One hundred quintillion banknote

In late 1940s Hungary, the highest inflation rate ever recorded led to the creation of a banknote valued at one hundred quintillion pengő.

Magyar Nemzeti Bank (Hungarian National Bank) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hyperinflation occurs whenever inflation gets seriously out of control. Prices rise so fast that money becomes effectively worthless, and new denominations of banknotes must be printed to keep up with the rising prices.

In the case of Hungary, post-war woes pushed inflation to levels never seen before or since. The 50-pengő note was issued on June 5, 1945, but had to be withdrawn from circulation less than a year later. Over that year, notes were issued for ever-increasing values: 100; 500; 1,000; 10,000; 100,000; a million; 10 million; 100 million…

One week after the 50-pengő note was withdrawn, the government issued its first one billion pengő note. But it would get worse, much worse. Throughout 1946 hyperinflation pushed the creation of higher and higher note values. Rather than covering the entire banknote in zeroes they began issuing bills in multiples of milpengő (a million pengő) and b.-pengő. The b stands for “billion” but it’s the old British billion, so according to the meaning most common today that’s a trillion pengő.

The final banknote to actually be issued (pictured above) was the hundred billion b.-pengő. It was worth exactly 1020 pengő – one hundred quintillion, the highest denomination of banknote to ever be put into circulation.

Incredibly, they printed but never issued one note that was worth even more: the one sextillion note. For reference, it is estimated that there are one sextillion grains of sand in the entire world. Before it could be released, the government created a whole new currency (the forint) that was worth so many pengő (four octillion!) that all of the old banknotes automatically became worthless.

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