German notgeld

A German friend of the College museum has donated a set of temporary currency notes - known as notgeld - to the BOA collection. We reproduce one of them here...don't worry, they're no longer legal tender.

Share options

German temporary currency note 1917

When the gold reserves ran out in Germany during the First World War, many towns and cities issued their own replacement currency and the town of Rathenow near Berlin, in the State of Brandenburg, chose to include imagery related to the optical industries that had previously made the town great. Shortly afterwards the City of Magdeburg followed their example.

The notes date from 1917 and the complete set of six notes include two different images per denomination. The 50 pfenning note bears a huntsman in local costume carrying a pair of binoculars or using a magnifying glass to count the rings of a tree stump. Binoculars themselves were in short supply at this time and captured German soldiers often had to surrender their optical equipment to the under-resourced British Army. The 75 pfenning note shows either an early 19th century lady carrying a long-handled lorgnette (shown in our illustration) or a bespectacled man with a bellows camera and two further Rathenow objectives beside him. The 90 pfenning note features either an elderly astronomer with a tripod-mounted telescope viewing the planets (and a shooting star) or an old woman reading. She has two pairs of spectacles, one on her face and the other in her hand.

It gives pause for thought that such beautiful small works of art were produced in the context of a global conflict and period of economic emergency. Indeed it is suggested that they were soon out of print since even at the time of their use they were considered highly collectible.