Art and Currency in 1920s Germany

A piece of paper money showing a figural scene flanked by text on either side. In the scene, a silhouetted figure reads from a piece of paper, with a cityscape in the background.

20 Pfennig from the City of Fürstenwald, Fürstenwalde, Germany, 1921. Printed by J. Adolf Schwarz. Ink on paper. Yale University Art Gallery, Transfer from the Yale University Library, Numismatic Collection, 2001

Engraving and printing practices of the 20th century are the focus of the 2024 installation of numismatics. One particular highlight of the display is the emergency currency, or Notgeld, issued by regional governments in Germany during the final years of World War I and the interwar period.

These banknotes quickly became more about form than function. Specifically, Notgeld allowed independent territories throughout the Weimar Republic to express their own histories, folktales, political frustrations, and cultural critiques through art. The currency circulated imagery by some of the period’s most avant-garde artistic movements, including Dadaism, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), and Post-Expressionism. Amid the hyperinflation of 1920s Germany, Notgeld came to be issued in higher and higher denominations: a single note could be valued at trillions of Marks.

The rotation is on view in the Bela Lyon Pratt Gallery of Numismatics through February 2025.

Browse a selection of works in the installation.