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Emergency Money: Notgeld in the Image Economy of the German Inflation, 1914–1923

Emergency Money: Notgeld in the Image Economy of the German Inflation, 1914–1923

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Publication Date: January 23rd, 2024
The MIT Press
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A landmark art historical study of German Notgeld, the emergency money produced during World War I, and the hyperinflation that followed.

Emergency Money is the first art historical study of Germany’s emergency money, Notgeld. Issued during World War I and the tumultuous interwar period, these wildly artful banknotes featured landscapes, folk figures, scenes of violence and humor, and even inflation itself in the form of figures staring into empty purses or animals defecating coins. Until now, art historians have paid Notgeld scant attention, but Wilkinson looks closely at these amusing, often disturbing, artifacts and their grim associations to cast new light on the Weimar Republic’s visual culture, as well as the larger relationship between art and money.

As Wilkinson shows, Germany’s early twentieth-century economic crisis was also a crisis of culture. Retelling the period’s gripping story through thematic investigations into prevalent Notgeld motifs, Wilkinson illuminates how the vexed relationship between aesthetic value and exchange value was an inextricable part of everyday life.

A landmark contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century Germany, Emergency Money brings together art, economics, critical theory, and media theory to create a book for our own inflationary moment, as the world’s new materialisms confront the specter of this older, more fundamental materialism.

About the Author

Tom Wilkinson is an art historian who specializes in German visual culture and modern architecture. He teaches at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and is History Editor of the Architectural Review. His first book was Bricks and Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made.