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The Shot Heard Round the World: WWI 6 Banknote Collection Folio


On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, paid a state visit to the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. Although the Balkans were under imperial control, the trip was fraught with danger. The city was honeycombed with operatives of the Serbian secret society called Unification or Death, commonly known as The Black Hand, which sought independence from the Habsburg monarchy. And lo, danger found the Archduke. An attempt to throw a grenade into his car along the motorcadse route was foiled, but later that day, after a wrong turn onto a side road, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were gunned down by a Bosnian assassin named Gavrilo Princip. As a result of the assassination, the Habsburg monarchy was indeed overthrown, just as Princip wanted—but not before the major European powers would fight the worst and most deadly war the world had ever seen.

The Archduke was not a sympathetic figure—to his people, or even to his father, the Emperor Franz Josef. But Austro-Hungary used the assassination as a pretext to declare war on Serbia, despite the fact that the same secret society deemed responsible for killing Franz Ferdinand had assassinated the Serbian royal family in 1903. When Austro-Hungary’s egregious ultimatum was rejected by Serbia, as was expected, the former declared war on the latter.

But the nations of 1914 Europe did not exist in a vacuum. A dizzying array of international treaties bound the countries together; these so-called “entangled alliances” would accelerate the spread of war. Russia, which had pledged to come to Serbia’s defense, mobilized its forces to do just that. Germany, which had allied itself with Austro-Hungary, then declared war on Russia, and that led France and Great Britain to enter the fray in the service of a tsarist government that would itself be overthrown three years later. By the late summer of 1914, most of Europe was engaged in a war whose origins remain murky to this day.

For over three years, the Central Powers of Germany along with the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires fought the Allied forces of Great Britain, France, and Russia to a bloody standstill. In 1917, the tsarist government of Russian fell to the Bolsheviks, and Russia abruptly quit the war. The entry of the United States into the conflict that same year finally turned the tide, providing the Allies the needed jolt to defeat Germany.

One of the many ironies of the war is that many of the monarchs ruling the various nations were all related by blood. The German Kaiser Wilhelm I (“Willy”) was the cousin of the British King George V (“Georgie”) and of the Russian tsar Nicholas II (“Nicky”); they were also related to the royal familes of Norway, Romania, and Spain. Although the three kings communicated often during the war, their family ties could do little to stem the inevitable tide of war.

The war left Great Britain, once the war’s great banker, in deep financial difficulty; France, embittered and vengeful; Russia, in the hand of the Bolshevik revolutionaries; and Germany deep in debt, which subsequently they attempted to solve by printing money and causing terrible hyperinflation. By the end of the war, the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires had all collapsed, and some 37 million human beings became casualties. When the smoke cleared, the appetite for war in Europe had been sated for the foreseeable future—or so it seemed. No one could have foretold that an even more catastrophic war was right around the corner.


German Imperial Issues

  • 100 mark
  • 1000 mark

German Notgeld and Kriegsgeld

  • 50 Pfennige │Kriegsgeld
  • 50 Pfennige │Bad Kreuznach Notgeld

Russian Tsarist Issue

  • 5 rubles
  • 10 rubles