If you still use snail mail here in the U.S. you probably know that the cost to mail a first class letter within the U.S. went up to $0.41 today. At moments like this, a little historical perspective never hurts. Just be glad you didn’t live in Germany during the hyperinflation of 1923 when the price of everything (stamps included) went so sky-high that it’s not enough to say they went into the stratosphere. “Into orbit” would be more appropriate. See Exhibit A below — a 20,000,000,000 Mark stamp.
I find that this sort of everyday object makes an excellent tool for teaching complex matters such as hyperinflation. The reasons why the German currency decayed so rapidly are many and complicated and students often simply roll their eyes in frustration as they try to make sense of such a complex historical event. So, instead, I give them copies of stamps like these and ask them what the consequences would be for the average citizen who had to pay 20,000,000,000 to mail a letter? This question sets off an energetic discussion of the consequences of hyperinflation first. Then we embark on our discussion of causes.
Knowing the consequences first helps them to pay closer attention to the complexities of the causes. In this particular case, one picture (of a stamp) is worth a good 20 minutes of lecture.