Growing up in Europe, I have always been fascinated by its history and how it manifests everywhere you look. Every building, be it an ordinary house or a glorious monument, wears the marks of historic events, which remind us about past successes and failures.
I feel the world would be a much better place if we all were better students of history and learned from the mistakes our elders made. Unfortunately, as generations change, we tend to forget the horrors of the past, allowing the forces that be to repeat the same mistakes.
In my youth, I was lucky enough to hear countless stories from elders about life during World War I and World War II. As much as I like to read about history, nothing compares to accounts from people who experienced it firsthand. This is one of the reasons I started this series of articles featuring our customers’ stories and what they learned from their experiences.
Today, Peter W. from South Africa is sharing his early childhood lessons about money with us.
My name is Peter W., resident in South Africa for the last 65 years. I was born in Hamburg, Germany in December of 1941, in the last years of the second world war and was schooled in Hamburg to leave for the UK at the age of 16 to start my working life. We were taught good English at school, living in the British occupied zone of the city. There were French and American zones as well.
During my upbringing, with my grandparents in Hamburg I had my best education in the toilet. It was a sizeable room, as toilets go, with no windows, only an air shaft, being located inside of the apartment my grandparent lived in.
There was a Dado rail a little above an adults hip height, the walls above the Dado rail painted and the area below the Dado rail wallpapered with old Bank notes. As a youngster my natural curiosity made me question the background to these wallpapered bank notes, which covered the Weimar Republic Inflationary period, the first world war (wipe out of currency) as well as the 2nd world war, again wipe out of currency. Some of the notes were overprinted temporary changing the note’s values to, say 20 Milliard etc etc. These were the last weeks of the inflationary days and final destruction of the value of the then paper money!
My grandfather explained, and I have not forgotten this, that paper money, i.e. the nation’s currency is just that, a piece of paper. He further talked about how paper money, irrespective the circumstances, loses money until the final collapse and then it indeed can only be used for wallpaper. He further explained that the only avenue for retaining wealth over time was to buy and own gold. He then showed me a gold Thaler, of which he had accumulated some, and gave me the advice that should I find myself with surplus cash one day to invest it, not in shares on a stock exchange, another piece of papers, but to buy gold coins or bullion bars.
This I have been doing for the last 40 years odd and have been passing on my experience/story to my children and to whoever wants to listen.
Over this period I have seen a significant appreciation in the value of the accumulated gold, one recalls that gold was fixed at $ 45 an ounce to then bounce to $ 1900 an ounce to stand at around $ 1250 an ounce at present. The South African currency, the Rand, as for that matter the Dollar, Pound and the Euro have all lost significant purchasing power over these 40 years, not to mention all the smaller currencies around the world, such as may have survived these 40 years.
My Grandfathers advice was really worth its weight in gold, to use a pun.
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Olivier Garret is the founding Partner and CEO of Mauldin Economics, a leading publisher of financial research geared to individual investors and institutions.
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