Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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Purchasing Power: In war’s wake — Berlin 1945 to1948
A journalist reported on Berlin’s cigarette economy in a 1945 issue of New Yorker magazine: “On the black market a single cigarette costs ... a dollar and a half to two dollars, at the official rate of exchange .... American cigarettes are considered the best, and.... a pack of Chesterfields can run as high as $75 to $90.”
During the first years of Allied occupation, cigarettes were a major currency in Germany, preferred by everyone to the leftover Nazi coins and paper money and the just-introduced Allied Military Currency. Germans called their smokable money, zigarettenwahrung — cigarette currency. Some — kippensammlers — supported themselves by collecting discarded cigarette butts and reworking them into new smokes.
Vladimir Petrov in his 1967 book Money and Conquest: Allied Occupation Currencies in World War II reports the value of a cigarette fluctuated, but was generally worth 7 marks during the first three years of occupation. He noted, “The remarkable value attained by the cigarette provided the Soviet authorities with a new means of extracting from the German population formerly hidden assets.” The Reds converted war-booty tobacco into gold, trading 60 smokes for each gram of gold until the gold ran out. Then they sold their cigarettes on the black market.
U.S. soldiers, too, found a way to make quick money from cigarettes. They bought packs of cigarettes at a post exchange for 5 cents and sold them on the black market.
Journalist Joel Sayre reported on Berlin’s cigarette economy in the July 28, 1945, issue of New Yorker magazine:
“On the black market a single cigarette costs from 15 to 20 marks (a dollar and a half to two dollars, at the official rate of exchange), depending on its quality. American cigarettes are considered the best, and the standard black-market price for a pack of 20 is 300 marks, or $30. The value of a pack of Chesterfields can run as high as $75 to $90.”
Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, reported Aug. 2 that the 33,000 U.S. troops stationed in Berlin in July sent home $4 million, four times the Berlin garrison’s total monthly payroll.
Cigarette currency died a sudden death three years later when Nazi and AMC bills were replaced with new paper money in June 1948, Dorothea von Schwanenfluegel Lawson recorded in her book Laughter Wasn’t Rationed .