Effect Of WW1 On The Currency Of The Triple Entente
So, you all know about WW1 - without it the world would be totally different. But what role did coins and notes play during the war and what were some of the after effects of the war on the currency? Well, we’re about to find out within this article. I’ll discuss what happened with Britain, France and Russia (members of the TRIPLE ENTENTE) individually before, during and after the war. Then, I’ll finish it with a conclusion. So let’s go!
What were coins like before the war? The UK experienced great development, from 1880-1913. George V was the ruler from 1910 onwards, so coins featured his portrait. I own 2 British gold pieces from the period of WW1:
-A half sovereign from 1912, minted 2 years before the war started. This had a face value of 0.5 GBP.
-A full sovereign from 1918, issued in the final year of the war. This had a face value of 1 GBP.
FUN FACT - these coins still do have a legal tender of 50p and 1 pound respectively, although it would be a big mistake to use it to pay for something like that as the gold value of a half sovereign is about 170 pounds and they also command premiums on top of that.
Just before the war commenced, in the last days of July 1914, many British people tried to convert their money to gold, as it was and is known to be a very stable form of currency. Gold has been used as a store of value for thousands of years, so this was a smart move. The Bank of England paid over 12m in sovereigns and gold coins (roughly half of its reserves) in about a week. This was such a massive amount, and an incredibly high percentage of those reserves compared to normal.
This was very dangerous, and it led to a high risk of the pound as a currency completely collapsing. If you’d like to read more about this, see Source 1.
So, what could the government do with so much of their gold depleted? They needed to enforce paper currency more. This was achieved by printing 1 pound and half a pound notes that most of the public would actually be able to use. You see, very large denomination notes would only truly reach the wealthy, so by adding a range of notes with lower values, more people would encounter them more! This meant that they no longer had to rely on gold as much, so a sufficient amount of pressure was relieved.
My 1912 1/2 Sov and 1918 Sov
France had some very interesting coinage developments and changes due to the war. Before the war had commenced, the economy was going well and there were a good amount of gold coins. As they were worth a lot, not too many people encountered them (but the richest might have some).
During the war, the French government began to create propaganda to get people to ‘Deposit (…) Gold for France' . This is really interesting. To the right Is a piece of propaganda they created featuring a Rooster (national symbol of France) on a French gold coin coming to life and attacking a German soldier. It’s very creative how they’ve managed to use the Rooster as if it’s becoming real and leaving the coin, and it clearly suggests some aspects of French pride.
The source for the information about the propaganda discusses how French gold coins were affected by World War One in great detail. It's of much interest, and I definitely recommend it. Link at bottom of article...
This is why I really love patron animals featured on coinage. They have such strong characteristics that some of the very first coins ever issued from around 2,500 years ago use them to represent qualities and characteristics of their city state.
e.g. A lion from Miletus might symbolise fierceness, or an owl from Athens might be wisdom - although it's not truly quite as simple as it seems.
After the war, France began to issue many banknotes to replace the gold coinage, just like a lot of countries. This was another big change and one that worked decently over time.
In 1914, a ruble was worth over 51 US cents. At the start of 1917, it was worth about 28.
But how did this happen? Well, the ‘gold standard’ was abolished. But what was the gold standard? It is defined as "the system, abandoned in the Depression of the 1930s, by which the value of a currency was defined in terms of gold, for which the currency could be exchanged."
This, of course, is not my definition but the OxfordLanguages Google version.
So, a very similar thing happened to the UK and France right? Well, in Russia this didn't go so well. After halting the gold coinage in 1911 (other denominations were "produced until the First World War" - Wikipedia Ruble Page), there was a steady decrease in value. Even after the war, in the 1920s, hyperinflation continued to occur. The Soviet Union was founded in 1922, so the currency changed slightly then.
The new currency was called the Soviet ruble, and technically did exist from 1917 onwards...
"Subdivisions of the Russian Empire in 1914"
World War One had such a great impact on our world today, and we can easily see this simply by looking out how the currency of the Triple Entente was affected by it. Gold coins - one of the safest stores of value - began to be replaced by paper money that was only worth what the authorities said it was.
After all, a 10 pound note nowadays would be worth nothing if the government decided to stop giving it legal tender value.
France and Britain did have some very difficult times regarding currency in WW1, but Russia faced the one of the worst effects of all countries involved (Germany had a tough time too, but that's a topic for another article). Even after the war had finished, hyperinflation led to a massive devaluation of the Ruble. And it appears, in the time this article is being written, this is yet again the case. Always stick to gold!
Today, a lot of coins commemorate the first world war and certain events. I own a commemorative 5 pound coin. It displays Elizabeth II on the obverse, and coloured poppies on the reverse, with the legend ‘Lest We Forget’. These are popular among younger commemorative coin collectors, and some 50p or 2 pound coins commemorating the war can even be easily found in your change! They may not be worth much more than face value, so you probably won't be able to make a fortune of these being rare as they are often represented on sites like eBay, but that's not their purpose. They're made to educate and inspire us about the great war, and that they do! It’s great to see that these pieces spark an interest in World War 1 for some numismatists, and the royal mint has actually done a good job with them.
Check your change! Have you got a special commemorative coin?
Here is a list of useful sources used for the research of this article, or simply linked to the topic, go check them out if you want to learn more:
-Gold, banknotes and money in the UK in WW1 - incl. a section about 'The Rush To Gold':
-How WW1 affected the economy of the United States (not used much for article, but still very interesting):
If you found this project interesting, then consider taking a look at another website which discusses the use of propaganda in World War 1. It was written by a friend of mine, and the information is heavily researched - definitely worth a read!
Here's the link:
ticjl.com if you want to type it