Johannes Hartmann

The Notgeld: 1914-1924

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

I am examining the Notgeld (emergency banknotes) from the early 20th century, to explore what their colourful designs can tell us about inflation-era Germany.

Start Date: September 2016
End Date: September 2019
Theme: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding.
Research discipline: Money and economic history
Locations: Europe
Staff member: Barrie Cook
Department: Coins & Medals
University and department: University College London, History
University supervisor: Bernhard Rieger

What was the economic significance of the Notgeld?

It is thought that by 1923, almost half of the money in circulation in Germany was Notgeld. Yet it has hardly been a topic of research among scholars of the inflation. I will explore the economic significance of the Notgeld during the inflation.

What can the images and designs on the Notgeld notes tell us about inflation-era Germany?

Many of the Notgeld notes sport colourful images, creative designs and/or stories and aphorisms. They can tell us a lot about German identity and society during and after World War I. The depiction of ‘Heimat’ (home) is especially interesting in this context.

How was the Notgeld used? Who commissioned and designed it? What is its material culture?

I will explore the material culture of the Notgeld banknotes; Who commissioned, designed and printed the notes? Who used the Notgeld and what was its importance in everyday commerce?

About my research

During World War I and in the early years of the Weimar Republic, the Reichsbank periodically allowed German municipalities, cities, and even businesses to issue their own money in order to combat cash shortages.

These so-called ‘Notgeld’ (emergency money) banknotes became a wide-spread form of currency. Their designs became increasingly elaborate and were popular among collectors. Many of them depict regional motifs; some comment on the perceived disorder of the period, while others were the platform for political messages.

The images of the Notgeld can tell us a lot about the time during and after World War I in Germany. Since many of the banknotes come from small towns and rural communities, they offer an interesting insight into Weimar-era life and identity outside of the major urban centres.

Aims of my research

The aim of this project is to create a comprehensive history of the Notgeld. Using the extensive collection of the British Museum, I will attempt to determine the economic significance of the Notgeld in the inflation era.

The Notgeld images may also tell us more about German society in those turbulent times. The recurring regional motifs and stories sported on these banknotes are an interesting indicator of how German identity was constructed and communicated.

I will further explore the material culture of some of the banknotes to determine the role of the Notgeld in Weimar society. Since this history has only been researched very marginally thus far, this project will fill a gap in the research on the inflation and 20th-century Germany in general.