The 1-billion-mark notgeld coin issued by the Landesbank of
Germany’s Province of Westphalia has fascinated collectors since it
first appeared in the spring of 1924. Measuring 70 millimeters in
diameter and bearing the date 1923, this massive coin presents a
distinctive bust of Prussia’s Napoleonic era statesman Karl Freiherr
vom und zum Stein (born 1757, died 1831), designed by Professor Rudolf
Bosselt of Braunschweig (Brunswick).
The obverse hails Stein as “Germany’s Leader in more Serious
Times,” while the reverse presents the prancing white horse of
Westphalia. Stein was a key figure in the small band of dynamic
patriots whose drastic reforms saved from utter ruin what remained of
King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s Prussia, defeated and dismembered by Napoleon.
This legend implies that the defeated Germany of 1918 might be
saved by similar heroic effort.
This Westphalia notgeld spanned the denominations from a mere 50
pfennigs all the way to 50 million marks, and was struck by five firms
in aluminum, tombac and bronze. A few portrayed Westphalia’s poetess
Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (born 1797, died 1848), frustrated lover
of Friedrich von Schiller.
All have plain edges and the large pieces were called Ruhrdukaten
and were sold for the relief of German passive resisters to French and
Belgian occupiers in the Rhine and Ruhr.
The late dean of German catalogers, Kurt Jaeger, cited Fritz
Reissner’s 1940 opinion that all Westphalian issues were really
“medal-form remembrance pieces with denominations. ... By Spring 1923
they were worthless at their face values.” Many, indeed were
distributed in provincial schools to highlight protest against foreign
occupation of the Rhineland.
The issue price for the 1-billion-mark pieces was 2.50 reichsmark
in the new currency after the catastrophic inflation had ended. The
firm of Heinrich Kissing in Menden struck 11,113 pieces, of which 500
were issued in goldplate.
Rare and numismatically historic, these huge pieces present
another little-recognized mystery.
Many American collectors are awed sufficiently by the figure
billion and fail to realize that in the German language, “billion” is
actually the American “trillion.” The German equivalent of our billion
is “milliard.” A small difference there!
A somewhat similar Bosselt design graces 3-reichsmark coins
commemorating the centennial of Stein’s death in 1931.
The billion mark’s popularity has generated some counterfeits for
the collector market, and caution is, as always, recommended.
David T. Alexander
is author of American Art Medals, 1909-1995 and a fellow of the
American Numismatic Society. He is a numismatist/researcher for Harlan
J. Berk Ltd.