria[edit]

Notgeld during the Great War[edit]

Notgeld 50 pfennig banknote issued by the southern German city of Burghausen in 1918
Notgeld - Zehn Million Mark from Trier, Germany (1923), view of Trier. Design by Fritz Quant, after a copperplate print by Matthäus Merian (1646)
A 5 million mark coin, issued by the Province of Westphalia during the hyperinflation of 1923

The first large issue of Notgeld started at the outbreak of World War I. Due to inflation—caused by the cost of the war—the value of the material that a coin was minted from was higher than the value of its denomination. Many institutions started to hoard coins. Additionally, the metals used to mint coins were needed for the production of war supplies. This caused a massive shortage of metal for coinage, which was remedied by issuing banknotes in small denominations.

As these banknotes were very colorful, they soon became a target for collectors. As the issuing bodies realized this demand, they continued to issue these notes beyond their economic necessity up until 1922. Quite often the validity period of the note had already expired when the notgeld was issued. The sets that were issued in 1920 and predominantly in 1921 were usually extremely colorful and depicted many subjects, such as local buildings, local scenes and local folklore/tales. Many series tell a short story, with often whimsical illustrations. These sets (that were not actually issued to go into circulation) were known as Serienscheine (a piece issued as a part of a series or set). As they were never issued to go into circulation, they are usually found in uncirculated condition, and are still collected by notgeld collectors all over the world.

Notgeld during the German hyperinflation[edit]

In 1922 inflation started to get out of control in Germany, leading to the German hyperinflation. Until 1923, the value of the mark deteriorated faster and faster and new money in higher denominations was issued constantly. The central bank could not cope with the logistics of providing the necessary supply of money, and Notgeld (Papiermark) was issued again—this time in denominations of thousands, millions and billions of Marks. Because the Mark became so unstable, Notgeld was also issued in the form of commodities or other currencies: wheat, rye, sugar, coal, wood, natural gas, electricity, gold, or US dollars. These pieces were known as Wertbeständige, or notes of "fixed value".

There were also notgeld coins that were made of compressed coal dust. These became quite rare, as most of them were eventually traded with the coal merchant issuer for actual coal and some may have even been burned as fuel.

In other countries[edit]

Ireland (1689–1691)[edit]

Brass crown issued by Jacobite forces. It was intended to be exchanged for a sterling silver coin in the event of James' victory.

The forces of James II minted coins in base metal (copper, brass, pewter) during the Williamite War in Ireland, which were known as gun money, because some of the metal was sourced from melted-down cannons. It was intended that, in the event of James' victory, the coins could be exchanged for real silver coins. They were also stamped with the month of issue so that soldiers could claim interest on their wages. As James lost the war, that replacement never took place, but the coins were allowed to circulate at much reduced values before the copper coinage was resumed.

Sweden (1715–1719)[edit]

In Sweden, between 1715–1719, 42 million coins with the nominal value 1 daler silver were manufactured, but made in copper, with a much smaller metal value. All silver coins were collected by the government, which replaced them with the copper coins. They were called nödmynt ("emergency coins"). This was done to finance the Great Northern War. The government promised to exchange them into the correct value at a future time, a kind of bond made in metal. Only a small part of this value was ever paid.

Belgium (1914–18)[edit]

A French notgeld coin, using a 5 centimes postage stamp to provide an indicator of value, 1920s.

Throughout the German occupation of Belgium during World War I there was a shortage of official coins and banknotes in circulation. As a result, around 600 communes, local governments and companies issued their own unofficial "Necessity Money" (French: monnaie de nécessité, Dutch: noodgeld) to enable the continued functioning of the local economies.[1] These usually took the form of locally-produced banknotes, but a few types of coins were also issued in towns and cities. In 2013, the National Bank of Belgium's museum digitized its collection of Belgian notgeld, which is available online.[2]

France (1914–1927)[edit]

Between 1914 and 1927, large amounts of monnaie de nécessité were issued in France and its North African colonies during the economic crisis caused by World War I. Among the issuing authorities were companies and local chambers of commerce.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Billets de nécessité belges de la Première Guerre mondiale". National Bank of Belgium Museum. Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "Billets de nécessité belges - catalogue". National Bank of Belgium Museum. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 

External links[edit]