By Janet Klug
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a mixed group of theater-goers prior to seeing a play calledMauritius.
The play is about the Mauritius Post Office stamps (Scott 1-2) and other rarities, the passion to own them, and the greed of those who wish to benefit from their sale. It is a wonderfully entertaining play.
I began my spiel by talking a little bit about Mauritius, a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. A few of the stamps from Mauritius are highly valuable treasures.
Beyond giving some factual background about rare stamps I do not own, I wanted my audience to understand that ordinary people can collect extraordinary stamps for less than a cup of fancy latte from a coffee shop.
I tried to decide what to take to this unusual show-and-tell session. I remembered the stamp collection of my childhood. It was made up of dime-store packets that seemed to me to be treasures from the far corners of the world. I pulled an album off a shelf, removed a dozen stamps and began assembling the story of hyperinflation in Germany in 1923.
The German hyperinflation stamps have a fascinating backstory. Between 1921 and 1923, German money, denominated then in marks and pfennigs, deteriorated in value, largely because of World War I reparation payments the country was required to make, and missteps by the government. The German government printed and circulated more currency to make the reparation payments. This devalued the German mark against foreign currencies. A perfect storm for inflation was brewing.
By mid-July 1922, the German government was printing currency at a record pace. The value of the German mark plummeted while the government made some silly decisions in an attempt to build confidence in the failing mark.
The government began buying back foreign-held German marks using gold reserves. In the meantime, the government cranked out even more currency, which completely defeated the purpose of buying marks that had been in foreign hands. Valuable gold was being used to acquire worthless paper.
Most of us have seen photographs of German citizens in 1923 pushing heavy wheelbarrows full of currency in the hope of being able to buy a loaf of bread. Businesses paid their staff two or three times a day and the workers would dash out trying to spend the money while it still had some purchasing power.
So how did this affect the German postal system? Pretty dramatically, as it happens.
At the beginning of the inflation period (1921) it cost 60 pfennigs to mail a domestic letter. By December 1923 it cost 100 billion marks to mail a letter. A millionaire at the beginning of 1921 could not afford to buy a postage stamp by the end of 1923.
In 1923 there were 16 postal rate increases, five of which occurred in the month of November.
The German post office was challenged to keep up with the hyperinflation and the ever-changing rates. Old stamps were surcharged in upward spirals.
As a result, there is much to collect today. There are more than 80 face-different 1923 stamps from Germany listed in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. If you go back to 1921, at the very beginning of the inflationary period, you can double that number. If you add all of the minor-number varieties, you can triple the number again. Go even deeper to a specialized catalog such as the German-language Michel Germany Specialized Catalog, Vol. 1, 1849 to April 1945, and the number of varieties increases yet again.
The German stamp in Figure 1 (Scott 263) began life in 1923 as a 200m stamp. The stamp was surcharged to 800,000m later that same year. That's pretty dramatic by anyone's measurements.
Overprinted or surcharged stamps are called provisional issues. The trouble with overprinting stamps is that mistakes can happen, especially when overprinting so many stamps so often.
The overprinted numeral "8" on the 8,000m-on-30m stamp (Scott 241a) shown in Figure 2 is inverted. Many inverted or doubled overprints occurred on these provisional stamps.
Stamps denominated in hundreds of thousands of marks soon gave way to stamps denominated in millions of marks. Figure 3 shows a 500,000,000m stamp (Scott 293).
In almost no time at all, stamps denominated in millions of marks were no longer enough to pay the postage. Stamps were created with denominations in billions of marks. In Germany a billion is expressed as "milliarden." Figure 4 illustrates a 50,000,000,000m (50 milliarden mark) stamp (Scott 299).
It is almost incomprehensible for ordinary folks to think in those numbers, and yet the German post office still could not keep up with cranking out enough stamps in the new denominations.
More overprints were made in milliarden values over million values. Figure 5 shows such a 4,000,000m stamp overprinted "5 Milliarden" (Scott 312).
November 1923 was also the beginning of the end of the hyperinflation period.The German government established a new bank called the Rentenbank and a new currency called the rentenmark. One rentenmark was equivalent to 1 trillion old marks.
The currency was backed up by and redeemable for real estate and German industry bonds. Remarkably, the rentenmark held steady and in 1924 was replaced by the reichsmark, which had the same value as the rentenmark.
With the introduction of the rentenmark, stamps were again issued in pfen-nigs and marks. New stamps were at first issued with numeral denominations but no indication of currency. Figure 6 shows one of these stamps with a 3pf denomination (Scott 323).
Germany's experience was far from the only massively destructive period of inflation. In 1946, even worse inflation occurred in Hungary. Today, the African nation of Zimbabwe is afflicted by hyperinflation.
The postage stamps remain to document these extraordinary tim
July 30, 2015 08:04 PMIn the Editor’s Insights columns in the July 20 Linn’s Stamp News monthly and the Aug. 10 weekly Linn’s, I mentioned Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board without giving too much detail. Linn’s goal is to engage its audience both in print and online and to grow this audience. The role of the newly formed Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board is to assist us achieving these goals by keeping us focused on the needs of our audience and helping us adapt to today’s market. Read More ›
July 30, 2015 09:01 AMAs in previous years, Rarities Week, the series of sales conducted June 22-26 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, included several name sales as well as an assortment of notable items from around the world. The week kicked off with something of a do-over: a sizable assortment of better United States stamps and covers that had appeared in four previous sales, but whose winning bidder then failed to pay for them. Read More ›
July 23, 2015 04:35 PMThe Tieton, Wash., post office is a simple 1935 cement block building with a slat wood facade. Townsfolk in the agricultural community of 1,200 in central Washington believe the post office could become a landmark, if only the United States Postal Service would allow them to cover the front with a stamp-like mosaic. Read More ›
July 23, 2015 03:11 PMThe American Philatelic Society will host the nation’s largest annual stamp exhibition Aug. 20-23. The show will take place at the DeVos Place Convention Center, 303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, Mich. Read More ›
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz discusses the largest souvenir card produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The card is one of three issued to honor the centenary of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke discusses Canada’s recently recalled $1.20 Dinosaur Provincial Park stamps featuring inaccurately described Hoodoo rock formations.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News editorial director Donna Houseman discusses the discovery of another pane of the intentionally created upright variety of the $2 Jenny Invert stamp.
Chad Snee discusses the recent sale of the glass locket containing the famed 1918 Jenny Invert airmail error stamp.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.