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.
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!!!
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
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.
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!
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:
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:
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:
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).
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
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