What is 'Notgeld'

Notgeld is a German word that means "emergency money." It denotes a form of quasi-currency issued by a body other than a central bank, which is generally the only official issuer of a nation's currency, and therefore is not legal tender. Although the idea goes back centuries, the term notgeld dates to the huge amount of emergency money printed in Germany and Austria after World War I. 


Notgeld tended to be issued when central banks couldn't print or produce enough currency to cover immediate needs. The problem generally cropped up during periods of severe hyperinflation, when money lost its value overnight; or during wartime, when resources became scarce. To meet currency needs, states, municipalities and even neighborhoods or clubs printed notgeld. The emergency money almost always had an expiration date, either printed on the note itself or announced in the newspaper. Some merchants printed notgeld specifically for purchases at that store.

While notgeld typically appeared in the form of paper money, it sometimes included coins, stamps, playing cards and even raw materials like coal. Minters of notgeld coins used cheaper base metals during wartime, with the promise (inscribed on the coin) that they could be exchanged for actual gold or silver after the war. Of course, if the issuer lost the war, holders of the base coins were out of luck. Sometimes in periods after wars, people used melted-down guns to mint notgeld coins, hence the term “gun money.”

Notgeld appeared in abundance and in a variety of styles in Germany and Austria both during and after World War I. In Germany alone some 36,000 different types of notes, issued by more than 3,500 towns, cities and firms are known. At the height of the interbellum hyper-inflation during the 1920s, notgelds circulated in denominations of multiple trillions of Deutsche marks.

Notgeld Used Around the World

While most associated with central European countries during the early 20th Century, other governments used notgeld throughout most of the history of currency. Feudal Japan, revolutionary France, India during the Raj, China before the communist revolution, and the United States during the Civil War all used notgeld.

From Emergency to Hobby

Today, historic notgeld of all sorts is eagerly collected, and prized for its imaginative and colorful designs and illustrations. Some examples can sell for thousands of dollars, making many worth considerably more today than when they were printed.

  1. Hyperinflation

    Hyperinflation is extremely rapid or out-of-control inflation. ...
  2. War Economy

    War economy is the organization of a country's production capacity ...
  3. War Risk

    War risk is the probability of loss of, or damage to, cargo, ...
  4. Currency

    Currency is a generally accepted form of money, including coins ...
  5. War Risk Insurance

    War risk insurance provides financial protection against losses ...
  6. Money

    Money is an officially issued legal tender, typically currency ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    5 Tales Of Out-Of-Control Inflation

    Hyperinflation can make a $1,000 bill look like chump change.
  2. Insights

    How Currency Works

    Currency offers key advantages over economies based on direct trade, including a broader market for sellers' goods and services and transport ease.
  3. Trading

    How the U.S. Dollar Became the World's Reserve Currency

    The U.S. dollar was first minted in 1914. Find out what occurred during the last century to make the U.S. dollar the world's reserve currency.
  4. Trading

    7 Currency Blunders You Could Cash In On

    The government has made its share of mistakes when it comes to printing money, and the results are collector's items.
  5. Investing

    Economic Conditions That Helped Cause World War II

    Here's a look at how economic conditions following the First World War intensified antagonisms between nations and lead to the outbreak of World War II.
  6. Investing

    Worst Cases of Hyperinflation in History

    Here are the three worst episodes of hyperinflation in history. Each makes Venezuela's current inflation crisis seem modest in comparison.
  7. Tech

    New Counterfeit-Proof £1 introduced by the British Royal Mint

    Dubbed "the most secure coin in the world", the new British £1 coin entered circulation March 28.
  8. Investing

    The Money Market: A Look Back

    Learn how past inflationary periods can predict future real rates of return for cash investments.
  9. Investing

    What Is A Currency War And How Does It Work?

    We look at what a currency war is, what factors may lead to it, the impacts of such a strategy, and whether there is a currency war currently.
  10. Investing

    A Look At National Debt And Government Bonds

    Learn the functions of the U.S. Treasury, and find out how and why it issues debt.
  1. Who decides when to print money in the U.S.?

    Learn the U.S. Treasury's Federal Reserve Bank's roles in the process of printing money in the United States. Read Answer >>
  2. What's the difference between hyperinflation and inflation?

    Learn the difference between inflation, which can be a normal part of economic fluctuation, and potentially economy-killing ... Read Answer >>
  3. How did World War II impact European GDP?

    Understand the effect of World War II on the European gross domestic product and what foreign and domestic factors influenced ... Read Answer >>
  4. Is there a world currency? If so, what is it?

    There is no such thing as a world currency. However, since World War II, the dominant or reserve currency of the world has ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center