Abandoned safe yields 1920s-era German bonds

A Hamilton homeowner has found stacks of 1920s-era German bonds inside a half-buried safe in his backyard.

'I thought this was the big one,' disappointed homeowner says

Buried German bonds

11 years ago
Duration 1:50
A Hamilton homeowner has found stacks of 1920s-era German bonds inside a half-buried safe in his back yard

An auto technician thought his working days were over after finding stacks of 1920s-era German bonds inside a half-submerged safe in his backyard.

Gianni Smerilli, 32, was cleaning up the back yard of a home he bought near Hamilton last year when he made the discovery.

A closer look

You can examine the bonds in detail by clicking on our interactive tool here.

"I thought I found something great," he told CBC News. "I thought this was the big one."

Smerilli said the house and yard were filled with junk when he took possession, including a safe about the size of a washing machine in the back yard.

"We couldn't move the safe," he told CBC News. "It's full of concrete."

Smerilli eventually cracked the safe's rusty walls with the help of a friend and a few swings of a sledge hammer. Inside, he found thousands of German documents similar in texture to the type used for currency. Smerilli doesn't read German, but when he saw the word "Reichsmark" he thought he might be in for a payday.

The 1920s-era German bonds found in this safe have little value, an expert says. (CBC)

Unfortunately for Smerilli, it appears the bonds are of little value.

"These are very, very common," said Michael Barber, owner of Arcade Stamp and Coin Company, who examined the documents for CBC News. "We see them quite frequently."

Bonds such as those Smerilli discovered were issued by a cash-strapped German government struggling to pay reparation bills after the First World War. At the time, hyperinflation was driving down the value of the mark and Germany's economy was near collapse. 

German newspapers published pictures of people hauling around wheelbarrows full of the currency that were barely worth the paper they were printed on.

The bonds Smerilli found are in various denominations and outline a series of interest payments in the form of tear-off interest coupons cashable at specific dates.

Smerilli's stack includes a 50,000-mark bond issued in 1922. The redeemable tear-away portions of the documents remain intact, so the interest was never collected. Of course the devaluation of the Germany currency at the time likely rendered the bond valueless anyway. By 1923 Germans were using the banknotes as wallpaper. Their currency was eventually replaced.

Barber said the bonds might be worth up to $10 each as a nostalgia item.

"They're interesting in the fact that the coupons were never clipped," Barber said. "So whoever put them away knew that they weren't going to be of any value. I would be interested in buying them, but not for much money."

Smerilli isn't sure who put the bonds in the safe. Neighbours say the previous owner of the house was a notorious hoarder but another owner did serve in the Second World War, but it's not known whether he was the one who entombed the bonds inside the safe.

Whatever the case, Smerilli says he won't get rid of them and remains open to offers.

"Who knows, maybe the right guy will come around with a briefcase, and we can go from there," he said laughing.

Interactive view

Take a closer look at the documents below using our interactive tool. The first document is one of hundreds of bond coupons found by Smerilli. The second document is a bond certificate