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The stamp even Bill Gates couldn’t have afforded

During the post-World War I era, Germany was wracked by one of the most famous and spectacular bouts of inflation in history. Under the strain of huge war reparations demanded by the victorious Allies, prices for everything from pumpernickel to postage stamps soared out of control.

To put things in perspective, consider this: In July of 1923, the rate for someone to mail a letter from Germany to the United States had risen from 300 marks to 900 marks (equal to a little more than half a cent in U.S. money). Only three months later, the cost to mail that same letter was 6,000 marks. By November, the mark had plunged even further, and stamps were being printed at values as high as 20 billion marks.

Beginning in August 1923 and proceeding through October of 1923, the postal service began applying re-valuation overprints to existing stocks of lower denomination stamps. The re-valuations ranged from 5,000 Marks to 2,000,000 Marks.

The 1923 postal rate table, for domestic / foreign letters under 20 grams, is shown below.  By October of 1923, 2,000,000 Marks wasn’t even enough to mail a single domestic letter, thus by that time, most of the re-valued stamps, shown in the images above, were all useless. 

Letter Postage Rates for 1923
For Domestic / Foreign Letters, Less than 20 Grams

1923-JAN-15 — 20 Marks / 150 Marks
1923-MAR-01 — 40 Marks / 300 Marks
1923-JUL-01 — 120 Marks / 800 Marks
1923-AUG-01 — 400 Marks / 3,000 Marks
1923-AUG-24 — 8,000 Marks / 60,000 Marks
1923-SEP-01 — 30,000 Marks / 200,000 Marks
1923-SEP-20 — 100,000 Marks / 750,000 Marks
1923-OCT-01 — 800,000 Marks / 6,000,000 Marks
1923-OCT-10 — 2,000,000 Marks / 15,000,000 Marks
1923-OCT-20 — 4,000,000 Marks / 30,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-01 — 40,000,000 Marks / 200,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-05 — 500,000,000 Marks / 4,000,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-12 — 5,000,000,000 Marks / 40,000,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-20 — 10,000,000,000 Marks / 80,000,000,000 Marks
1923-NOV-26 — 40,000,000,000 Marks / 320,000,000,000 Marks
1923-DEC-12 — 50,000,000,000 Marks / 300,000,000,000 Marks

Due to the rate of hyperinflation, the previously surcharged issues had become obsolete. This required the creation of a new series of postage stamps, suited to keeping up with the rising postal rates.

The stamps shown above in denominations from 500,000 Marks through 50,000,000,000 Marks, were issued in October 1923. Actually, after about two months, these new stamps were also on the verge of being obsolete. By the beginning of December 1923, a domestic letter cost 50,000,000,000 Marks to mail, and a letter being mailed outside Germany cost 300,000,000,000 Marks.

During this period of runaway inflation, it became harder and harder to cram enough stamps onto letters and documents to pay for postage or revenue stamp fees. According to sources, one Swiss document had to be sent with 10 feet of paper attached to it, just to hold the required amount of revenue stamps. Eventually, the situation became so bad that Germany temporarily stopped requiring stamps to mail letters. Instead, they allowed customers to pay for postage in cash at the post office, and officials would simply mark the letters as paid.

In December 1923, hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic ended! A new currency, the Rentenmark, was instituted, and the German economy began to recover.

In 1924, one Rentenmark (or Reichsmark) was equivalent to ONE BILLION Papermarks of the Weimar Republic hyperinflation period. Exchanging the old paper currency was futile, and many people, businesses, and banks, either re-cycled the old paper Marks or threw them in the trash.

The new series of stamps, again denominated in Pfennig, shown above was issued December 1, 1923.  

They all feature a circular central design, with the numeral of value printed over it. The numerals were printed separately from the stamps, so there are also many shifts on this series. This whole series also exists imperforate and with missing value numerals. Most of them are scarce and expensive.

It would be unfathomable to even imagine the effect the hyperinflation had on businesses that relied on mail advertising, mail billing, mail order sales, etc., and on people, who may have lost their homes, possessions, or that may have even starved to death, because they didn’t have the means of paying for food or necessities. History would soon forget the hyperinflation of 1921-1923, and Germany would once again become a thriving nation, but the German people would NEVER FORGET the pain and suffering they endured through this period in history. Combined with the Great Depression at the end of the decade, these events would lead to the eventual downfall of the Weimar Republic. 

Author: kheyati I am an avid philatelist, I focus on global miniatures & souvenir stamps. Happy to help enthusiasts!

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