Pre-WWII (1920-1923) German Mark Notes
Warning: These images are huge. they're scanned at 300dpi, which, when
displayed on an average monitor of about 75dpi, is approximagely four times
life size (well, 16 times life size in terms of area). therefore, instead of
being included inline in this document, they're all just linked to separately.
But at least they're legible.
In addition, i am uncertain of the actual year of issue on some of these
notes; you'll notice in the text of several of the bills that two separate
years are mentioned. I don't speak German, and babelfish doesn't provide the
best translation in the world, but as far as I can tell the earlier of the two
years is the year of issue and the later of the two is some sort of expiration
date, or possibly a date on which the Reich reserved the right to withdraw the
bill. Perhaps a real German speaker can help out here.
Also, although some of these notes have portraits, none of the
portraits seem to have captions. If anybody knows who the people are
on these notes, I'd be interested to know.
- 1 mark, 1920,
- This note is fairly tiny, very close to the size of a business card. This
is the earliest year from which I have any of these bills, and also the
smallest denomination. I don't think that the 1 mark note survived in
actual use past 1920.
- 1 mark,
- It's not obvious on the front, but the white circle on the right has an
eagle design embossed into the note.
- 100 marks,
November 1920, front
- This is probably the most artistically fancy note in this
collection. Sadly, the note has some been folded in quarters, and
has serious crease marks.
marks, November 1920, back
- I don't really have much to say about the back of this bill.
marks, September 1922, front
- Here is where the designs begin to get simpler. Notice the lack of variety
in the colors, and the lack of a portrait. From here on out, portraits are
uncommon and only on large denominations.
marks, September 1922, back
- I have even less to say about the back of this one.
- 5000 marks,
December, 1922, front
- This note is the first one to display another interesting feature, the wide
left-hand margin with additional information in it. This seems to be some
attempt to separate the design of the bill from the serial note/series
numbers. I can only assume that doing so made the bills cheaper to produce
in some way, but I'll be darned if I can figure out exactly why they'd do
it this way.
marks, December 1922, back
- This one has an interesting design feature on the back side: the
denomination is rendered within the design of the fine line printing as
opposed to being rendered in solid lines of a separate color.
- 20,000 marks,
February, 1923, front
- Despite its lack of portrait, this is a fascinating bill. There are
four interesting things to note: One, this bill was printed on Feb. 20,
1923, and has an expiration date (see above) of July 1, 1923. That's some
fast inflation! Two, the expiration text is rendered in a sans-serif font,
which is a fairly radical departure from the design of earlier notes.
Three, the wide left margin contains a substantial amount of text, in tiny
red letters, which as near as I can figure out, contains a threat that
the penalty for counterfeiting is two years in jail, at least. Fourth,
although the bill appears to be a four-color printing, the
Reichsbankdirektorium actually used some clever tricks to simulate 4-color
printing (which typically requires four passes through a press) in a
two-pass process. The background red and green design was done in a single
pass by literally inking the printing plate with red and green ink
together, allowing them to mix on the plate. Thus the colors fade from red
on the edges smoothly through brownish and then to green in the middle. On
top of this printing, a second pass containing a fine-line design in the
interior of the bill, the text, and the dark border is done in a dark
bluish color. The fine line pattern helps hide the fact that the
underlying red and green was done in a single pass, and the heavyness of
the dark blue on the border, atop the mostly reddish background, gives the
appearance of a purple border. Thus, it looks like you're getting four
colors, red, green, purple, and deep blue, when the paper only made two
passes through the printing press.
- 20,000 marks,
February, 1923, back
- The back of the bill betrays this two-pass trick a little clearer since the
registration between the red and green pattern and the dark blue fine-line
pattern isn't perfect. Look at the top and left edges of the printing; on
the top you can see the color of the fine-line design in isolation, while
on the left you can see the underlying red color in isolation. Similarly,
the bottom edge gives the clearest view of the smooth transition between
the red and green inks.
- 50,000 marks,
November 1922, front
- Despite the portrait, this note shows clear signs of cheaper production
methods. Despite the green right side of the bill, the process is
essentially a single color printing. The whole design is rendered in a
single color, black. The green appears not to be printed so much as soaked
into the paper in some fashion during the manufacture of the paper itself,
thus not requiring a separate pass through a printing press. Finally, the
serial number is rendered in brown ink. However, serial numbers always
require a separate production step, so in some sense that doesn't really
- 50,000 marks,
November 1922, back
- The back of this bill shows quite clearly that the design is a single
color. The reduced appearance of the green color on the back indicates
that the green ink was applied in bulk to the front of the bill, so only
whatever soaked through to the back is visible on the back side.
marks, February 1923, front
- This note is a little confusing to me. It's from the same month as the
two-printing-pass 20,000 mark note, but this one shows signs of having a
fairly sophisticated printing process behind it. I guess in early 1923, a
hundred thousand marks was still worth something. As far as I can tell,
this note used a three-color process, and as well has the same type of
colored paper as on the 50,000 mark note. In addition to those features,
this note has a feature we haven't see yet, but will recognize from our own
modern currency: red and blue threads integrated into the paper. You can
see this on the right hand side of the note, in the purplish region. The
three colors used in the printing are: black for the portrait, text, and
seals, purple and gray in the background and border designs. The serial
number, which would be a fourth color if we were counting it, is in a dark
looking slate blue color.
marks, February 1923, back
- As I write this, I only have access to the scanned images, and not the
bills themselves, so it's a litle difficult for me to tell whether the back
of this note is a two-color or three-color printing. It looks like just
two colors to me, but who knows. Again, note the counterfeiting penalty
warning, integrated into the central portion of the design, surrounding the
large "100000". This is also the last note in the collection to have
printing on both front and a back.
- 1 million marks,
- This note is a little confusing, too, in comparison to the 100,000 mark
note. They're both from February, 1923, but this one is only printed on
one side, has no portrait, and uses the same trick as on the 20,000 to get
a smooth blend of two colors in one pass through the printing press.
Interestingly, the expiration date on this note is for a full year after
the printing date. I guess the Reichsbankdirectorium figured a million
marks was going to be big enough to be useful for a while.
- 2 million marks,
- This bill is a clear departure in printing style from the previous notes.
It is almost austere in its design. Simple two color printing on plain
paper. This is also a fairly small note, physically, and must have been
very cheap to produce. Notice two other intersting things about this bill:
it appears to have been printed in August 1923, but cites September 1923 as
the expiration date. Also, this bill has no serial number! All of
this, taken together, makes me think that this note was a stopgap measure
of some type, quickly and cheaply produced, while the Reichsbank completed
production of larger denomination, more sophisticated notes. Stop, for a
minute, to ponder the implications of this. One, they either didn't care
about counterfeiting anymore, or the figured (and probably rightly so) that
nobody in the country had the expertise and equipment to make copies of
these notes before the expiration date. Two, imagine the feeling of
frustration and despair at the Reichsbank at this time: In charge of a
collapsing economy, forced to print ever larger denominations, faster and
faster, that were worth less and less in real terms. They must have felt
like throwing their hands up in disgust and giving up. Heck, I would have.
million marks, July 1923
- This bill is an interesting mixture of printing techniques. It's a very
simple, straightforward two-color design, but it does have a serial number,
and uses the same fancy purple-edge paper with the red and blue threads as
the 100,000 mark note from just five months earlier. I have to wonder if
perhaps they had some of that paper left over from the earlier run of
100,000s and figured they may as well use it up.
million marks, September 1923
- If I'm right about the two million mark note being a stopgap measure, then
here's some evidence to back it up. A fairly fancy (at least by the
degraded standards of late 1923) looking note in a larger denomination. By
now I'm sure you recognize the printing methods in this note; the same
multi-inking single-printing trick, with a second pass on top of it
yielding the text in simple black. I am, however, very intrigued by the
serial number on this bill: it's a star note! I have truly no idea of an
asterix in the serial number meant the same thing to pre-WWII German
currency as it means to modern American currency, but it's interesting to
speculate. One would think, at this late stage in the collapse of their
economy, that they'd hardly bother to re-print any defective notes.
- 100 million
marks, August 1923
- Despite its denomination, this is actually one of the ugliest notes in the
collection. However, it looks like a real three-color printing. There's a
bottom layer of brownish ink, then the heavy bluish layer, on top of which
is the black text layer. Again, this bill is a star note. I have to
believe it's unlikely that I'd have two star notes in my comparitively
small collection of pre-WWII German currency, so perhaps the star simply
indicates that they'd stopped producing several series of the same
denomination with different series letters, much the way that American
currency uses letters for each FRB district.
- 1 billion marks,
December 1922, front
- Turn back the clock to December, 1922, and again we see some fancy
printing. Again we have real four-color printing, a portrait with elements
designed into two of the color layers, some very fine fine-line design work
in the background, the purple-edged paper with threads, and a complex
serial number. Notice also that this note doesn't have an expiration
date. I'm guessing that at that point in time, a billion marks was still
large enough that its primary use was in business. I'd imagine that as the
economy spiraled into the toilet that these larger denomination notes (and
the serial number suggests that there were perhaps as many as 2.6 billion
of these notes around) made their way into general circulation.
- 1 billion marks,
December 1922, back
- Ok, so I lied, the 100,000 mark note wasn't the last one to be printed both
front and back. But in my own defense, let me point out that this note was
printed earlier than that 100,000 mark note. I should point out that the
moire patterns visible on the back are an artifact of my scanner; they're
not really there. I guess I should have scanned this one at an even higher
resolution. Other than that, there's really nothing interesting to say
about the back of the billion mark note.