The biggest hoax in South African numismatics -
November 2005

If you read numerous numismatic books, let alone articles, on South African coins you will find sketchy claims that the country's first circulating currency was the coinage first conceived by the missionary Rev John Campbell in 1813 and used by the Griquas of Griqua Town in 1815/16. Well known South African numismatists like J T Becklake, J Verner Scaife, Miss Matthy Esterhuysen, and C L Engelbrecht all swallowed the Parson bait - and so fiction became numismatic fact.

The hoax was first given legitimacy by H A Parson who wrote several articles for well known auction house Spink in the 1920s. In his book "The Coinage of Griqualand" Parson states that the Griqua Town coins were circulated and as such were South Africa's first indigenous coinage. Subsequently titles of "the world's only missionary coinage" and "the world's first decimal coinage" have been tagged to these obscure token coins by other authors - apparently adding "value" to the coins. I use the word token when discussing these Griqua Town coins because that is all they ever were - as confirmed by the London Missionary Society. Unlike the 1890 Griqua Town pattern penny these coins, pictured right, were nothing more than failed token coins that never circulated in Griqua Town.

(Click on image right to see the controversial "Griqua Town coins" )

For over 30 years I have been carefully researching the history of South African numismatics - with a particular slant on the money used by the Griquas. A few years ago it became clear to me that it was highly improbable that Parson's claims were true so I started researching the subject in great detail.

This research included reading a large number of contemporary books by botanists, missionaries, hunters and travellers - all individuals who had visited the Griquas of Griqua town at this time. The results of my research supported my initial suspicions and I published my findings at this link. The findings include an easy to read summary of over 50 facts supporting the finding that the Griqua Town coins not only never circulated in Griqua Town in 1815/16 but only saw S African shores several years later - and then only as token coins (which never left the Resident Missionary Helm's canvas bag).

These findings of mine are overwhelmingly supported by related statements published by J S Marais the Professor of History at the University of Witwatersrand, Prof Arndt (expert in South African currency) who states in his book that "not one coin ever circulated", South African historian Karel Schoeman and the idiocy of any thought that they did revealed by William Burchell in his 1812 drawing of Griqua Town. 

Burchell's drawing of Griqua Town in 1812 - click image for details.

The Cape Coloured People 1652-1932 by J S Marais, is a lengthy and well researched work (over 60 books referenced). The book includes a detailed report on the Griquas at Griqua Town (Chapter II pgs 32-73) but makes no reference to any coinage being used there. Marais, the Professor of History at the University of the Witwatersrand, refers at length to Campbell's book and the meeting where the Bastards adopted the name "Griqua", incorporated new laws and in which Campbell mentions the idea of coins. It is clear that Marais had, by his omission, completely discounted the theory that Griqua Town coins had ever circulated at Griquatown. This observation is supported by Marais' own commentary in the book that between 1814 and 1820 Griqua Town was a "ghost town". (NOTE: The book is quite common and for those with an interest in this subject acquiring a copy for less than $100 will be easy).

It should be noted that there are just 25 Griqua huts in Griqua Town in 1812 BEFORE the mass exodus of the Kok and Barends families to Daniels Kuil and Campbelltown in 1814. Hardly the perfect scenario in which to introduce coinage - especially when the remaining Griquas in the "ghost town" are illiterate and cannot understand the meaning of money or change.

After I published my findings I invited the S A Mint to review their page in which they parroted Parson's flawed findings - the mint, despite the overwhelming evidence provided (evidence which is supported by references to relevant books) answered that "With regards to the information on the website, Terese researched this information and until Parson’s opinion has been officially disproved, we will have to keep it as such."

In early November after nearly two months of waiting I got the confirmation that I sought from no other authority than Spink itself. In an email  from Jeremy Cheek (specialising in world coins) he states: I did read your most interesting research, which we do not dispute at all, giving the latest research and revised and updated background to this issue. Cheek sent a copy of his email to all Spink's numismatic staff.

I am still waiting on the SA Mint to respond to my latest email on this subject.

Comprehensive proof that the Griquatown coins never circulated at this link