When the US entered the 2008 financial crisis, it got me thinking, what happens to an economy when things go terribly wrong? After reading a bit, I got interested in hyperinflation and how it affects money and commerce. And that lead me to start collecting hyperinflation currencies.

HYPERINFLATION is a collection of currencies I’ve collected over the past 10 years. I’ve found their value to be rich in artwork and design, even though as currencies they’re valueless.

Detail of a 10,000,000 Milpengo note, Hungary 1945.

Between the end of 1945 and July 1946, Hungary went through the worlds worst inflation ever recorded. In 1944, the highest denomination was 1,000 Pengo. The highest denomination in mid-1946 was 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 Pengo.

German postage stamps. 10 Million Marks.

In 1923, hyperinflation was out of control in Germany (Weimar Republic) and the value of the German Mark fluctuated wildly from day to day. The postage rate for mailing a 20 gram letter on January 15, 1923 was 20 Marks. On December 12, 2923 (11 months later) the postage rate was 50 billion Marks to mail the same letter.

Philippine Peso 1943, Japanese Occupation.

The Japanese government issued fiat currencies while occupying the Philippines during World War II. The fiat money was dubbed “Mickey Mouse Money” because it was similar to play money being next to worthless. In 1944, 75 Mickey Mouse Pesos could buy one duck egg. For comparison, my wife and I visited Manila this summer and the price of eggs were 4 Pesos each.

Georgia 1994. 100,000 to 1 Million Laris Notes.

Georgia went through a period of hyperinflation shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The highest denomination in 1993 was 20,000 Laris. But by 1994, it was 1,000,000 Laris. In the 1995 currency reform, 1 Lari was exchanged for 1,000,000 Laris.

Republic of Hungary 1946. 100,000 Milpengo.

When the Pengo was replaced in August 1946 by the Forint, the total value OF ALL Hungarian banknotes in circulation amounted to 1/1,000 of one US dollar! This is the most severe known incident of inflation recorded, peaking at 1.3 × 1016 percent per month (prices double every 15 hours).

Angola 100,000 Kwanza, 1995.

Today Angola is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But, the country has an unfortunate past and was plagued by civil war from 1975 to 2002. In 1991, the largest note was the 50,000 Kwanza denomination. By ’94, there was the 500,000 banknote.

German postage stamps. 1 Million Marks.

To pay for the large costs of the First World War, Germany suspended the gold standard when the war broke out. The government believed that it would be able to pay off the debt by winning the war. Well, we know how that turned out.

In 1922 the value of the mark was in freefall, with prices of household good doubling every two days. By November 1923, the US dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German Marks.

10 Billion Drachmai, Greece 1944.

With the German invasion in April 1941, there was an abrupt price increases for goods throughout Greece. This was due to the fear of shortages and to the hoarding of goods. During the German and Italian occupation (1941-1944), the agricultural and industrial production was used to sustain the occupation forces, which led to the complete devaluation of the Drachmai. By the end of the war, one UK gold sovereign cost 43,167 billion Drachmas.

Republic of Hungary 100 Million Pengo, obverse.

Two color variations featuring the Hungarian Parliament Building. Start and end date of hyperinflation: Aug. 1945 – Jul. 1946. Peak month and rate of hyperinflation: Jul. 1946, 41.9 quadrillion percent.

Nicaragua 20 Cordobas note, 1984.

In 1979, Nicaragua underwent a revolution that brought the communist Sandinistas in power. This happened during a global recession created by record high debt levels and the inability by nations to service those debts. When the Sandinistas took power, they nationalized large parts of the economy, further contributing to the economic turmoil and hindering a robust recovery.

This Cordobas note is an example of a currency devaluing so quickly that by the time it goes to press, it has to get overprinted with a new value.

Nikola Tesla, 10 Billion Dinara, Yugoslavia.

During the Bosnian War from 1992–1995, the Belgrade government of Slobodan Milosevic backed ethnic Serbian secessionist forces, resulting in a United Nations boycott of Yugoslavia. The UN boycott collapsed the Yugoslavian economy, with the monthly inflation rate accelerating to one million percent by December, 1993 (prices double every 2.3 days).

Zimbabwe, One Hundred Trillion Dollars.

At independence in 1980, the Zimbabwe dollar (ZWD) was worth about USD 1.25. Afterwards, however, rampant inflation and the collapse of the economy severely devalued the currency. When Prime Minister Robert Mugabe began confiscating land from the white farming community in 1998, it resulted in a near total collapse in food production and the decline of foreign investment.

Inflation peaked at an annual rate of 89.7 sextillion percent (89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000%) in mid-November 2008. The peak monthly rate was 79.6 billion percent, which is equivalent to a 98% daily rate.

This project was an exercise in Photoshop color editing and retouching. Early on, I stated by photographing currencies with a Canon 5DsR and a Zeiss Planar 50mm Makro lens. More recently, I’ve been scanning with a high resolution flatbed scanner. Most of the finished images are composites of the front and back with color gradations added. Average layered PSD files range from 1.4 – 1.9GB. The files are so big that for complex rendering, I’d setup a Photoshop action and then go make a coffee while it renders.

People have asked, “Which is my favorite”? That’s tough to answer. I like the Philippine Pesos because of the historical ties to my wife’s homeland. But for sheer beauty, I love looking at the Greek Drachmai. This will be the one I’ll print as a 30 X 40′ to go over my desk at home.