Challenging the Griquatown Coin claims by Brian Hern
in his 2008 S African coin catalogue (seen right below).

The author of this article, Scott Balson, has a collection of over 250 books related to the Griqua, is the author of the book covering the Griquas' lives and has been researching the Griqua for over thirty years - see Children of the Mist at this link. Balson also has a keen interest in numismatics.

In response to Pierre Henri Nortje

Despite being made aware of the overwhelming evidence that the "Griquatown token coins" never circulated in S Africa through a letter to the National Numismatic Society in 2005 Brian Hern continues to push this furphy. It is interesting Hern was Secretary of the club at that time and that the committee discussed my letter but refused to table it to the members.

In red below is Hern's dismissive email response to a single fax sent to him a few months after this with the results of my research. These were sent to him in the interests of the integrity of South African numismatics:

Dear Mr Balson,

I have received your fax and re-iterate that you are entitled to your opinions (about the Griqua Town coins), but, I also have read the books you refer to and I too, have a different opinion to yours. I can refute every one of your opinions.

I find your ignorance quite outstanding and I do no accept any of your remarks as definite proof negating Parson's research.

Now let this be an end to your tirades!!! Stop bombarding me with your allegations.

Regarding your correspondence addressed to the NNS, I, as the Secretary of the NNS, confirmed to you the receipt of your correspondence. What more do you want!!!

Yours faithfully,

Brian Hern.

Hern refused to discuss or debate this subject further - the reason I have posted this article which factually debunks the claims he makes in his book on the Griquatown coins. This is the only correspondence I have received from Brian Hern.

(NOTE: even Spink, who employed Parson in 1927, now accept that the research shown here is correct and that Parson was wrong. It was Parson who first suggested the Griquatown tokens circulated resulting in numerous quotes in coin books to this effect. More on Spink's response at this link)

The facts in a nutshell:

Bushmen alone roamed the Kimberley region, at the time Hern would have you believe Griquatown coins circulated there. They roamed nomadically in small family groups with nothing more than loin cloths and poisoned bows and arrows. Survival by the hunt was their primary goal. At this time white explorers and missionaries counted for less than one per annum roaming through this remote and hostile region of southern Africa. There were no white settlers north of the Orange River - the Voortrekkers only came much later.

The Griquas had deserted newly named Griquatown some 150km to the west of the yet to be established settlement at Kimberley. (Kimberley was only settled in the 1870s following the discovery of diamonds). They deserted the settlement at Griquatown after falling out with the London Missionary Society's Anderson over the introduction of Campbell's laws. The key Griqua family groups like the Koks, Waterboers and Barends had moved out in disgust to regions afar like Danielskuil to the north and Campbell to the east. They took their spoils of ivory and cattle to the Beaufort Fair in the south each year. Barter and Rix dollars were the only form of exchange - this fact is widely recorded - even by Campbell during his second visit to South Africa.

In 1841 Captain H Butler published the excellent book "South African Sketches" see this link. This rare and sought after book carries thirty illustrations (fifteen hand coloured) of life beyond the Cape frontiers in the late 1830s (ie over 20 years after Hern would have you believe the Griquatown coins circulated as currency!). The Kat River region Butler hunted in was hundreds of miles closer to civilisation than remote Kimberley Hern refers to yet all Butler's illustration reflect the truth of the matter - and confirmed the obvious backed by his own words. Game ruled central South Africa in a land where only brave or desperate men, largely bushmen, hunted. Barter was the only form of trade.

The Griquas never changed their lifestyles despite Campbell's brief visit in 1813 over 20 years before this - they continued with their traditional nomadic ways spending months travelling across the land north of the Vaal river on horseback hunting and grazing their herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Any trade done in the region was by barter - for example, ivory or skins for brandy. This fact is well recorded in many documents and books dating back to that time. There were no human settlements in the remote "Kimberley region". In fact there was not one shop, trading post or bank north of the Orange River.

The cold, hard Facts:

In 1815-16 when Hern would have you believe the Griquas of Griquatown were using the "Griquatown token coins" to trade the settlement had become a ghost town - just a handful of people remained. This fact is documented by a large number of independent historians and confirmed by Balson's own research (the fragmentation of the Griqua communities was largely due to disputes with Anderson over the enforcement and implementation of Campbell's laws). Interestingly research by emininent South African historian Karel Schoeman into the records of the London Missionary Society reveals that there was "no money in Griquatown" in 1815-16. (See extracts of the book at the bottom of this page). So why does Hern continue to suggest there was? Does he know better than the missionaries who lived there at that time?

William Burchell reveals the truth:

In the classic drawing of Griquatown by Burchell penned in 1812 (before the village became a ghost town) you can see just a handful of huts of this nomadic and transient people dominated by kraals for penning sheep and cattle. There are no permanent dwellings, stores, banks or places to trade. Burchell was a highly regarded naturalist who recorded every detail. Click on the image below for details.

Only Waterboer returns to Griquatown to become Griqua leader in 1820

Waterboer (the only Griqua leader who came back to Griquatown after the 1814 fall out) returned with his followers in 1820-21 years after the coins were supposed to have been used as currency there. He had settled on the banks of the Hart River with his "Hartenaars". The other Griqua leaders never returned. Adam Kok II and his people had taken up the nomadic lifestyle of the Bergenaar on the Orange River and later settled in Philippolis in the southern Orange Free State, while Cornelius Kok had settled at Campbell to the east and Barend Barends at Danielskuil to the north. Before Waterboer's return Griquatown had become a ghost town. On his return Helm specifically refers to paying Waterboer in Rijksdaalders for work done. Quote from letter written by Helm on 21 June 1821: he (Waterboer) has for the last two years received nothing except 13 Rijksdaalders 4 Schillings. Not one Griquatown coin was made in payment - see relevant extracts of Schoeman's book copied below.

The fallacy of the "Kimberley region":

White settlement at Kimberley following the discovery of diamonds only happened about sixty years later! Before that the "Kimberley region" (referred to by Hern) was practically uninhabited and there were NO villages or communities there. Kimberley is over 150km from Griquatown. It was as remote and wild as the picture painted by Butler (above) - and the artist's work was far closer to the borders of civilisation.

Hern's discredited furphy:

Hern would have you believe in his South African coin book that there were shops around the region busy selling items like scissors in exchange for Griquatown token coins or... in a best case scenario.... Griquas pulling out the coins and exchanging them for brandy and skins as they rode through the wilds of Africa! But then they had no pockets and had no understanding of addition let alone fractions (1/4, 1/2) or the value of "useless coins" over barter... disregarding these facts where would they store the coins which had no holes and why would they bother! Even the acclaimed expert on the history of currency and banking in South Africa, Prof Arndt, (see notes below) says this is a nonsense!

The challenge Hern refuses to accept

The Griquatown token coins never circulated and have no real numismatic history or value - to say they do is complete fabrication, worse still the facts have now been made public but continue to be ignored by prominent numismatists.

I am still waiting on anyone, including Hern, to refute the historically supported points raised on this website. For many years I have challenged any numismatist of note in South Africa to a public debate over the issue. There have been, to date, no takers only a few who, in the past, have resorted to attacking the messenger to try to discredit my research.

In short, to suggest that the Griquatown token coins circulated as currency among the Griquas at Griquatown in 1815-16 (or at any time in South Africa) is a complete nonsense. Until someone accepts my challenge and answers the evidence given here and the links on this page - be wary of investing in "Griquatown token coins" that have nothing more than a romantic (not real) association with South African numismatics!

Prof Arndt's books were used in universities in South Africa including the University of Pretoria as an authoritative text book for BCOM students and he was considered to be the author of South African banking / currency in South Africa (source Anthony Govender prominent Durban numismatist).

This is what Prof Arndt says about this issue in Banking and Currency Development in South Africa:  He quotes Hofstede and Gunning as references to support his proposal that Griquatown token coins never circulated: "not one farthing was in circulation".  

Full quote (pg 127): The coins were of four denominations, viz: 1/4 and 1/2 in copper and IIIII and 10 in silver. These were sent at a time when these coloured people had not the slightest notion of the advantages of a metallic currency. Moreover their entire trade at the time did not even amount to fifty pounds per annum. Accordingly it is not surprising that the dove of peace soon flew away and the money of which never a single farthing was in circulation accompanied it. The only permanent memorials of Campbell's visit turned out to be the names "Griqua" and "Griquatown".

South Africa's first indigenous currency - the Strachan and Co

South Africa's first truley indigenous currency, the Strachan and Co (S&Co) coins were successful because they were holed could be hung with beads and had values in goods that the entire population could relate to. They were accepted as currency across a large indigenous population in East Griqualand (south of Natal) and were supported by several trading stores scattered across the region long before the Standard bank established a branch at Kokstad. The S&Co were South Africa's first indigenous coinage, recognised by the Griqua Government in Kokstad. Even The Standard Bank confirm that they accepted and gave out S&Co coins in times of severe shortage of coin in that remote region. They were so successful that several other traders in the region tried to get on the band wagon - issuing their own trade tokens - all failed to enjoy the success of the Strachan coins. It is a fact that the remote East Griqualand region has more varieties of trading tokens than any other region in South Africa including the major centres like Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban.

A coin from each of the four Strachan and Co sets:

The image above is Klaarwater / Griquatown as recorded by Burchell in 1812 - and this was BEFORE the mass exodus referred to above! 

Hern's discredited claims taken from his coin book:

Claims made in Hern's book about the Griqua Town coins (Half false, the rest non relevant to the debate)
Comment # Claim made by Hern
(NOTE this is not Hern's own research but based on past assumptions. Even Spink of London now accept that H A Parson's was wrong), and even Heritage have now revised their position on the Griquatown tokens.
Scott Balson's Response to Hern's claims made based on thirty years of hands-on research supported by a collection of over 250 related books - linked here
1 These coins were first used by the Griqua people in the Klaarwater district near Kimberley and did not circulate for more than two years before being withdrawn and smelted.

This is a very basic error of fact that the most basic research would expose.

WRONG - There is no such region ever listed as the "Klaarwater District" this is a Hern creation presumably to widen the area of claimed circulation. There was a small settlement called Klaarwater which was renamed Griqua Town in 1813. This is about 150km to the west of where Kimberley now stands. Images and maps proving this fact at this link


  • The tokens never circulated at any time
  • Who would have organised the withdrawing of these coins in such a remote location, when did they do it and why? The answer is astonishingly simple but ignored by those who should know better - in the extracts from Karel Schoeman's book below you will see that the resident missionary, Helm, talks about holding these uncirculated token coins in 1821. So there was no need to "withdraw" them; they simply failed to achieve the aim Campbell had hoped. They never circulated.
2 The mission site was later abandoned and the Griqua people moved to Mount Currie near Kokstad

This is a very basic error of fact that the most basic research would expose.

WRONG - Nicholas Waterboer returned to Griqua Town in about 1820 after the Griquas deserted the town in 1814. His group stayed there until the territory was annexed by the British in the 1870s following the discovery of diamonds. A large dissident group of Griqua under Adam Kok II moved to Philippolis in southern Orange Free State in the 1820s before fleeing to Nomansland in 1863 after being thrown out by the boers - Kokstad was established in Nomansland (East Griqualand) in the 1870s.

A Youtube video clip of part of the Griqua trek - covering their devastating time travelling down the infamous Drakensberg pass known as "Ongeluks Nek" (Accident Pass) into Nomansland can be seen at this link.

3 This series of coins was the first minted for and used by the South African people.

Overwhelming proof that this claim by Hern is a nonsense

WRONG - see the link at point one above. This honour belongs to the trade tokens of Strachan and Co.

The Griquatown Token Coins never circulated.

Prof Arndt's 1928 book, "Banking and Currency Development in South Africa" states:... The coins were of four denominations, viz: ¼ and ½ in copper and IIIII and 10 in silver. These were sent at a time when these coloured people had not the slightest notion of the advantages of a metallic currency. Moreover their entire trade at the time di not even amount to fifty pounds per annum. Accordingly it is not surprising that “the dove of peace soon flew away and the money of which never a single farthing was in circulation accompanied it”. The only permanent memorials of Campbell’s visit turned out to be the names “Griqua” and “Griquatown”.

See also notes below this yellow table being transcripts from Karel Schoeman's book - the missionary Helm refers in a letter to holding the coins in 1821 because they were not accepted by the Griqua and had an uncertain value.

4 Another first is the fact that this was the first decimal series used in South Africa WRONG - I would like to see his credible source for such an extraordinary claim! It does not exist because they never were used as currency and as Helm points out (see Schoeman below) one of the reasons they were never circulated was because NO VALUE was ever agreed on for the silver pieces and no traders would accept them. (The bronze coins never rate a mention).
5 The currency unit is thought to be PENCE but no proof exists. WRONG - the British Pence was only introduced over 150 years later in 1969 so to quote these patterns as having "Pence" values is idiotic in the extreme and reflects how history has been distorted to support a lie!
6 No known record exists of the mintage figures. That's because they were never anything more than token pieces that never circulated. (see (3) above).
7 Mention is made in old records of proof ten and five pieces in gold but these have never been traced Minting in a variety of metals is typical of pattern and token pieces.
8 Thomas Halliday instructed by Rev John Campbell of the London Missionary Society (LMS) cut the dies and punches Possible. What Hern does not mention is that the LMS records show that his idea of minting token coins for use by the Griquas was rejected out of hand by the people and the coins never circulated (see (3) above and link to Schoeman's book in (10) below).
9 The coins were struck somewhere in England Probable that the token coins were struck in England.

Even the LMS state in their 1817 report (see link to Schoeman's book in (10) below) states: the Directors are now procuring for them a coinage of silver tokens. So when did they become bona-fide currency? Because Hern says so? I don't think so!

10 The coins bear no date of manufacture but records show that they were sent to South Africa in 1815 and 1816 WRONG - Show me the records supporting this claim? They do not exist.

What does exist is this report confirming that they were not even minted in 1815-16. Karel Schoeman's research based book "The Mission at Griquatown 1801-1821" quotes from an 1817 London Missionary Society (LMS) report covering the period 1815-16:

An Auxiliary Mission Society has been established in Griquatown, the subscribers to which, having no money (for money is utterley unknown in that part of the world) have contributed property which is to be sold for the benefit of the Society. (pg 85 Schoeman)

11 It is thought that the same dies were used to strike the IIIII and "Quarter" Probable
12 The dove shown on the coins is the emblem of the LMS Correct
13 Different die variations exist for all denominations Probable and typical of patterns and tokens

Misleading claims like those made on the Griquatown token coins only reduce the credibility of Hern's catalogue on South African coins. The Griquatown token coins have little real numismatic value and are overpriced - based on the fabrication that they were South Africa's first circulating indigenous coinage.

We will continue to expose these fabricated claims because Hern is aware of the true facts.

Scott Balson spent 30 years researching the Griqua has a large collection of books on the subject and published the widely acclaimed history of the Griqua "Children of the Mist" in 2007.

Irrefutable evidence from the London Missionary Society's own records that the Griquatown token coins never circulated:

The Mission at Griquatown 1801-1821 - Karel Schoeman

Respected South African historian Karel Schoeman's book "The Mission at Griquatown 1801-1821" is based on the diaries and letters from the Cape Town Archives and the original records of the London Missionary Society. He was given access to these records. Schoeman is a well known and highly respected historian who now lives in Bloemfontein. He has written many books on early South African history and none of his works have been questioned. In the book "The Mission at Griquatown 1801-1821" he records the extracts shown in red below (all extracts referenced so that you can check for yourself) - these extracts from letters and documents of the time show how wrong and misleading the information being widely circulated on the Griquatown token coins is. For those who wish to confirm the facts I present below get Schoeman's book out of your local (South African) University library and check for yourself.

Proof that the Griquatown token coins had not even been minted by 1815-16, let alone circulated.

The Griquatown mission in their report to the London Missionary Society (LMS) say in their 1815-16 report: An Auxiliary Mission Society has been established in Griquatown, the subscribers to which, having no money (for money is utterley unknown in that part of the world) have contributed property which is to be sold for the benefit of the Society. (pg 85 Schoeman)

Comment: Why "having no money" in the 1815-16 report from the LMS Society in Griquatown?

and also in this same report... (pg 85 Schoeman)

An auxilliary mission has been established in Griqua Town, the subscribers to which, having no money, (for money is utterly unknown in that part of the world) have contributed property which is to be sold for the benefit of the Society. The following is a list of the subscriptions: elephant's teeth, 30 pounds; nine young bulls; four hefers; one ox; twehty three sheep; five goats. 

To remedy the inconvenience sustained by the people (who have now made considerable progress in civilization) by their want of a circulating medium, the Directors are now procuring for them a coinage of silver tokens.

Comment: even the LMS (who manufactured them) confirm that the (failed) coins were issued as token coins and not as "indigenous currency".

Lack of acceptance of Griquatown token coins south of the Orange River reason Griquas rejected the coins

In August 1820 Campbell notes in his diary while in Griquatown (13th August) "Conversed also on the coin. They said if it would pass in the colony the Griquas would readily take it. I promised to apply to the Governor to sanction its passing in the districts of Graaff-Reynet and Beaufort." (see Pg 104 Schoeman's book).

Comment: The traders REFUSED to accept the coins - killing any chance it could circulate as a currency and the reason the Griqua refused to take them from the missionaries. They were a complete failure and the reason the Griqua were paid in Rijksdaalder.

Rijksdaalder not Griquatown token coinage used.

On page 131 to 133 Schoeman transcribes a letter written by the resident Griquatown missionary H Helm written to Dr John Philip in Cape Town on 21 June 1821 which reads as follows:

Andries Waterboer has for some years assisted me in the school. Since he became Captain he could not regularly attend, as his duty required frequently his absence from home. I have therefore discharged him in May last. And indeed the school has not lost much in him. The natives like much to be preaches but not schoolmasters, if they think that work to be too mean or too troublesome I do not care. Br Anderson made the agreement with him that he would receive for payment 60 Rijksdaalders a year from the society. Having no money, he has for the last two years received nothing except 13 Rijksdaalders 4 Schillings. As most of the members of our Auxiliary Society have payed (sic) their contribution for the past year partly in money and partly in corn, sheep and goats, I have been able to give him about 36 Rijksdaalder more. He has therefore still to receive 70 Rijksdaalder 4 Schilling. Will you be so good as to send for him that sum by a safe opportunity. Of what I have received from the Griquas for our society I shall give an account as soon as all is payed.

The greatest part of the Griqua money is still in our Society’s property which Br Anderson when leaving delivered to my care. As Mr Campbell thought that Br Anderson had disposed the silver pieces at too cheap rate, I asked him to let me know the real value of a piece of each which he promised to do, but I have as yet received no account and it is therefore still in my possession. I should be glad if you, dear sir, would have the goodness to inform me what I am to do with it.

Comment: Why struggle to pay Waterboer in Rijksdaalder if the Griquatown token coins were being circulated? Yes, I know this whole farce about the Griquatown coins is crazy!!! It is clear that the "melting down" of the Griquatown silver coins, suggested by Parson, was not through some sort of withdrawal of the money because of a shortage of silver back home but because the exercise by Campbell in 1820 was an abysmal failure.

Summary: It sounds more feasible to me that Rev John Campbell brought the Griquatown token coins with him to South Africa on his second trip in 1820. He had a meeting with the Griqua who refused to accept them over the Rijksdaalder although some coins were handed out to the Griqua community but NEVER circulated. The great majority were then stored by Anderson before being handed over to Helm who took over the missionary services and were then probably returned to Britain to be melted down to help cover the costs of this embarrasing debacle. Of course I am hypothesising because we will never know all the facts but we do know from records of this time that the Griquatown token coins NEVER circulated as currency.

Several important points from Schoeman's research:

  1. Rijksdaalder were used to pay the Griqua in Griquatown and are the only currency referred to as being used at any time in Griquatown.
  2. The Griquatown token coins were rejected by the Griqua community because they could not be used south of the Orange river where there were trading stores.
  3. As late as 1820 Campbell was trying to get the Griquatown token coins accepted by the Griqua.
  4. The Griquatown token coins were not even minted by 1815-16.
  5. A few pieces were handed out to the Griqua, not as circulating currency but as trinkets.
  6. There was obviously confusion as to just what the coins were worth in trade (Helm raises this).
  7. What happened to the "great majority" of the Griquatown token coin in Helm's posession? Was it the uncirculated coin that is referred to as being shipped back and melted down to recover costs?

From these first hand accounts transcribed by Schoeman we can confirm that the Griquatown token coins did arrive at Griquatown sometime between 1817 and 1820 but were never used as currency or accepted by the Griqua. They could well have later circulated as jewellery and trinkets (such as the item displayed by Herman) but the Rijksdaalder was used as currency even in this remote settlement. The main reason the Griquatown token coins failed was because they could not be used south of the Orange river where there were trading stores.

Consider this failure to the incredible success of the Strachan and Co currency tokens over nearly sixty years.

There is absoutely no doubt in my mind that the first truly successful indigenous CIRCULATING currency in South Africa was the S&Co. Like the Burgerspond the Griquatown token coin, at best, is marginal and no proof of it actually circulating "as currency" has ever been presented - regardless of intent.

Full and detailed points supporting Balson's claims that the Griquatown token coins never circulated as currency can be seen at this link (Hern is aware of these carefully researched facts but ignores them).

The token issues were highlighted by several rare Griquatown tokens. There are gilt copper examples of the 1/4d and 1/2d, both graded Proof-63. These are possibly unique and were previously only "rumored" to exist. The balance or the series are high grade silver and copper issues from 1/4 pence through 10 pence. Source: Collectors Society

Royle Baldwin Collection - Griquatown pieces not coins, not tokens - just patterns

Consider this relevant question:
So why did Campbell omit any reference to the Griquatown token coins in his revised (1834) book on his first trip to South Africa?
(It was in his original book on his first trip, published in 1815, that he referred to the possibility of minting token coins for the Griqua).

Related links:
Coins of the South African Republic

A comprehensive essay on the die-makers of Birmingham in the early 1800s (including Thomas Halliday) confirms the restricted capability of these early independent coin makers.

South African coin collecting community see the light (October 2010)

More on the Griquatown token coins

Return to Articles