World Coins

Satirical gold ‘coin’ for hyperinflation after World War I in auction

A satirical gold ducat medal from 1923 makes a striking commentary on the post-war inflation that affected Germany.

Medal images courtesy of Fritz Rudolf Künker.

Hyperinflation was rampant in Germany after World War I, as ever-larger denominations of paper money were created to deal with the shrinking value of money.

Even small purchases required enormous piles of bank notes. The value of some notes was so tiny that it was cheaper to use them as wallpaper than as spending money. 

The climax of this economic calamity came in 1923, when notes denominated as much as 50 billion marks were issued. 

The causes of this hyperinflation are clear in hindsight — the Treaty of Versailles after World War I mandated Germany pay reparations in gold or foreign currencies, which had to be bought with an ever-falling German mark.

Naturally, the population was squeezed by the new economic reality, and the situation dominated political and daily discussions.

An interesting numismatic sidelight to this episode is a satirical gold medal issued in 1923. An example of this medal is available in Fritz Rudolf Künker’s Oct. 10 auction is Osnabrück.

The medal depicts the German “Michael” (a personification of the German nation), who is depicted as eating a gold ducat and excreting paper money. 

The medal, inscribed as ducat, is also given a fictitious face value of 10 billion currency units of a currency called “inflation.” 

The reverse inscription translates as, “This is how we live from paper money, until the devil catches everything,” and the obverse as “Where has all the good money gone? People, have a good look on what is falling down here.” 

Sebastian Wieschowski, Coin World Germany correspondent, provided the translation, and commented, “The medal is a reference to the post-war situation where Germany was forced into heavy reparations, which could not be paid with regular income from industry production. That’s why Germany tried to pay off debts by printing more and more paper money, and by getting its hands on private possessions of precious goods such as gold.”

The medal is a perfect accompaniment to notes from the era.

The medal is graded Extremely Fine to Uncirculated, according to the auction house, and has an estimate of €3,000 ($3,320 U.S.).

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