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One of the joys of stamp collecting is developing an understanding of the historical context in which the stamps we collect were issued. A fantasic area for such a study is the period of German inflation of 1922 - 1923 and the German postage stamps that were issued during that time. The economy was in such a shambles, that the inflationary situation is sometimes described by economists as hyperinflation.
The roots of the inflation of 1922-1923 in Germany went back to the start of World War I. When the war began, the Reichbank suspended redemption of notes in gold, which meant that there was no limit to the number of paper notes it could print. During the war the government incurred a large debt. The Germans hoped to win the war and have the defeated nations pay off this debt. Instead, Germany lost the war and they were faced not only with this debt but with the severe and unrealistic War Reparations imposed on Germany by the Allies.
The German government tried to solve its budgetary deficits by printing more money. The value of the mark began to fall. By late 1923, 2000 presses were running 24 hours a day turning out currency. People seeing the value of their money plummet, spent it as fast as they could, trying to exchange it for goods so as to get some use out of it before it was totally worthless.
Workers were paid more than once a day, and given time off during the day, so that they could spend the money before the value disappeared. However, wages just couldn't keep pace with inflating prices. In November of 1923 a loaf of bread cost 200 billion marks. People were hungry. City markets were empty. Farmers didn't want to exchange the food they raised for worthless paper marks.
The German economy was saved from this hyperinflation by Germany's new chancellor, Gustav Stresemann who replaced the mark with the Rentenmark which was backed with American gold. The American government also helped. It loaned Germany $200 million and in 1924, Charles Dawes, an American, developed the Dawes Plan. This plan set realistic targets for German reparation payments. It was not long before the German economy was back in balance.
Stamp collectors can track the snowballing German inflation by examining postage stamps that were issued during this period.
The basic letter rate on January 1, 1922 was 2 marks. By September 1, 1923 it was 75,000 marks. The post office could not design new stamps fast enough to keep up with this inflation. It resorted to overprinting new, higher values on old dies.
There were almost 200 varieties of stamps issued during the period from 1921 to 1923. Collecting them all can be quite the challenge. The good news is that the stamps of this era remain very affordable. For a modest investment, here is an opportunity to develop a real conversation piece for your collection.