Belgian emergency money from the First World War

The Museum of the National Bank of Belgium owns a large collection of emergency banknotes from the First World War: 4,525 copies of 2,499 different types (08/06/2015). After commodity money, this one-hundred-year-old selection of notes is the Museum’s second sub-collection which can be consulted on-line.

Bernissart - 1 F - recto

Emergency banknote fromthe municipality of Bernissart

During the war, Belgium had to contend with a growing shortage of money, especially for small payments. That is why around 600 local authorities and hundreds of benevolent institutions, relief committees and enterprises resorted to issuing emergency money, mostly in the form of paper money, but sometimes also in metal coins. At first, this money was used for paying military expenses and claims, salaries, suppliers and other municipal charges. Later on, it enabled the shortage of small change to be remedied and the most vital food and goods (clothes and coal, for example) purchased. The many support- and assistance committees (including the Comité national de Secours et d’Alimentation) also switched over to such emergency issuing. Factories and firms paid out wage and cash coupons. The municipal emergency notes were only accepted as a means of payment within the local community or in some particular shops. Now and again, they were nevertheless also accepted elsewhere, by mutual agreement between the local authorities.

In order to find the war notes from a specific municipality, you just have to go to the map of Belgium and first click on the province to which it belongs today. Once the choice of province has been made, select from the dropdown menu the municipality that you are looking for. The name of the commune/municipality is the one that has been in force since the 1977 merger.

For each local authority, by way of a general overview, all types of war notes that the Museum has from this municipality and its constituent boroughs/hamlets are illustrated on a reduced scale. And with one click of the mouse on the image of your choice, you will get a more detailed picture of the front and back of the note.

For those who would like to look further into the history of war money, the general bibliography is highly recommended. Finally, this catalogue can also be easily consulted using a smartphone or tablet.

» Visit the Emergency money collection: DutchFrench

» Bibliography