State-issued currency is the scaffolding upon which capitalism was built, but it’s always been prone to mayhem. For instance in 1920s Germany, extreme inflation forced German businesses to actually print millions of their own customized paper bills. Now largely forgotten, this notgeld, or “emergency money,” was once ubiquitous—amounting to an ornately-decorated I.O.U. in Weimar Germany.
Notgeld was a catch-all name for private currency, printed between World War I and World War II in Germany and Austria. There are hundreds—maybe thousands—of unique bills, each created for a specific amount of gold, cash, or even corn and grain. Each printer created (or commissioned) its own design, which ranged from beautiful turn-of-the-century engravings to modernist Bauhaus-inspired typography. The most complete collection of notgeld online comes courtesy of Brooklynite Miguel Oks, whose German ancestors began archiving the bills in the 1930s—thousands of which you can see on his Flickr.
So what sparked this proliferation of wildly decorative—and often quite beautiful—emergency currency? There’s a long version and a short version, the latter of which began during World War I, with incredibly rapid inflation spurred by the cost of war. Compounding the problem, the demand for metals used to make weapons and ammunition caused the value of traditional coinage to skyrocket—and soon, banks were printing more and more paper money to make up for the disappearing coins.
Even after the Great War ended, strict reparations and a subsequent depression made for even more inflation—this was Mack the Knife-era Weimar, where hunger and unemployment were the norm. Companies were often forced to issue specialized notgeld to pay their employees, simply because the state-run mints couldn’t print enough money to satisfy the demand for bills. So instead, businesses and organizations made their own—and according to Oks, it was often even more stable than conventional bills, since it was tied to gold or another tangible resource.
Fascinatingly, there was also a financial logic to the elaborate decorations that grace many of these bills. Miguel Oks explains:
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 them. They were printed on all kinds of materials: leather, fabric, porcelain, silk, tin foil…
So the decorations on notgeld bills weren’t just “of their time.” They were actually calculated attempts to create collector’s items—which would thus never be turned in for actual compensation.
Of course, financial instability—and all the social ills that came with it—would play a huge role in the rise of National Socialism. If you look closely, the designs on some of these bills speak to the earliest inklings of Nazi ideology, too, from wounded German soldiers to Germanic mythological figures—innocuous signals of darker times ahead. But they also offer a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of this hard-fought era. Check out some of the voluminous collection below. [Miguel Oks on Flickr; Quipsologies]
~ British led project covered the famous coastline in poignant silhouettes
~ A team of 500 artists and volunteers contributed the moving installation
~ The ‘fallen’ were left to be washed away by the tide at the end of the day
A pair of British artists have created this stunning installation of 9,000 silhouettes on a D-Day Landings beach to mark international Peace Day.
The project, named, ‘The Fallen’ is a tribute to the civilians, German forces and Allies who lost their lives during the Operation Neptune landing on June 6, 1944.
The design was the brainchild of Jamie Wardley, 33, and Andy Moss, 50.
Together with a team of volunteers the pair travelled to Arromanches beach, Normandy, to create the silhouettes, which were individually drawn into the sand.
Moving: The Peace Day tribute is a poignant reminder the thousands who died during Operation Overlord
Concept: According to artists Jamie Wardley, 33, and Andy Moss, 50, the idea behind the piece was to create a visual representation of loss on an unimaginable scale
Those taking part made the shape of a person by putting down a stencil and raking the surface to create a distinctive figure.
The shapes were then left to the mercy of the tide which washed away the ‘fallen’ after around four and a half hours.
Speaking of the idea behind the project Wardley said: ‘The Fallen is a sobering reminder of what happens when peace is not present.
‘The idea is to create a visual representation of what is otherwise unimaginable, the thousands of human lives lost during the hours of the tide during the Second World War Normandy landings.
‘People understand that so many lives were lost that day but it’s incredibly difficult to picture that number.’
Sand men: The team of artists and volunteers created 9,000 of the shadows which were eventually reclaimed by the sea
Teamwork: The project was originally made of 60 people, but after locals learned about the tribute they quickly joined in
Lending a hand: By the end of the day it is estimated that 500 people had chipped in to create the stunning beach art
‘You could see the horrific casualty of war when you stood on the cliff looking down at the beach.
‘Watching the tide come in and wash the bodies away was symbolic of all the lives lost in all wars, not just during the Normandy Landings.’
Veterans and families, including some who have lost loved ones in recent conflicts have been involved in the project.
Wardley, who has been working with partner since 2009, said: ‘We turned up to the beach with a team of 60 people but by the end we had over 500 people taking part.
‘There were people from all over the world who had heard about the event and travelled all the way to France to take part.
Unity: Operation Neptune is remembered as one of the great showings of wartime unity as the Allied forced launched their assault on Nazi occupied France
Reclaimed: The installation was designed so that the sea would wash over the bodies and wipe them from the beach in a moving reminder of the tragedy of war
Achievement: Artists Andy Moss, right and Jamie Wardley, left said they hoped their art would remind people of the value of peace.
‘There were others who happened to be walking by and wanted to get involved.
‘It showed that people from all over totally understood the message behind it and I found it very overwhelming.
‘Some people told us that they had lost family in the Second World War and others said they had lost loved ones in Afghanistan and wanted to pay a tribute to them.
‘We finished all the stencils at about 7.30pm and everyone gathered and waited for the tide to come in.
‘The last silhouette was washed away at about 10pm and it was incredibly moving.”
The moment: Commando troops from a landing craft arrive on Normandy beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944
Hiding in darkness: Royal Marines on D-Day Beach as they made their early morning landings on Utah Beach
American assault troops move onto a beach in Normandy France, on D-Day during Operation Overlord 1944
These Royal Marines are captured running for cover in silence before sunrise on the crucial day
During World War II, soldiers serving in Allied armies formed several exclusive clubs honoring troops who survived harrowing ordeals. Though unofficial, these clubs offered a morale boost to their members, as well as to other soldiers, as proof that survival—against all odds—was possible.
The Caterpillar Club, which was first formed in 1922 shortly after Lieutenant Harold Harris made an emergency jump at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio, offered membership to tens of thousands during the war who used parachutes—made from caterpillar-produced silk—to bail out of disabled planes. Members included former president George H.W. Bush. Irvin Air Chute Company awarded unofficial badges in the form of gold caterpillars with red eyes along with membership certificates. A similar association, the Goldfish Club, honored those whose planes crashed in water and were saved by life rafts.
The Guinea Pig Club was started as a drinking club by aircrew who had been horribly burned and disfigured in the Battle of Britain and were treated by innovative surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe at Queen Victoria’s Hospital in East Grinstead, West Sussex. The club claimed 649 members by the end of the war.
The Late Arrivals Club or Winged Boot Club honored those who walked back from behind enemy lines. Members were awarded certificates with the words, “It is never too late to come back,” along with badges designed as winged boots that could be worn on the left breast of flying suits. When an unknown American returned from occupied territory to England and started wearing a badge in 1943, other Americans had unauthorized badges made in the US. Among those who were eligible for membership were thirty Americans, including thirteen nurses, who walked hundreds of miles while trapped behind Nazi lines in the winter of 1943-44.