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"Government is the only institution
that can take a valuable commodity like paper,
and make it worthless
by applying ink."

Ludwig von Mises, Economist

What is inflation? Fundamentally, inflation is an increase in the money supply by the governing powers that results in too much currency chasing too few goods. Governments do this irresponsible act in order to avoid crippling taxation of the populace and the possibility of revolt, or simply to depend on the faith of the citizenry and other governments to accept their currency at full value. As a result of these continued increases, the price of goods and services skyrocket, ultimately devatating the wealth of the population. Only the backing of the currency with tangibles such as gold or land with the cycle of financial destruction end.

This economic cycle of irresponsibility has repeated itself throughout the world all too often. In Franz Pick's 1971 book, All the Monies of the World, charts clearly describe many nations that over the centuries have subjected their populace to financial ruin through hyperinflation not once, but many times.

The collecting of inflationary currency can be both an intriguing and a sobering experience. Prices for these notes can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars for the older, scarcer, high denomination issues. Each note displays the skills of the artist in their execution, as well as tells a profound story of tragedy and chaos.

Stung financially by the Seven Years War and the American Revolution, France was in financial straights. In 1790, after tyrannically confiscating vast church lands, the government issued Assignats against these properties as collateral to suppliment the national currency. Soon, a shortage of funds ensued, and the government naturally reneged on their guarantee of a limited printing and issued billions beyond the original 400 million in notes. The financing of additional wars, wage and price controls, along with severe punishment for those unwilling to accept the near worthless paper currency compounded the national misery. In less than six years, the French politicians printed over $45 billion in irredeemable paper out of convenience, leaving the populace virtually destitute. Only when Napoleon reinstated gold and silver as the only legal tender in 1801 did the great hyperinflation end.

France 10,000 Francs
1795 Issue

One of the most famous inflations of modern times was the monetary collapse of Germany in the early 1920s. The financing of Germany's war machine during the Great War as well as the tremendous burden of reparations payments demanded by their victors at Versailles ultimately exhausted their resources, and as prices rose, the government issued larger and larger denominations.

In early 1923, the U.S. dollar was equivalent to 7,260 German marks. By November, the rate was trillions to one. In order to save ink and time, notes were printed on one side only. The exchange rate was posted three times a day; workers were paid in the mornings and tried completing their shopping before the new, higher rate took affect at noon. By early 1924, a new denomination, the Rentenmark which was backed by land holdings, brought sanity back to the markets. The issue rate was one rentenmark for one trillion inflation marks.

Germany One Billion Mark Reichsbanknote
November 5, 1923 Issue

Hungary has suffered what was considered to be the worst inflation in recorded history. In 1941, the Pengoe was valued at 3.46 to the U.S. Dollar. Both during and shortly after World War II, however, the government printed billions of Pengo to offset the tragic results of war on the Hungarian economy. By March 3, 1946, 1 U.S. Dollar was equivalent to 10.3 million Pengoe. In the same year, a new currency unit was issued, Known as the Mil-pengo, which was equivalent to 1,000,000 pengoes. Soon after, the Bil-pengo denomination arrived. What you see here is a note valued at 10,000,000,000,000,000 Pengoe! On the last day of July, the rampant inflation ended with the issuance of the forint, an entirely new unit valued at a rate of one per four hundred million quadrillion pengoes.  
Hungary 10 Quadrillion Pengoe
June 3, 1946 Issue

Most South American countries have suffered extreme inflations, most noticeably throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Argentina has experienced at the hands of its government a terrible period of hyperinflation, as noted by this one million peso note issued in 1981. It was during the late 1970s and early 1980s that easy loans were granted by the IMF to developing countries like Argentina for improvement. Mishandling of these funds, corruption, and a disregard for financial stability resulted in the world's third largest annual inflation rate for the years 1980 to 1993.  
Argentina One Million Peso Note
1981 Issue

The 1980 death of President Tito ushered in the beginning of the end of what was then Yugoslavia. The subsequent weak leadership, mounting international debt, and ethnic flare-ups between a populace of Croats, Muslims and Serbs fanned the desire to inflate. A violent civil war broke out in mid-1991, and as Yugoslavia shattered into fragments of independent governments, valueless paper and ink notes and press releases were about all the government could issue.  
Yugoslavia 50 Billion Dinara
1993 Issue

Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, has subjected its people to an annual inflation rate that has sky rocketed from 20% in 1989 to more than 6,000% in 1994. Government corruption, political instability, and an uncontrollable influx of refugees from neighboring Rwanda and Burundi have left its economy in shambles, in spite of the country's wealth in mineral deposits of diamonds, copper and cobalt. Even the salaries of mid-level government bureaucrats reached the equivalent of a mere dollar a month, not enough for a loaf of bread. The economy is presently working on largely a barter system. This 5,000,000 zaire note again demonstrates the futility of the printing press to solve financial crises.  
Zaïre 5 Million Zaïre Note
January 10, 1992 Issue

Our most recent and well documented hyperinflation occured (and continues to occur) in Zimbabwe, once known as Rhodesia. Beginning in earnest in 2001, Zimbabwe's collapsing economy, International Monetary Fund arrears payments, government employee salary increases, and underfunded municipal projects promoted the desire for hyperactive printing presses to span the financial rift. Official inflation rates ballooned from 112% in 2001 to 11,268,759% by June of 2008. Expiration dates were added to the currency to inhibit saving. By the time the illustrated 100 billion dollar note was issued in July, it would purchase a mere three eggs.  
Zimbabwe 100 Billion Dollar Note
July 1, 2008 Issue

Protecting oneself against economic ruin through hyperinflation is not difficult. Having the foresight to know what maintains wealth when paper and ink do not is critical. Holding pure forms of physical gold and silver will do just that.

References: The Beauty & Lore of Coins, Currency & Medals - Clain-Steffanelli; All the Monies of the World - Franz Pick, 1971; CIA World Factbook - 1995


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