WWI Forgeries and Parodies of the Stamps
and Banknotes of the Warring Sides

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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Note: The author previously published parts of this article in much greater depth in "British Espionage Forgeries of the First World War," American Philatelist, September 1973, and "A WWI British Forgery," International Banknote Society Journal, Volume 25, Number 4, 1986.

During the course of this article, we are going to use terms like Counterfeit, forgery and parody. The first two are almost interchangeable, and can be defined in various ways: An illegal modification or reproduction of an instrument, document, or legal tender. An item is also considered forged if it is claimed that it was made by someone who did not make it. The act of creating a false document or modifying a real one so that it can be used as if it were the original. In other words, it is a fake prepared to look like a genuine item. A banknote that could be spent and is designed to destroy an enemy's economy is a perfect example.

A parody is a little different. It has the general look of the genuine item, but has been modified in some way. The originator might change a vignette or portrait and replace it with a satiric scene or image, or might add text or an overprint. The parody is not meant to deceive. It is meant to draw attention to itself (for example, by appearing to be currency) so that a finder will pick it up and look at it and see the intended message. An example is a banknote that appears to be legitimate currency, but when turned over bears a pro-Nazi and anti-American message.

The forging for espionage purposes of what we might call "official government papers," that is, postage stamps and banknotes, was in its infancy in the First World War. As far as we know, only the British took part in such schemes. During the course of the war, they counterfeited eight stamps of three enemy nations. These were the 5, 10 and 25 heller stamps of Austria, the 5, 10 and 15-pfennig stamps of Bavaria, and the 10 and 15-pfennig stamps of Germany. It is assumed that these stamps were forged to be used to mail pro-Allied propaganda behind enemy lines. At the same time, The British forged the banknotes of Germany, Turkey, and German East Africa. These could have been produced to hurt the enemy economy, or to be used by agents behind enemy lines to pay for their every day expenses.

In the Second World War, all the major combatants would take part in this parodying and forging of stamps and banknotes. The Germans would parody British commemorative and definitive postage stamps and produce millions of dollars in counterfeit 5, 10, 20 and 50 pound notes under "Operation Andrew," later called "Operation Bernhard." The Germans also made satiric copies of British, American, Allied Military Government, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, and Yugoslav banknotes with propaganda text on the front or the back.

The British would retaliate by counterfeiting or parodying the stamps of Germany, France, Italy, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, and the German-sponsored Polish General Government. They parodied the currency of Germany and German army payment certificates, and forged the money of Japanese-occupied Burma, Malaya, The Netherlands East Indies, and Thailand.

The United States would forge or parody French fiscal stamps, Nazi Party dues stamps, and the stamps of Germany and Japan. It would also parody the currency of Burma and Japan, and counterfeit the banknotes of Japanese-occupied Burma, China, French Indochina, the Philippine Islands, and Thailand. It seems that between the years 1939 to 1945 almost all the combatants were forging each other's stamps and banknotes.


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British forgeries of the German 10-pfennig stamp

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British forgeries of the German 15-pfennig stamp


Imperforate “Proofs” of the British WWI Germania Forgeries

During World War I, the British counterfeited the stamps of Austria, Bavaria, and Germany. I first wrote about these in, “Propaganda Forgeries of World War I,” THE STAMP AND COIN COLLECTOR, April-May 1966. I wrote about them again in, “British Espionage Forgeries of the First World War,” AMERICAN PHILATELIST, September 1973. I must admit that this article was a great disappointment to me. I sent the APS a dozen extremely rare photographs of margin copies of all the stamps with various notations by the forgers. Apparently, the editor lost the photos, and without writing to me and asking for replacements he simply printed the article with no illustrations. I was disappointed with the magazine for quite a while. I didn't write another article for the APS until 1985.


A Philatelic Dealer's Advertisement Postcard for the Germania Forgeries

Late in 1921, stamp dealer Walter Behrens of Brunswick, Great Britain, offered counterfeit copies of the German 10 pfennig red stamp of 1914-1915, and the 15-pfennig gray-violet stamp of 1917 for sale. Mr. Behrens issued an explanation along with the pair:

The Censor, especially in the last war, was so strict that foreign spies in Germany found it almost impossible to transmit their reports abroad. A method, which remained undiscovered for years, was the use of forged German 10 and 15-pfennig stamps, which were especially prepared in London for this purpose. The forgeries would never have been discovered had not a very well-known Allied diplomat shown a philatelic friend the remainder of these stamps, which he had forgotten to hand in at the end of the war. During the war, postally used stamps on letters were destroyed after the messages they franked had been deciphered.

The World War I British forgeries of the German Germania issue were produced in September 1918. They were printed in sheets of 100 (10x10). The forgeries have 15 horizontal perforation holes, whereas the genuine stamps have 14 holes. The forgeries have less shading (more white space) along the brow and nose line as compared with the genuine, giving Germania a somewhat fierce look. The imperforate color proofs tend to be paler, flatter in appearance, without gum, and printed on mildly tinted paper. The proofs are known as "Watford proofs" from the manuscript notation Printed at Watford found in the selvage of the sheets

The printer of the forgeries was the British firm of Waterlow. There is much documentation for this statement and among them is a sheet of directions for perforating the forgeries discovered in the company's archives. It is written in technical jargon but appears to have such comments as:

G or B Stamp (German) also A(ustrian). Dimensions taken across sheet (longway) Dimensions taken way sheet travels (short way). P.S. Waterlow B.& L. could not wait while MP [machine perforations?] was made so used MP 102/2 Edward VII, worked from dowel pin holes & centre stamp & put extra hole each way in each stamp.

There is much more of course, but clearly Waterlow and the people doing the perforations are discussing what machines to use and the number of perforations on each stamp.

In 2021, Researcher Dave Hill told me that he discovered a cryptic reference to the making of the perforating heads for the forged stamps amongst the records of Grover and Company in 1990. The German & Bavarian forgeries, being the same size and smaller than the Austrian stamps, were perforated with the same head, an easy way of telling forgeries from genuine is the number of perforations on the top of the stamp, 15 on the genuine, 16 on the forgeries. A note on the Grover record for the German & Bavarian stamps states that:

Waterlow could not wait, used MP102/2, and put extra hole each way in each stamp

The head was also a sideways comb, each stroke perforated one long side and 2 short sides of the stamp, the next stroke did likewise, completing the perforation of the first row of stamps and perforating the 2 short sides of the next row. The registration of the Grover machine was such that the perforation of the stamp sheet appeared seamless, this coupled with the use of a dividing head to position the pins made their machine unique.

The Perforation Letter

Curiously, I had received this note in 2023 asking me for an explanation. I add the main text without the various formulae.

G or B Stamp (German) also Austrian)
Dimensions taken across sheet (longway)

1 Stamp of 15 perforations = 0.84”x100 = 84/1500
0.035” x 20 - 10 stamps in all
P.S. Waterlow B.&L. could not wait while MP. was made so used MP 102/2 Edward VII, worked from dowel pin holes & centre stamp & put extra hole each way in each stamp
perforations 16 x 18
22 May 1918

This data may all be from the same sheet or from two or three sheets that basically had the same information. What is clear is that the stamps could have been perforated correctly but Waterlow was under a time restraint so went ahead and perforated the forged stamps even though they knew it was incorrect.

Soon after the Behrens sale mentioned above, the pair of counterfeits was exhibited at a Brussels stamp exhibit by a Belgian official. The Belgium Parliament asked about the origin of the stamps and the Minister of Posts admitted that these were in fact official government-made forgeries for use against Germany. A. B. Sanders writing in Philatelic Magazine, 18 November 1922 said in part:

At the Great Belgian Stamp Exhibition which took place at Brussels last year, the Belgian Minister of State, Jules Renkin, showed two forged Germania stamps that had "served the purpose of Entente espionage in Germany during the Great War." He further stated that “all of the original letters forwarded during the war and bearing the stamps are reported to have been destroyed. Only six letters dating from after the war and addressed to the above-mentioned diplomat, are said to be still in existence.

The entente spies in German were equipped with these stamps or somehow received them. They then wrote messages in sympathetic ink on the back of the stamps, the paper for which had been specially prepared, and sent the letters thus stamped to certain addresses in neutral countries. From there they were forwarded to Centrals, where the stamps were detached, and the messages rendered visible and deciphered.

In that same issue Philatelic Magazine ran the following letter:

My father was Deputy Master of the Mint, the beginning years of the war, and he got me a few of the two values, which I am enclosing. My father gave me stamps in the same envelope, in which they still are. He wrote "Forged German Stamps" on the envelope and told me all about them. The Government made the plates and printed them for two reasons, one being that it worked out cheaper than buying the quantities they wanted from dealers, and secondly, they wanted to keep quiet what they were doing, as the dealers would wonder what was up if there had been a sudden big demand for these stamps. Miss B. M. Elliot.

Even more strength was given to this position when a Dr. Terwange, former Director of the Belgian Office "Patrie et Liberte" ("Fatherland and Liberty"), supplied an affidavit in 1928:

The stamps were made by an Allied Power for use in propaganda in Germany, and millions of pamphlets and journals had been sent through the mails with them." In 1937, Dr. Terwange stated in the French philatelic magazine L'Echo de la Timbrologie that Great Britain produced the counterfeits.

Kenneth W. Pugh says in Linn's Stamp News, 23 January 1978:

Dr. Terwange, former director of the office Patrie et Liberte....The stamps were needed in his Hague office for the mailing of all propaganda material which was smuggled from neutral Holland across the German border and spread into various post office letter boxes.

L. N. & M. Williams add in “The 1918 Propaganda Forgeries,” Stamp Collecting, 11 November 1971:

At the foot of a 10-pfennig sheet is the annotation, “Block of nine handed to me by Mr. ______, 24/9/18…Forgeries of the Germania type appeared to have been prepared before those of Austria and Bavaria.

In Secrets of Crewe House, Sir Campbell Stuart said:

Somehow, huge masses of literature were posted in Germany to selected addresses, from which the German Postal Revenues derived no benefit.

Stuart went on to hint that some “neutral” workers had been used to carry propaganda letters and brochures into Germany, where they were mailed to previously selected individuals.

The case for the forgeries was now so strong that it was almost 30 years before any sustained attack was made on them. It took Professor Vernon McKenzie, writing in the Journal of the Society of Philatelic Americans, August 1963, reprinted from an earlier article published in the German Postal Specialist, to bring forth all the old arguments anew. The Professor, a well-known German specialist, stated:

I conclude that they were not used for espionage purposes, or for any other than a propaganda objective, and even here evidence of usage is usually vague and unconvincing.

McKenzie also attacked the Terwange affidavit, stating that if millions of pamphlets and journals were mailed, why has there not been found one single legitimate piece of mail with the forged Germania stamps?

McKenzie does not argue against the British counterfeiting of the German stamps. He just believes that they were never used to mail propaganda letters. The readers must decide for themselves the true purpose and use of the two forgeries. We can be sure that they were printed by the British about September 1918. As we state above, some of the stamps have the words Printed at Watford in the selvage of the sheets. The famous British printer Waterlow is based in Watford. Wolfgang Baldus, the well-known German specialist, and author of Schwarze Post says:

Waterlow Brothers and Layton built a new printing plant in London's suburb Watford during the war.

In 1930 Sir William Waterlow was in court defending the company from charges involving the Bank of Portugal. As part of his defense, he stated:

The most controversial of all my jobs was one for the Secret Service during the war. I never told any of my colleagues about it...'

Allegedly the task consisted of assisting the Secret Service in counterfeiting German postage stamps and foreign currencies.

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The British forgeries of the 5, 10, and 25-heller stamps of Austria

The magazine Stamp Collecting mentioned a second variety of counterfeit in 1923, a fake Austrian 1916-1918 magenta 10 Heller stamp. The magazine quoted Dr. Frank Collie, who had stated at a stamp club meeting that the stamp had been counterfeited by the British for propaganda mailings and for use in conjunction with certain "invisible inks" which were used on the back of the forgery. The German philatelic magazine Die Postmarke immediately attacked this idea, stating that it was far too dangerous for any agents to use these inks, especially on a forgery. Besides, they said, ample supplies could have been obtained in Switzerland. At least three articles appeared in 1934 debating the use of the forgery. To this day, like the Germania forgeries, nobody really knows just how, or why, or if, they were ever used postally. This of course is quite different from the World War Two forgeries, almost all of which are known on at least a few covers.

The British forged three stamps for use against Austria. They are the 10 Heller already mentioned, the 1916-1918 5 Heller green stamp and the 1917-1918 25 Heller blue stamp.


The 10 Heller Austrian Proof

British printing proofs of the 10 Heller exist. Some of these proofs bear the date Sep 25, 1918, in red ink by a rubber stamp on the back. All the proofs have 25.9.18 barely visible on the upper left front. Some of these forgeries also have the words Printed in Watford on the selvage of the sheets showing that Waterlow printed the second series too. The fact that these stamps were apparently not ready until October-November of 1918 might well explain why they are not found used on envelope. The war could well have been over before any opportunity to use these forgeries presented itself.

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The British forgeries of the 5, 10, and 15-pfennig stamps of Bavaria

British Intelligence also counterfeited three of the stamps of Bavaria. The items chosen were the 1916-1920 5-pfennig green, the 10-pfennig carmine, and the 15-pfennig vermilion. The stamps appear to have been reproduced by photographic means, and thus are very close to the originals. The forgeries do have a noticeable "screen", especially in the shaded areas outside the central portion of the stamp. The counterfeit 10-pfennig stamp looks better than the genuine item. The color and design are clearer, and the fake makes a better all-around impression. Once again, Printed in Watford appears on some sheet selvage.

L. N. & M. Williams says in, “The 1918 Propaganda Forgeries,” Stamp Collecting, 11 November 1971:

These proofs (of the forgeries) which are in mixed condition and all without gum, are said to have been in a bombed building during WWII. The most interesting feature of the pieces is that they have manuscript markings in the margins. One block of nine of the Bavarian 10 pfennigs is inscribed, “As received. Printed at Watford 2.11.18.” Another similar block has, “As received - tinted. Printed at Watford 2.11.18.” Other such blocks with similar messages are known. A block of the 5 pfennig forgeries has the inscription, “Block of nine handed by me to Mr. ____ 24.9.18.” Another block of nine says, "From Watford. Friday 11 Oct. 1918 (midday). Block of six left with Mr. Earl who is to go down there this afternoon 11.10.18." Some others have the following inscriptions:

Tint No. 1. Printed at Watford 2 Nov. 1918
Tint No. 2. Printed at Watford 2/11/18
With medium. Printed at Watford 2/11/18
4/11/18. (A) as received at (Watford 2/11/18)

"Watford"was the home of Waterford and Sons printers and Murray Teigh Bloom states in The Man Who Stole Portugal that Sir William Waterford was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his counterfeiting of German, Austrian and Bavarian stamps... and his facsimiles of Imperial German banknotes.

The British WWI Parodies of Postage Stamps

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Genuine German East African Yacht Issue and G.E.A. British Occupation overprint

The propaganda stamps of WWI are hardly worth mentioning. Unlike WWII where the British prepared brilliant parodies showing SS Leader Heinrich Himmler or Polish Governor Hans Frank in place of the Fuehrer, or pictured the French collaborator Laval as Satan whispering into the ear of the French leader Petain, in WWI the stamps were rather plain. Just one set is known.

In the 1973 booklet, A Postal History of German East Africa, Jerome G. Newman depicts a set of five parodies that he calls "War Propaganda Issue 1918." He says:

In the period from 1914-1918, a set of five labels were printed by the British as a propaganda issue. They were the same design as the regular German East African Yacht Issue, but were much larger in size, about double the size in fact. It is believed that they were printed to celebrate their anticipated victory since they were overprinted 'G. E. A. BRITISH OCCUPATION'.

In fact, the British versions of the "Hohenzollern Yacht series" were about twice the size of the genuine stamps, probably made bigger so that the propaganda overprint could be made large enough to be seen by the causal viewer.

The Philatelist, January/February 1985 adds:

Another mystery still unsolved consists of five values inscribed ‘DEUTSCH-OSTAFRICA’ said to have originated in Italy, and sometimes called the ‘Karissimbi Provisionals.’ They are a good copy of the German East Africa colonial lower values depicting the yacht Hohenzollern except for their size: they measure 30 x 40mm instead of 20 x 25mm. The set consists of a 2 1/2 heller brown, 4 heller green, 7 1/2 heller red, 15 heller blue and 30-heller violet. What is more puzzling is that they also exist with "G. E. A. BRITISH OCCUPATION overprints and surcharges of 12, 3, 6, 15 and 25 cents respectively. This colony’s stamps were never overprinted for occupation.

One wonders why the British would prepare propaganda stamps for such a distant area. In fact, as will soon become apparent, the British also prepared a counterfeit banknote for use in German East Africa. Why? What was going on thousands of miles away from the European war on the continent of Africa that so captured the interest of British Intelligence?

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General Paul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck

The fact is that the German colony's military commander, General Paul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck was playing "merry Hell" with the British. He spent the war harrying the forces of the British Empire with his little band of 3,000 Europeans and 11,000 Askaris. He fought off and out-maneuvered a 375,000-man British Imperial army. His mix of guerilla warfare and daring raids ended up costing the British close to 60,000 casualties. He was the only German force in the First World War never to have been defeated in open combat. On 25 November 1918 he surrendered his force in Mozambique. It took the British two weeks to find him and tell him that the war was over. His Askari colonial troops were so admired by the Germans that were later given pensions by the Weimar Republic.

Soldiering was apparently in the blood of the von Lettow-Vorbeck family. His nephew, Obersturmbannführer Hans Albert von Lettow-Vorbeck was the commander of the Danish volunteers in the WWII Waffen-SS unit Freikorps Dänemark. He took command 9 June 1942 and was killed 11 June 1942 near Lake Ilmen south of Leningrad. His last words were "My regards to the brave Danes."

After the war, German east Africa was no more. The Treaty of Versailles gave the eastern area of German East Africa to Belgium as Ruanda-Urundi, the small Kionga Triangle south of the Rovuma River to Portugal for Mozambique, and the remainder to Great Britain, who named it Tanganyika. Von Lettow-Vorbeck had, over his 4-year campaign, tied up almost a million men from the Gold Coast, The Gambia, Nigeria, South Africa, British East Africa, Uganda, Zanzibar, the Belgian Congo, Portuguese East Africa, India, the West Indies and Britain. It would seem that the ability of this relatively unknown colonial commander so threatened the British Empire that they went to great pains to produce propaganda stamps and counterfeit currency in an attempt to defeat him.

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British Lusitania label

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Two German "Gott strafe England" propaganda labels

There are also alleged French propaganda stamps, although most experts consider them frauds. The Williams Brothers mentioned the parodies in their 1954 booklet Forged Stamps of Two World Wars. They say:

During WWI the value of stamps and labels for propaganda purposes, apart from the intended use of the forgeries already described, was not fully realized. Numerous labels were produced by the belligerent countries for home consumption, such as he Lusitania label issued in Great Britain and the various "Gott strafe England" stickers which enjoyed some popularity in Germany, but there seems to have been only one attempt to influence neutral opinion by an issue of a true propagandist nature. This is mentioned in Phantom Philately by Fred J. Melville, where it is started that towards the end of 1914 the French newspaper Le Matin prepared illustrations of German stamps depicting Germania and inscribed "Schweiz," which, it was stated, were prepared for use in Switzerland if the Germans decided to occupy that country instead of Belgium...Another issue mentioned in Phantom Philately was on show at the War Stamp Exhibition in London in 1915, and consisted of the Germania types overprinted "Die Welt": but, as Melville remarked, this was 'a merely jocular allusion to the much vaunted German aspirations to rule the earth'.

The stamps overprinted Schweiz (“Switzerland”) were depicted in the 18 December 1914 issue of Le Matin. With the stamps was a long article entitled “Caught red-handed, Wilhelm II prepares annexation,” and text which indicated that the stamps had been prepared in advance to be used in Switzerland after the Germans occupied that country. The stamps apparently stirred up the Swiss to the point that the German embassy in Berne was forced to reply, pointing out that the story was false and the newspaper had been fooled. Later investigation seems to indicate that the stamps were produced by a Swiss philatelist, so it seems that the whole thing was just a practical joke. The same holds true of the stamps overprinted Die Welt, (“The World”). The Germans believed that they had been printed by Melville, the author of the article that first exposed them, as “a more surprising discovery proving the despicable plans of the damned Germans.” 

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Edith Cavell label

Another example of a label issued by the British is the Edith Cavell label. Edith Cavell was a British nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the war. She took part in hiding stranded British soldiers and helped them escape back to Great Britain. She was caught and sentenced to death by firing squad. The outcry that followed astounded the Germans and made them realise they had committed a serious blunder. The execution was used as propaganda by the allies, who made Nurse Cavell a martyr and the Germans brutal murderers and monsters. The shooting was not forgotten or forgiven and was used to sway neutral opinion against Germany and eventually helped to bring the U.S.A. into the war. Propaganda about her death caused recruiting to double for eight weeks after her death was announced.

It would therefore appear that during the entire four years of World War One, the only propaganda set probably prepared by a combatant were the five overprinted stamps for East Africa.

The Fake Propaganda Schweiz and Der Welt stamps

There are two other German stamps with propaganda overprints that are mentioned in the philatelic literature although they apparently do not exist and were just used in propaganda campaigns, either official or unofficial, to embarrass and ridicule the Central Powers.

The first is known for an overprint of Schweiz (Switzerland) on 3, 5, 10 and 20-pfennig Germania stamps. Their presence was first reported in the French newspaper Le Matin of 18 December 1914. The newspaper claimed that the stamps had come from a reliable source and were proof that the Germany’s preparation for war not only included the occupation of Belgium but also that of Switzerland. They said the stamps had been overprinted in Berlin and resembled the overprinted stamps used in the German occupation of Belgium on 1 October 1914. Some of the article says:

Caught red-handed. Wilhelm II prepares annexation.

One can say with good reason that the Germans prepared the war in detail. They are unparalleled organizers indeed! Nothing can stop them: Neither the guarantee treaties they have signed, not the attested and habitual rights of people that have lived freely and happily in Europe for centuries…The proof of their intention is as follows: They printed postage stamps in Berlin in advance…These stamps, featuring Germania and inscribed “Deutsches Reich,” are overprinted with black letters indicating that Switzerland is part of the German Empire from now on…The overprints are in gothic and seriffed letters, “Schweiz 10 centimes” and “Schweiz 25 centimes.”

The second fake propaganda stamp appeared at the “War Stamp Exhibition” in London in March 1915. This was once again a Germania stamp in the denomination of 10-phennigs. This stamp was overprinted with the text Dei Welt (The World). The implication was that Germany wanted to rule the world. Fred Melville, a philatelic writer was thought to have produced the stamp was quoted as saying:

The stamps were prepared by the German Reichspost long before the outbreak of the war to be used in those countries the Germans intended to invade.

German specialist Wolfgang Baldus said in Schwarz Post:

It is unknown who produced the “Die Welt” overprints, but they certainly represent a reaction to the “Schweiz” overprinted stamps…


In November 1980, Harmers of London was the agent for the auction of a collection of postal forgeries. The catalogue featured "Outstanding Austria, France with Allied intelligence forgeries, Germany with Allied intelligence and propaganda forgeries. One of the world's most complete collections of wartime espionage and propaganda stamps." Hidden deep in the catalogue was lot No. 1391, described as a "Circa 1916 forgery of 20-mark bank note, uncirculated and fine." The estimated value was 7 pounds. Since few, if any numismatists noticed this item, the banknote was sold to a philatelist for a mere 15 pounds.

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The British forgery of a German 20 reichsmark note of 21 April 1910

My interest in this banknote was aroused, and I searched for verification of the alleged plot to imitate German currency during the Great War. Gradually, a number of references to British WWI forgeries of German currency were found. For instance, H. G. de Fraine wrote in Servants of this House - Life in the Old Bank of England, Coustable, London, 1960:

I and my deputy, S. B. Chamberlain, were to place all the resources of the Printing Department at Captain Hall's (Admiral Sir Reginald Hall, Director of Naval Intelligence) disposal, also that this was highly confidential and that the three of us-- three, no more--were to share this secret between us.

He went on to tell how the "completed documents" were hidden in ordinary wine cases and delivered directly to Captain Hall. The deliveries took place for almost two years.

There is no mention of currency by de Fraine, and the quote would not be of much value were it not for the personal knowledge of Murry Teigh Bloom, an author who is probably one of the leading experts on the politics and production of banknotes. Bloom states in The Brotherhood of Money, BNR Press, Port Clinton Ohio, 1983:

More details on the operation were provided by Herbert G. de Fraine who for twenty years had been the head of the Bank of England's note-printing works. He had been told by Cunliffe (Walter Cunliffe, 1st Baron Cunliffe) that the bank was going to make imitations--in plain English, forgeries--of certain German documents. In the 1950s when de Fraine, long retired, was dictating his memoirs to his daughter, he still could not bring himself to say in plain English that he had forged German banknotes; hence the euphemism ‘certain German documents’.

In 1970, the wartime dairies of Maurice P. A. Hankey were published. Hankey had been the Secretary of the British War Council. According to Stephen Roskill, author of Hankey: Man of Secrets, Volume 1, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1970, the entry of January 25, 1916, reads:

Montagu (Edwin Samuel Montagu, Financial Secretary to Treasury 1914-1916) called on me to explain a scheme of his for placing forged German banknotes in circulation, in which I promised to try and help. It appears that the Governor of the Bank of England (Walter Cunliffe) with the knowledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister has produced some marvelous forgeries. It seems a rather dirty business, but the Germans deserve it...

The entry for 27 January 1916 is:

I called on Captain Hall, Director of Naval Intelligence and asked his help in the banknote scheme.

The mysterious forged banknote then stayed hidden until 17 December 1985 when it reappeared in a "Rare stamps and postal history" auction by George Alevizos of California. Lot No. 198 was described as "Forged stamps of two wars. Mounted and annotated collection of 95 stamps from seven countries." The banknote was hidden at the end of the long description of the stamps, "Two 1910 German banknotes (one forged?)." The lot was from the collection of L. N. and M. Williams of London, two brothers who published the booklet Forged Stamps of Two World Wars in 1954. For many years, this was the unofficial "Bible" of the postal espionage and propaganda field. They had simply accepted the Harmers of London description and called the banknote a British forgery. I was told in a personal correspondence that Barnaby Faull, the banknote specialist at Spinks in London found several of these forged banknotes, all with the same serial number (prefix F) , in the personal collection of a WWI period former member of the Bank of England.

In 2006, Lawrence Malkin published Krueger’s Men, Little, Brown, and Company, New York, Boston, and London. The book was about the forging of currency in WWII, But Malkin mentioned the WWI operation:

During WWI, the Bank of England had printed excellent counterfeits of German money with the full knowledge of the British government. They were delivered regularly by taxi to the head of naval intelligence, probably for use by spies in Germany.

The counterfeit is the 20 mark Reichsbanknoten of 21 April 1910. The serial number on the forgery is F3530024. The forgery differs from the genuine in several easily detectable ways. The red color on the ornamental seal on the back is faint, whereas in the genuine note the red dominates. The lettering and detail in the red seals at the lower left and right on the face are indistinct, whereas the genuine is clearly printed. The length of the serial number is 40 mm whereas in the genuine is measures 37 mm. The letter "F' in the serial number is fat with more prominent serifs than that of the genuine. Finally, the blue threads in the forgery are printed on the surface whereas they are in the paper of the genuine banknote.

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British forgery of the Turkish 10 livres banknote of 1915

Turkey was a member of the Central Powers at war with Great Britain. The British apparently counterfeited a banknote for use against the Turks. Some of the story is told by Scott E. Cordry in Coin World, 13 July 1988, "At the same time that the British were engaging Germany in World War 1, they were also at war with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean region. The Mideast had long been a sensitive area to British interests, but with the ever-increasing importance of the Suez Canal and the considerable pressure being brought by the Zionists and Arthur James Balfour (a Conservative minister of Parliament) for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the British were committed to defeating Turkey and ending the Influence of the Ottoman Empire forever…

The British were faced with many problems in the occupation of Turkey. There was ample reason for the British to concern themselves with the continued demise of the Ottoman Empire. Did the British use counterfeit Turkish currency to disrupt and discredit the money supply in Turkey and Palestine during this period? While we will probably never know for sure, the British certainly had ample cause to utilize this tactic. And now, with the discovery of excellently made counterfeit Turkish 10-livre notes dated 1918, we have some physical evidence of just such a scheme."

The counterfeits first appeared about 1969. They appeared in greater numbers in 1987. This often happens as individuals pass on and their estates are put up for sale by their families. All of the counterfeits are exceeding good and this points toward a government as the producer. The serial numbers are all different. There is one remarkable error that is found on the counterfeits that can be used for an immediate identification. The Western and Islamic 10’s along the left border on the back side face toward the outside of the note instead of the inside as on the genuine notes.

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The Genuine German East Africa 20 Rupien Banknote
Front and back Serial Numbers both 02630

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British forgery of the East Africa 20 rupien banknote of 15 March 1915
Front serial Number 1000, Back Serial Number 04347

Just as the British Navy blockaded much of Europe during WWI, they also blockaded African seaports. They stopped the import of raw materials and supplies into German East Africa. The local banks soon ran out of stocks of the regular currency printed in Germany. In March 1915, they authorized the production of "interim banknotes" in the belief that the war would soon be over and the notes would only be in use for a short time.

The issue of the Interim-Banknoten was restricted to the duration of the war. One of the last blockade- runners to arrive in the colony had brought a supply of several different kinds of paper and there were printing presses at the firm of Deutsch Ostafrikanische Zeitung, publishers of the daily Dar es Salaam newspaper. A contract was awarded to the newspaper to immediately commence printing the colony’s banknotes.

The notes are printed in black except for the top line on the front outside the border, which is in red. German text on the front begins “Interims-Banknote Nr...” in red. Additional text on the front is:

The German East African Bank will pay, without checking a person’s identity, twenty rupees from its offices in the German East Africa protectorate.

The early genuine note, with handwritten serial number, is hand signed by bank officials Muller and Fruhling. On the back in German and Swahili is the text:

One hundred percent of the face value of this banknote is deposited with the Imperial German East African government.

Whoever counterfeits banknotes, or knowingly obtains such notes and puts them into circulation, will be sentenced to not less than two years.

D.O.A. Zeitung

There were two types of prisons at the time, one for petty crimes and one for serious ones. The term Zuchthaus as used on the banknote refers to “hard time.”

The genuine banknote and the British forgery are discussed by Bernard Schaaf in The Currency Collector, 1972, and in a follow-up article entitled "The Paper Money of German East Africa," Bank Note Reporter, November 1976. Schaaf depicts the British forgery and offers the following comments:

The new interim 20 Rupien notes were printed in Tabora, dated "15 Marz 1915." The notes were printed on a three layer paper, a pink fiber paper on each side of a heavier middle layer. The serial number was printed on the back of the note and handwritten in at the top of the front margin.

In the neighboring colony of British East Africa, the British forged the notes in an attempt to destroy the economy of the German colony. The British forgeries are rare, but easy to identify. The paper is not three-layer, the color is a deeper shade of pink, and the handwritten serial number of the front of the note does not match the printed serial number on the back of the note.

The dealer who sold the note in June 1983 told me:

As far as I know, there has never been a British forgery of German East Africa in any auction or price list with the possible exception of the George Thomas Collection in 1979. When the remainder of his collection was auctioned in May 1980, the note had already been sold. That note was of comparable condition, and to the best of my recollection, it was priced the same as this one ($400). This may even be the same note.

It is apparent that this is a very rare forgery and few have surfaced in the 90 years since the end of the First World War.The forgery is on a brighter pink paper and there are a number of ways to identify it though with the front and back serial numbers differing there is no need to go into great technical detail. Other differences include their thicker paper and the fact that the signatures on the forgeries are printed rather than being handwritten as on the genuine. Because of the rarity, the forgery is as valuable as the genuine banknote. I suspect that the forgery was used for espionage purposes only, but Reinhard Tieste says in Katalog des Papiergeldes der Kriegsgefangenenlager. 1. Weltkrieg, 2007, that they were used by the British to give an allowance to German Prisoners of War and pay the prisoners who worked for the British. He points out that some specialists call the banknotes “labor camp money” (Lagergeld), and not forgeries. He believes they are wrong.

We should add that the British kept up a relentless propaganda campaign aimed at demoralizing the Askaris tribesmen fighting for the Germans. Leaflets were dropped by air stating that their German masters were full of lies and that they were being treated like wild pigs. The leaflet went on in Swahili to say:

The war is over! How can the Kaiser pay you the gold you have earned with your blood? You are given bits of worthless paper. What is the difference between this paper and leaves on a tree? Join us, because your German masters are finished!

That is all we know about the British forging of the enemy's stamps and banknotes during WWI. A grand total of eight stamps and three banknotes. They may have been many more items forged, but if so, they are yet to be found.

Russian Revolution Propaganda Currency

Anti-Soviet “White Army” Propaganda on Russian Currency

The Russian Revolution did not come easily. There were several factions that fought the Bolsheviks for supremacy. The Russian White Army prepared propaganda overprints on Russian State Treasury notes of 1918. These overprints were produced during 1919 by the White Army and attack the Communists as purveyors of worthless currency. The overprints are in Cyrillic. The following two notes were overprinted by the “White Army” as they fought for political power.

A 25 Ruble Note

The propaganda message on the 25 rubles note above says in part:

The Bolshevik’s money, like everything else of theirs, is a fraud. Nobody recognizes the money. Commissars are stuffing their pockets with real money and giving the people ‘Lenin’s’ and ‘Pyatakov’s’ money, which is not accepted anywhere.


A 50 Ruble Note

The propaganda message on the 50 rubles note above says in part:

The Commissars have deceived you, giving you a heap of money, but for this token you cannot even buy a dog…

Other overprints that have been identified are:

Money for blockheads.

What did the Bolsheviks give you? NOTHING!  What did the Bolsheviks take? EVERYTHING!

This money is the same as counterfeit!  It is not recognized in Russia or abroad. The Communist commissars are impudently cheating you. DOWN WITH THE SOVIET STATE and its counterfeit money!” 

The Bolsheviks promised you PEACE, BREAD, and FREEDOM, but gave you WAR, HUNGER, the CHEKA, and as a bonus--COUNTERFEIT MONEY.


Anyone who can add to our knowledge of this subject is invited to write to the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.

© 3 October 2003