By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
When the Allies withdrew the Reichsmark from circulation in their respective occupation zones on June 20, 1948 in response to Soviet counterfeiting efforts, it was replaced by the Deutsche Mark issued by the Bank deutscher Länder, the post-war central bank of Germany founded on March 1, 1948.
However, since the Soviets did not follow suit and demonetize the Reichsmark, their eastern occupation zone was soon flooded with coins and banknotes smuggled in from the West, resulting in severe inflation. A short-term solution was implemented by printing a series of adhesive stamps to be attached to bills originating in East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, or GDR). Only bills with these stamps would be accepted by businesses. Additionally, when the Deutsche Notenbank (the Soviet version of the Bank deutscher Länder) finally recalled the notes on July 24, 1948, only banknotes with the stamps were accepted.
Furthermore, notes from West Berlin were ink stamped with a large letter “B” for easy recognition.
While this Soviet-mandated currency was colloquially called the Ostmark, which translates as “Eastern Mark”, its official name until 1964 was the Deutsche Mark. It was changed to Mark der Deutschen Notenbank and remained as such until 1967 when it was changed one last time to the Mark der DDR. As with the previous German monetary systems, the Ostmark was a decimalized currency broken into 100 pfennigs.
The first coins issued in East Germany were released while the Soviet Army was still occupying the region. These coins, all of which were aluminum, were in the 1, 5, and 10 pfennig denominations. All three denominations were struck from 1948 to 1950 and had the same reverse design of a stylized ear of wheat superimposed over a mechanical gear. This design was intended to symbolize a focus on joining the workers and farmers in a utopian society. The obverse featured a large numerical denomination with the legend DEUTSCHLAND above and PFENNING below.
All three coins were engraved by Franz Krischker, who took the design from a unique piece made during the World War 2 German occupation of Ukraine. Dated 1943 and denominated in kopeks, this cast iron test coin was evidence of the German Reich Commissariat’s intentions to replace all Ukrainian and Russian circulating coinage.
Two years later in 1950, a brass 50 pfennig coin was released that featured a factory and farm plow as a symbol of modern German industry. Due to the earlier borrowed reverse design, this coin is the first piece to be designed in full by the East German authorities. Struck only during 1950, the Berlin mint issued just under 68 million of these coins.
A second series of 1, 5, and 10 pfennig coins, again struck in aluminum, was released in 1952. As with the earlier 1948 series, the reverse design was the same across all three denominations. This time, instead of taking an earlier German wartime design, the coins proudly display the communist hammer and compass in front of two stalks of wheat that symbolize an alliance between the working class, the peasantry, and the intelligentsia. With several slight adjustments, this design would become the East German national emblem and coat of arms. Additionally, the obverses remained unchanged.
The first version of the 1 mark was released in 1956, again in 1962, and once more in 1963. This new design proudly displayed the national coat of arms on the obverse. The numerical denomination can be seen flanked by two oak branches on the reverse.
A new denomination, the 2 mark coin, was introduced in 1956 with the same design as the then current 1 Deutsche Mark coin. With just under 190 million pieces struck in three issuances between 1958 and 1963, there are two distinct obverse die varieties. The first with small leaves in the wreath and the second with large leaves.
Between 1958 and 1968 the 1, 5, 10, and 50 pfennig denominations all adopted this new design.
Mintage for the new 1 pfennig type (1960-1990), all of which except 1968 were struck in Berlin, ranged from a high of 813,680,000 in 1968 to a low of 4,800,734 in 1972. The 1968 mintage was struck at the Leningrad mint and shipped to East Germany. Just under 785 million new 5 pfennig, 689 million 10 pfennig, and 268 million 50 pfennig coins were issued for circulation by the Berlin mint. The 10 and 50 pfennig denominations were released only in mint sets; the 10 pfennig in 1984 and 1987 and the 50 pfennig in 1987 and 1988. All of these new designs would continue to be struck periodically until 1990 and the dissolution of the GDR.
With the renaming of the currency in 1967, the 1- and 2-mark coins needed to be slightly redesigned. The only real change was on the obverse, where the denomination Deutsche Mark was replaced with the new Mark. The 1 mark was updated in 1972 and the 2 mark was revised in 1974, although a few pattern 2 marks were struck in 1972.
Production of the last circulation strike denomination to be introduced, the 20 pfennig, began in 1969, with a mintage of 167,168,134 coins. Designed by German artist Axel Bertram, this denomination was struck for circulation in 14 of the 21 years between its introduction and 1990.
The larger 5, 10, and 20 mark denominations were reserved for circulating commemorative designs, the first of which were introduced in 1971. These circulating commemoratives were either struck in a nickel-brass or a copper-nickel alloy, with silver being used only for the non-circulating commemoratives.
Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany began the process of reunification, the West German Deutsche Mark was reintroduced to the East German economy. As one man claimed, “it was special to even touch this money.” The Deutsche Mark “felt solid,” while “the East German mark was thinner, flimsier” (Jack). The exchange began officially on July 1, 1990, with wages and prices being converted at a 1:1 ratio. Adults were allowed to convert up to 4,000 marks at par; for larger amounts, however, the ratio dropped to 2:1. It is estimated that a total of 431 billion East German Marks were exchanged for West German marks. Subsequently, 450,000 tons of coins with a face value of 640 million marks were melted for their metal content.
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Jack, Malcolm. – https://time.com/5714252/berlin-wall-east-germans-money/
Michael, Thomas. Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000. Krause Publications. (2020)
Zatlin, Jonathan R. The Currency of Socialism – Money and Political Culture in East Germany. Cambridge University Press. (2007)
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About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).