• Steven Heller

Money Worth Its Weight in Ink

The heller came into wide use as a name for currency of small value throughout many of the German states up to 1873 when, after German unification, Bismarck’s administration introduced the mark and the pfennig throughout the German empire. The heller was originally a German coin valued at half a pfennig.

Notgeld is emergency money that began in 1914, a form of quasi-currency that is issued by a body other than a central bank and, therefore, is not legal tender. The term is used to describe such emergency money that was printed in Germany during the period of hyperinflation after World War I by cities and states as a means to barter among residents of those locales—36,000 different types of notes issued by over 3,500 entities, including businesses. With an estimated total face value of over 500 trillion marks printed in Germany, most notgelds had very little intrinsic monetary value, but in representing historical events, figures and comic symbolism, they are beautiful, witty and sometimes sardonic. Here is a holiday selection. They won’t buy anything, but being broke never looked as good.

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About Steven Heller Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →