I love money. I know what you’re thinking; you’re about to quote me a healthy dose of “the love of money is the root of all evil”; which I’d rightly deserve if I truly did love money for money’s sake. But I don’t. What else is there to love about money then? Well, have you ever noticed how money can be showpieces of great design and art? The fact is that we trade denominations so casually these days that there’s hardly a thought given to what’s on that piece of paper we just exchanged for our services and consumables. Or worse; the money itself is electronically beamed to our bank accounts. We can then deploy it at the swipe of a card without even touching the physical note or visually proving it’s existence.
I’ve been paying attention to what’s printed and minted on currencies since I was nine years old. It’s called numismatics. While I can hardly call myself a professional numismatist, I love having even a semi-superficial association to this very important-sounding word. In the most essential sense, I’m really a fan of great design. Currency notes and coins are, in many instances, very intricately designed canvases. The design elements and layouts are thoughtful, even deliberate, and laden with meaning. The specific emblems used in these instruments of exchange bear the responsibility of representing the values, accomplishments, heroes and histories of their nominating nations. As an example, consider the Victoria Crown (the last image shown below). It’s a personal favourite of mine. While the obverse (face) of this heavy silver piece bears the bust of it’s namesake, the reverse side shows a gallant depiction of the English knight, Saint George, slaying “the dragon”. Saint George is known as the patron saint of England and this depiction of him is representative of “the English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/saints/george_1.shtml).
My fascination lies mostly in old money, and even some “not money”. Notgeld (shown in featured image above) is literally “not money” in German. The term refers to a type of emergency money issued by German and Austrian states and towns during the days of World War I. The war needed metal for armament manufacture on a large scale. The heightened demand for metals of all sorts resulted in a highly inflated price. Eventually, the value of the metal on which the coins were minted, far exceeded the value of the coins’ denominations. This, together with uncontrolled inflation, led the central banks to authorize the various states, towns and institutions to issue their own notes. Most notgeld were issued in the form of very colourful paper notes and depicted a range of subjects including politics, landscapes and local architecture. Some designs were whimsical commentaries; some pieces were minted on ignoble materials. The variety was astounding. And then there was the lettering; most of the pieces are immaculately laid with old-style German Blackletter typefaces in very thoughtful layouts. Notgeld was meant to act as currency in a very specific period now long past. But they remain today, just like great photographs and pieces of art, as glimpses of times we ourselves may never have lived yet still have the joy of witnessing.
Photographing old money is a great indoor rainy-day project. The images below are just a few of my favourite pieces taken from my personal collection. Apart from just browsing the images, take some time to consider and appreciate the pieces for the deliberate designs represented on each. Have fun!