Germany #199 (1923)

100th Post!

Germany #199 (1923)
Germany #199 (1923)

A bit of a departure from my planned schedule as I’ve realized that I have now featured 100 different stamps since starting the A Stamp A Day blog back on July 1st, 2016. I have yet to miss a single day, despite there being more than a few when the Internet seemed to conspire against me (it tends to slow WAY down whenever it rains and we’ve had daily storms since sometime in June!). There were other days when my schedule made it almost impossible for me to find the time to research a issuing entity, select a stamp from said entity (well, some are easier than others — particularly those from which I have but a single stamp in my collection), and then to compile a readable article that tells the full political and postal history of the issuer in question. It can be a lot of work and I rarely put together more than one at a time (and usually on the day that it appears.

This has truly been a labor of love as I am learning a lot about each of my stamps in the process. The fact that a few people read this blog each day is a bonus and I hope each of you learn something interesting as well. My collection isn’t full of great rarities; nor are all of my stamps in the most pristine of condition. There are instances when my sole stamp from a particular country is damaged: do I show the “uglies” (thins, short perforations, poor centering, etc.) or do I skip the entity until I obtain a “prettier” specimen? My answer, thus far, is the former; when I do obtain a more desirable specimen, I will update the original blog entry to illustrate the upgrade (an example can be seen on my post about the National Park Service centennial).

At the beginning of October, I added an Index that lists the articles that have appeared on this blog by issuing entity and chosen stamp. I plan to update this every fourth or fifth entry so that it’s fairly up-to-date. I hope this feature makes the blog a big more user-friendly.

Many of the articles are sourced from Wikipedia or various general stamp blogs and website (Big Blue 1840-1940, Dead Countries Stamps, Stamp World History, and the reprinting of The Stamp Atlas on Sandafayre Auction’s site are a few of my go-to locations on the Web).  Occasionally, I will stumble across a superbly-informative website covering a particular stamp issuer and its issues. I wish there was one of these types of sites for EVERY PLACE! Some of these are so interesting that they have inspired me to new collecting interests. At some point, I plan to include an entity-specific listing of these sources.

As always, feel free to comment. Due to the rate at which I put these out, there may be mistakes in presentation and lapses in giving background. I appreciate having these pointed out to me and will strive to incorporate them into the blog. I am particularly interested in learning MORE about the background behind the stamps I include. I don’t have the resources to discover the full story behind many of these stamps such as designer, printer, reason for the initial release, etc.

Today’s stamp is the only I could recall having that includes “100” in large numerals. This is Scott #199 from Germany, the official name of which was continued from the pre-1918 German Empire, Deutsches Reich. The period between 1919 and 1933 often sees the country called the Weimer Republic (Weimarer Republik) — an unofficial designation deriving from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. This new constitution for the Deutsches Reich was adopted on August 11, 1919. In its fourteen years, the Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremism (with paramilitaries — both left and right wing); and contentious relationships with the victors of the First World War.

In October 1918, the constitution of the German Empire was reformed to introduce a parliamentary system similar to the British, but this soon became obsolete. On October 29, rebellion broke out in Kiel among sailors. There, sailors, soldiers, and workers began electing workers’ and soldiers’ councils (Arbeiter und Soldatenräte) modeled after the Soviets of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The revolution spread throughout Germany, and participants seized military and civil powers in individual cities. The power takeover was achieved everywhere without loss of life.

At the time, the Socialist movement which represented mostly laborers was split among two major left-wing parties: the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which called for immediate peace negotiations and favored a soviet-style command economy, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) also known as “Majority” Social Democratic Party of Germany (MSPD), which supported the war effort and favored a parliamentary system. The rebellion caused great fear in the establishment and in the middle classes because of the Soviet Russia aspirations of the councils. To centrist and conservative citizens, the country looked to be on the verge of a communist revolution.

On November 7, the revolution reached Munich, resulting in King Ludwig III of Bavaria fleeing. The MSPD decided to make use of their support at the grassroots and put themselves at the front of the movement, demanding that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicate. When he refused, Prince Max of Baden simply announced that he had done so and frantically attempted to establish a regency under another member of the House of Hohenzollern. Gustav Noske, a self-appointed military expert in the MSPD, was sent to Kiel to prevent any further unrest and took on the task of controlling the mutinous sailors and their supporters in the Kiel barracks. The sailors and soldiers, inexperienced in matters of revolutionary combat, welcomed him as an experienced politician and allowed him to negotiate a settlement, thus defusing the initial anger of the revolutionaries in uniform.

On November 9, 1918, the “German Republic” was proclaimed by MSPD member Philipp Scheidemann at the Reichstag building in Berlin, to the fury of Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the MSPD, who thought that the question of monarchy or republic should be answered by a national assembly. Two hours later, a “Free Socialist Republic” was proclaimed, 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) away, at the Berliner Stadtschloss. The proclamation was issued by Karl Liebknecht, co-leader (with Rosa Luxemburg) of the communist Spartakusbund (Spartacist League), a group of a few hundred supporters of the Russian revolution that had allied itself with the USPD in 1917. In a legally questionable act, Reichskanzler Prince Max of Baden transferred his powers to Friedrich Ebert, who, shattered by the monarchy’s fall, reluctantly accepted. In view of the mass support for more radical reforms among the workers’ councils, a coalition government called “Council of the People’s Deputies” (Rat der Volksbeauftragten) was established, consisting of three MSPD and three USPD members. Led by Ebert for the MSPD and Hugo Haase for the USPD it sought to act as a provisional cabinet of ministers. The power question, however, was unanswered. Although the new government was confirmed by the Berlin worker and soldier council, it was opposed by the Spartacist League.

From November 1918 to January 1919, Germany was governed by the “Council of the People’s Deputies”, under the leadership of Ebert and Haase. The Council issued a large number of decrees that radically shifted German policies. It introduced the eight-hour workday, domestic labor reform, works councils, agricultural labor reform, right of civil-service associations, local municipality social welfare relief (split between Reich and States) and important national health insurance, reinstatement of demobilized workers, protection from arbitrary dismissal with appeal as a right, regulated wage agreement, and universal suffrage from 20 years of age in all types of elections — local and national. Ebert called for a “National Congress of Councils” (Reichsrätekongress), which took place from December 16 to 20, 1918, and in which the MSPD had the majority. Thus, Ebert was able to institute elections for a provisional National Assembly that would be given the task of writing a democratic constitution for parliamentary government, marginalizing the movement that called for a socialist republic.

In January, the Spartacist League and others in the streets of Berlin made more armed attempts to establish communism, known as the Spartacist Uprising. Those attempts were put down by paramilitary Freikorps units consisting of volunteer soldiers. Bloody street fights culminated in the beating and shooting deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht after their arrests on January 15. With the affirmation of Ebert, those responsible were not tried before a court martial, leading to lenient sentences, which made Ebert unpopular among radical leftists.

The National Assembly elections took place on January 19, 1919. The radical left-wing parties, including the USPD and KPD, were barely able to get themselves organized, leading to a solid majority of seats for the MSPD moderate forces. To avoid the ongoing fights in Berlin, the National Assembly convened in the city of Weimar, giving the future Republic its unofficial name. The Weimar Constitution created a republic under a parliamentary republic system with the Reichstag elected by proportional representation. The democratic parties obtained a solid eighty percent of the vote.

During the debates in Weimar, fighting continued. A Soviet republic was declared in Munich, but was quickly put down by Freikorps and remnants of the regular army. The fall of the Munich Soviet Republic to these units, many of which were situated on the extreme right, resulted in the growth of far-right movements and organisations in Bavaria, including Organisation Consul, the Nazi Party, and societies of exiled Russian Monarchists. Sporadic fighting continued to flare up around the country. In eastern provinces, forces loyal to Germany’s fallen Monarchy fought the republic, while militias of Polish nationalists fought for independence: Great Poland Uprising in Provinz Posen and three Silesian Uprisings in Upper Silesia.

The growing post-war economic crisis was a result of lost pre-war industrial exports, the loss of supplies in raw materials and foodstuffs due to the continental blocus, and the loss of the colonies, along with worsening debt balances, but above all, the result of an exorbitant issue of promissory notes raising money to pay for the war. Military-industrial activity had almost ceased, although controlled demobilization kept unemployment at around one million. In part, the economic losses can also be attributed to the Allied blockade of Germany until the Treaty of Versailles.

The Allies permitted only low import levels of goods that most Germans could not afford. After four years of war and famine, many German workers were exhausted, physically impaired and discouraged. Millions were disenchanted with capitalism and hoping for a new era. Meanwhile, the currency depreciated. The currency would continue to depreciate following the French invasion of the Ruhr.

The German peace delegation in France signed the Treaty of Versailles, accepting mass reductions of the German military, the prospect of substantial war reparations payments to the victorious allies, and the controversial “War Guilt Clause”. Explaining the rise of extreme nationalist movements in Germany shortly after the war, Adolf Hitler repeatedly blamed the republic and its democracy for accepting the oppressive terms of this treaty. The Republic’s first Reichspräsident (“Reich President”), Friedrich Ebert of the SPD, signed the new German constitution into law on August 11, 1919.

The new post-World War I Germany, stripped of all colonies, became 13.3% smaller in its European territory than its imperial predecessor. Of these losses, a large proportion consisted of provinces that were originally Polish, and Alsace-Lorraine, seized by Germany in 1870, where Germans constituted only part or a minority of local populations despite nationalist outrage at the fragmentation of Germany.

In the early post-war years, inflation was growing at an alarming rate, but the government simply printed more currency to pay debts. By 1923, the Republic claimed it could no longer afford the reparations payments required by the Versailles Treaty, and the government defaulted on some payments. In response, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region, Germany’s most productive industrial region at the time, taking control of most mining and manufacturing companies in January 1923. Strikes were called, and passive resistance was encouraged. These strikes lasted eight months, further damaging the economy and the social life.

The strike prevented some goods from being produced, but one industrialist, Hugo Stinnes, was able to create a vast empire out of bankrupt companies. Because the production costs in Germany were falling almost hourly, the prices for German products were unbeatable. Stinnes made sure that he was paid in dollars, which meant that by mid-1923, his industrial empire was worth more than the entire German economy. By the end of the year, over two hundred factories were working full-time to produce paper for the spiralling bank note production. Stinnes’ empire collapsed when the government-sponsored inflation was stopped in November 1923.

In 1919, one loaf of bread cost 1 mark; by 1923, the same loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks.

Before 1921, it cost 40 pfennig to mail a domestic letter inside of Germany and 80 pfennig to mail one outside of Germany. By early 1921, the existing domestic postal rate had held steady, but the foreign letter rate had risen to 1.25 marks, an increase of over fifty percent. At the beginning of 1921, the highest denomination postage stamp available was the 4 mark value, but that wouldn’t be the case for very long.

Between January and mid-December of 1922, the price of a postage stamp for domestic letters (less than 20 grams) went from 1.25 marks to 10 marks or 800%, and the price for foreign mail went from 4 marks to 80 marks — an alarming increase of 2,000%.

In October 1922, the Weimer Republic issued stamps in 100 mark through 500 mark denominations. This was the start of hyperinflation, but nothing compared to just a few months down the road. During this period, the highest denomination German stamp went from 20 Marks to 100,000 marks.

By the summer of 1923, Weimar Republic hyperinflation was getting really bad. On one hand, the value of the German mark was decreasing almost every day, and on the other hand, prices were sky-rocketing on a daily basis. The effects on the economy and on the German people were devastating.

Since striking workers were paid benefits by the state, much additional currency was printed, fueling a period of hyperinflation. The 1920s German inflation started when Germany had no goods to trade. The government printed money to deal with the crisis; this meant payments within Germany were made with worthless paper money, and helped formerly great industrialists to pay back their own loans. This also led to pay raises for workers and for businessmen who wanted to profit from it. Circulation of money rocketed, and soon banknotes were being overprinted to a thousand times their nominal value and every town produced its own promissory notes; many banks & industrial firms did the same.

The value of the Papiermark had declined from 4.2 Marks per U.S. dollar in 1914 to one million per dollar by August 1923. This led to further criticism of the Republic. By this time, with the value of the German mark fluctuating from day to day, designing and printing new postage stamps was out of the question. For the postal service of the Weimar Republic, there existed a state-of-emergency. Beginning in August and proceeding through October of 1923, the postal service began applying re-valuation overprints to existing stocks of low denomination stamps. The surcharges ranged from 5,000 marks to 2,000,000 marks.

Due to the rate of hyperinflation, the previously surcharged issues had become obsolete by October. This required the creation of a new series of postage stamps, suited to keeping up with the rising postal rates. On November 15, 1923, a new currency, the Rentenmark, was introduced at the rate of one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) Papiermark for one Rentenmark, an action known as redenomination. At that time, one U.S. dollar was equal to 4.2 Rentenmark. Reparation payments were resumed, and the Ruhr was returned to Germany under the Locarno Treaties, which defined the borders between Germany, France, and Belgium.

The new currency had the effect of ending hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic and the German economy began to recover in December 1923. In 1924, one Rentenmark was equivalent to one billion of the hyperinflation period Papiermarks. Exchanging the old paper currency was futile, and many people, businesses, and banks, either recycled the old papiermarks or threw them in the trash. The new series of stamps, again denominated in pfennig, was issued December 1, 1923.

From 1930 onward, President Hindenburg used emergency powers to back Chancellors Heinrich Brüning, Franz von Papen and General Kurt von Schleicher. The Great Depression, exacerbated by Brüning’s policy of deflation, led to a surge in unemployment. In 1933, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor with the Nazi Party being part of a coalition government. The Nazis held two out of the remaining ten cabinet seats. Von Papen as Vice Chancellor was intended to be the “éminence grise” who would keep Hitler under control, using his close personal connection to Hindenburg. Within months the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act of 1933 had brought about a state of emergency: it wiped out constitutional governance and civil liberties. Hitler’s seizure of power (Machtergreifung) was permissive of government by decree without legislative participation. These events brought the republic to an end: as democracy collapsed, a single-party state founded Nazi era.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, almost all German stamps were printed on paper with one of two watermarks — the lozenges (Rauten) watermark and the network (Waffeln) watermark. Not infrequently, there are two similar issues, but each has a different watermark and catalogue valuation. The watermark often is fairly obvious, and just turning over the stamp onto a dark surface will suffice for identification purposes. But watermarking fluid and a watermarking tray will be needed to positively identify all the stamps.

Scott #199 was released in February 1923 towards the beginning of the hyperinflation period. All of the stamps in this series were printed by lithography (aside from the 5 mark and 10 mark denominations which were engraved). These are nicknamed the “Numeral of Value” issues and come with either the lozenge or network watermarks. Scott #199 is the latter. The 100 mark value was printed in brown violet on buff-colored paper and perforated 14½x14.

One thought on “100th Post!

  1. Although I must admit that I haven’t always managed to read the articles you published here, I must say that you do a great job for all stamp collectors. Congratulations to the 100th post, and I hope you’ll continue the good work you do! Best wishes, Catalin


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