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March 14, 2018

As I have been sifting through tens of thousands of magazine pages in search of strong nonfiction integrity stories, I stumbled on Philip H. Ward’s article titled “The German Inflation Stamps” in the October 1936 issue of St. Nicholas magazine. And it reminded me of one of the most horrific stories of the Twentieth century. Horrific, not because of financial reasons, but rather because of what followed in its wake.

Because post-World War I inflation was so out of control, at its worst, it would take a wheelbarrow heaped full of German money to purchase a loaf of bread. It got so bad that the desperate Germans would have elected the Devil himself if he’d promise to save them from mass starvation. Well, they didn’t elect the Devil, but they did elect the human Devil-incarnate, Adolf Hitler!

Read on to see how bad conditions were at the height of Germanic inflation.

One of the most interesting issues of stamps ever to appear were the well-known inflation stamps of Germany issued in 1922-23. The German mark worth originally around 25c, at the height of inflation took about fifty billion marks to mail a letter to the United States. Get out your pencil and paper and you will find that on the pre-inflation basis this would represent $12,500,000,000.

In accordance with the Universal Postal Union regulations the stamp for international mail should be blue. This enables the foreign mail clerk to see if proper postage has been paid irrespective of whether he knows the currency of the foreign country or not.

For many years the 20 pf. Blue paid the international postage and had a face value of 5c or 25c to the mark. By 1920 it took 30 pf. An increase of 50% so that the mark was worth about 17c. In 1921 the 1.20 mark was used, hence, the mark had depreciated to 4c. By 1922 it took 2,000 marks for a foreign letter and by the next year the mark changed so rapidly that one had to call at the Post Office to find out how many marks were required to post a letter. As a result, many stamps were surcharged with new values for the changes were so rapid that it was impossible to make new plates in time. It will, therefore, be understood why Germany had stamps in denominations of 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50, 100, 200, 500 million marks and 1, 2,m 5, 10, 20, 50 billion marks. In other words, a set of German stamps of the 1923 period based on the original value of the mark would pay the world war debt in full with interest. Would it not seem odd if our own United States had to put a $12,500,000,000 stamp on a letter to mail it to Germany? Unchecked inflation could do it.

We illustrate eight of the German inflation stamps with a face value of 39,700,800,000 marks, worth just a few cents at the time of issue.


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Walter Prichard Eaton’s “The Man Who Found Christmas”

December 7, 2016

It is time for our seventh Christmas book selection, building on the shoulders of Abbie Farwell Brown’s The Christmas Angel, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Lloyd C. Douglas’s Home for Christmas, Henry Van Dyke’s The Other Wise Man, Kate Douglas Wiggin’s The Birds’ Christmas Carol, and Pearl Buck’s Christmas Day in the Morning. All year long, as soon as a new year begins, I start thinking about the next Christmas book selection. It’s not as easy as one might think for powerful Christmas books are in short supply.

And so it was this year. But finally, a Christmas book I first read some ten years ago kept popping up in my mind, meekly suggesting, Don’t you think that this year would be a good time to resurrect me from the ash heaps of the past? No one remembers me any more. And it’s true: no one remembers Walter Prichard Eaton any more.

So I re-read the book for the third time, and then concluded that 2016 was the right time to resurrect The Man Who Found Christmas.

man-who-found-scan                                    Frontispiece by Walter King Stone

It is a timely book, for, just as is true today, the Roaring 1920s were characterized by profound post-World War One disillusion and loss of faith in God. The prevailing sentiment being, Where was God when so many millions were mercilessly and needlessly butchered in the bloodstained trenches of France? Veterans returned home to joblessness and no support system to ease their re-entry into civilian life. The prevailing mood was secularism and hedonism.

With this preamble, let’s turn to Eaton’s opening words:

A new generation has come into the world since what is here took place. There has been a mighty war, when ‘peace on earth’ seemed very far away. The automobile has conspired mightily to change our ways of life, possibly our ways of thinking and even feeling. . . . We today, and especially our young people, are supposed to be more sceptical [skeptical] of sentiment than we were of old; so therefore we are presumably more sceptical of Christmas, which is the feast and holiday of sentiment. But unless this story grievously errs—and how can that be, since it took place as set forth just about twenty years ago [the book was published in 1927]—young people have been sceptical of sentiment before, and if Christmas could prove them wrong then, perhaps it can again.

Eaton’s protagonist is a young New York newspaper reporter turned author. Like his closest companions, he is cynical about life, Christian values, and especially Christmas, which he unabashedly loathes. Glad he was to be a charter member of the To-Hell-with-the-Merry-Yule-Tide Association.

But something happens one evening, when searching for a long-buried manuscript, he stumbles upon a bundle of old souvenirs, dusty and forgotten. All else is forgotten as he rummages around in his past—things as disparate as programs, a class prophecy, a dance card, a photograph of the old house among apple trees where he’d grown up, a photograph of a girl he’d loved when he was seventeen, a book of quotations he’d hand-copied, childish compositions, a letter he’d written home—and finally a big Christmas card. The colorful card depicted a small boy in a long nightgown standing before a big fireplace with his hands stretched to the blaze. The warm red glow of the fire was reflected on his face. From the mantle hung a stocking. And behind him, through a window, was a church roof, white with snow, and a cold moon riding high.

Suddenly, inexplicably, he longs for his boyhood home in New England—but, both his parents being dead, there is no home to go to. But one thing is certain, he must leave New York that very day, board a train, head north to a town he knew nothing about—and somehow, he knew not how . . . find Christmas.

The rest of the little book tells the story of the journey that follows . . . and the lonely pure-hearted beauty who lives in that remote snow-flocked New England town.

If you’re anything like me, by the time you come to the end, tears—happy tears—will be almost guaranteed.

It is likely to be a tough search, even on the web, for the book has all but disappeared. But we did find several available on Amazon.

The book was originally published in 1913 by McBride, Nast & Co. Apparently, 14 years later, Eaton rewrote the introductory paragraph so the book seemed more contemporary, Wilde republished it in paperback form in 1941.


Walter Prichard Eaton (1878-1957) was born in Malden, Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard, was a drama critic for various newspapers and magazines, and wrote numerous books. He was also a professor of playwriting at Yale. His papers are at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Among his books are, The American Stage of Today (1908), Barn Doors and Byways (1913), The Idyl of Twin Fires (1915), Green Trails and Upland Pastures (1917), etc. He was also author of many Boy Scout books. The Man Who Found Christmas was published by W. A. Wilde Company in 1927.

Whatever you do, you must not reach Christmas Eve of 2016 without being able to hold a copy of this precious little book in your hands and revel in the story. That is a command!

Glossary: Here are some archaic words that may be confusing: sceptical – should be skeptical; gel – gal; pung – automobile; grip – suitcase.