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Blog: Emergency Money

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A few weeks ago myself and The Artefacts In My Exhibition went on a day trip to The British Museum with my cousins The Ritchies, who were over from America to basically ZOOM around the entire country on bikes being SUPER DYNAMIC about everything. We had a BRILLIANT time with them, largely because they are entirely brilliant people, seeing a whole heap of items in the British Museum what we had never seen before, notably the Assyrian Lion Hunting Relief which was AMAAAZING.

However, there was one exhibition that we wanted to see that we couldn't get ino, because it was closed that day - Currency In Crisis, about German "Emergency Money" during and just after the First World War. We decided that this must be RECTIFIED, and on Sunday just gone we headed into Central London to do just that.

COR! I am really glad we did because it is RUDDY FASCINATING! I do remember doing German hyper-inflation when I did my O Levels (young people, these were like GCSEs but definitely much more difficult and also cool at the same time), and have a vague picture in my head of someone pushing a wheelbarrow full of banknotes to buy some bread, but there was TONNES more in this exhibition. Towards the end of the war the German government couldn't keep up with the need for currency, so allowed towns to issue their own. The towns used the notes to advertise themselves as tourist destinations (as that was a New Thing at the time) and the notes became collectors items, with FOUR magazines about the hobby going at one point, and specially Notgeld albums produced too. THEN when the economy collapsed they became used as actual currency again, with BILLION mark notes being produced!

My favourite thing was the fact that sometimes towns preferred people to just COLLECT the notes rather than SPEND them and so, in one of the MOST GERMAN things ever, they issued them in Inconvenient Denominations! THUS there were things like 45 pfennig notes, which were Just Not Very Convenient, so they were less likely to be spent.

Afterwards we went to see MORE STUFF, with a gently diminishing rate of return. We first looked at Sir Stamford Raffles: collecting in Southeast Asia, which was a Quite Interesting look at colonial attitudes to collecting and other cultures in Victorian Times. Unfortunately, like a lot of things at the British Museum, this raised some awkward questions about whether they should even HAVE all this stuff, as it is CLEARLY NICKED. This was even more the case when we popped in to look at Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, a 1,000 year old scroll which is only available to view for six weeks a year because it is so DELICATE. We didn't get a close look because there were a LOT of people looking at it, almost all whom appeared to be Chinese, but I did see the an info board about how it ended up in the BM - apparently they bought it from "a sailor", but didn't know where HE'd got it from. I think you can have a good guess, British Museum - he NICKED it!

We also had a look at Pushing Paper, which was supposed to be an exhibition of drawings since 1970 but had a LOT of material that clearly Was Not Drawings, plus some work by K├Ąthe Kollwitz. They were both ALL RIGHT bit it did seem a bit pointless - as The Graphite In My Pencil pointed out, London has LOADS of Art Galleries, so why does the British Museum need to collect this stuff? My theory is that it is an insurance policy against the time in the future when they have to give back all the STOLEN PROPERTY - at least this stuff comes with a reciept!

posted 6/11/2019 by MJ Hibbett

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