Paper Money

Monday Morning Brief for Nov. 19, 2018

The end of the war in November 1918 prompted the editor of “The Numismatist” to predict that European coins and notes issued during the hostilities would soon flood into the United States. Shown is a piece of German notgeld of the kind issued during and after the war.

Original image courtesy of Dusty Royer.

One of the benefits of working for Coin World is the company library, which is a major resource and treasure for our staff. It was begun with the publication’s founding in the spring of 1960 and has been added to regularly ever since.

From time to time, I like to pull a bound issue of an old numismatic journal from its position on a shelf and peruse its contents. This week, I grabbed the bound 1918 issues of The Numismatist, then and now the official monthly journal of the American Numismatic Association.

In wrapping up the year in the December issue, editor Frank G. Duffield wrote that the 1918 volume may have had fewer pages total than had been average for the past few years, but that the volume was still “one of the best in history.” He attributed the reduced page count to the war, both directly and indirectly.

As Duffield wrote that commentary, the Great War had ended just a few weeks earlier. No formal declaration of peace had been made, he wrote, but “events of the past month make it safe to say that the war is over.” The “events” referenced, of course, would have been the Armistice, which went into effect on Nov. 11.

Keeping his commentary focused mostly on the numismatic significance of the war’s end, Duffield wrote that collectors in the United States could now expect to gain unfettered access to the “specimens of money and substitutes for money, both in paper and metal, as well as medals, that have been issued in all parts of Europe as a result of the war,” adding, “we may expect a veritable flood numismatic material to select from in the near future.” Some of those items that would soon become available, notgeld, are still avidly collected today.

Duffield was writing with a heavy heart. He had written in the November issue of the death of his daughter and son-in-law from influenza — the terrible world-wide scourge we now call the Spanish Flu. The flu had forced the ANA to cancel its annual convention in October at the last minute due to the dangers inherent in traveling, as millions were dying of the flu around the world.

Indeed, many of the club reports published in the December 1918 issued referenced the illness and death of club members and members of their families.

Both the end of the war and the calamity that was the Spanish Flu were proof that the numismatic hobby could not divorce itself from the world at large. But as Duffield showed, turning to one’s hobby could offer some small solace even in the most trying of times. 

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