Resolution on the Griquatown token coin furphy
October 2010

There was some active and, at times, angry participation by several prominent collectors challenging my research on the Griquatown tokens on the South African coin forum on Bid or Buy in much of 2010. The catalyst was my initial post: See this link for the actual debate

Excuse the pun but this smacks of a Mandela "WtF" (what the F*** - a joke on the Bid or Buy forum looking at some misleading listings) slabbed listing to me.... "First coin used in South Africa".

Graded Coins - Look@ (1815 - 16) Griquatown 1/4p NCS Fair Details - First Coins Used In SA - ULTRA RARE @ R1 Start for sale in Johannesburg (ID:26200536)

Now the Griquatown token coins (which never circulated) were according to this listing the "first coins used in SA"...

What happened to those Dutch and VOC coins in the 1600s and 1700s? The schelling or scheepjesschelling? The doits, guilders and stivers? The Batavian guilder and daalder? The Rix dollar? The British sovereign and silver pieces? among many others....

At least these pieces noted above actually circulated as currency somewhere and might even have been part of an occasional isolated trade amongst the white community in Cape Town pre-1820!

With regards to the comments on this listing (by way of clarification):

Claim: These Coins were first used by the Griqua people in the Klaarwater district near Kimberley and did not circulate for more than 2 Years before being withdrawn and smelted.

Fact: There is not and never was a region known as the Klaarwater district between Kimberley and Griquatown and Kimberley is over 150km from Griquatown where they were supposed to be used - but they NEVER circulated - see comments below. (By way of clarification the settlement of Klaarwater (clear water) was renamed Griquatown in 1813 when Campbell first visited South Africa.)

Claim: The Mission Site Was Later Abandoned and most of the Griqua People moved to Mount Currie near Kokstad.

Fact: Griquatown still has a thriving Griqua community today. A family of Griquas under Adam Kok III moved to Nomansland in the early 1860s AFTER spending forty years at Philippolis in the Orange Free State. The Waterboer faction remained in Griquatown after the 1820s and the current Kaptyn (Nicholas Waterboer) still lives there with several thousand Griqua descendants.

Claim: This Series of coins was the first minted for, and used by a South African People.

Fact: They were issued as token coins (source London Missionary Society records) - BUT they never circulated - not one "farthing".

Claim: Another first is the fact that this was the first decimal series used in South Africa.

Fact: The values indicate time or labour not a decimal value (eg 10 = ten hours or one day; 1/4 = 15 minutes) nothing to do with a "decimal currency".

Claim: Records show that they were sent to South Africa in 1815 and 1816.

Fact: The London Missionary Society's mission in Griquatown requested some form of TOKEN currency in 1817 - as there was no coinage in those remote parts (ie after 1816). The failed Griquatown token coins resulted from their request. SOURCE: Karel Schoeman's book "The Mission Station at Griquatown 1801 - 1821" (It is most likely Campbell brought a bag of these tokens with him on his second trip to South Africa. In published letters by Campbell written at Griquatown in 1820 he talks about "talking to traders south of the Orange River to accept the tokens so that the Griqua would accept them". He failed. The weight of the Griquatown silver token coins did not match that of any Imperial coinage and the great majority of the coins were later sent back and melted down for their silver.)

PS The indicative price claimed also appears to be rich when one sees the coin's grading. Might be a good speculative deal at ZAR1 though!

Kind regards

Scott Balson

After over 80 posts on the BidorBuy forum in and before 2010, many challenging my claims, several coin collectors took up my challenge and did their own research - largely based on the references I was able to supply them with (after 30 years of research).

As a result of initial debate a Pierre Henri came to the following unsubstantiated resolution on timelines:

1) The very first SA currency that circulated in SA was the Plettenberg Bank Notes of 1782
2) The Scheepjis Guldens were the FIRST coins minted for SA that actually circulated in SA
3) The Griqua Tokens were the first token range minted for SA but saw very limited circulation although no proof of any coin circulating
4) The Strachan tokens were the first widely accepted token-currency in SA
5) The Burgerspond was the first SA coin (1874) with the name of SA on it - it was more a "keepsake" than a coin and saw little if any circulation
6) The ZAR issues of 1892 were the first true coin range in SA that saw widespread acceptence as a national coinage.
7) The Union of SA issue of 1923 was the first SA currency minted for the whole country that is today known as the Republic of South Africa

I partially agreed with Pierre with the following qualifications:
The Plettenburg Bank notes and Scheepjis Guldens were NOT indigenous S African circulating currency.
The Griqua Tokens were the first token range initially minted for SA but they NEVER circulated as MONEY

Another collector Dennrein then entered the fray and after some initial weight being thrown by him behind Parson's flawed research he suddenly realised what I was saying and made the following resolution:

1. The token coins circulated at least in 1820.
2. They were meant as a currency ("Griqua money", Helm; "amongst all the nations", Campbell) but ended up as mere mission trade token coins.
3. They were a failure and it is hard to tell how long they were used in trade with the mission station.
4. The copper trade tokens probably also circulated at the time, though they aren't explicitly mentioned and supporting or refuting this claim is pure speculation.
5. The Klaarwater district is simply an ad hoc geographical, not a political or jurisdictional term.
6. Since the Griquas had a vested interest in trade with the mission, it is more likely that the tokens rather would have been used for trade than for labour, though they might have been used for both. Please note that the Dutch currency was decimalised in 1817.

Much of his comments were, by his own admission, based on assumption because he, like me, could not find one reference to the tokens circulating at Griquatown.

His closing comment was:
Indeed, it seems that the mystery could only be solved by new sources of information. Research would probably have to go beyond the literature cited by you and me, even though I don't believe it is futile to use common sense. I am still interested in what Hofstede and Gunning have to say on the matter. Do you know? In the end it is a matter of believing or not believing. For instance, I myself still have certain doubts about the authenticity of the copper token coins for the reasons you mentioned. Still, I believe that the circulation question is a matter of definition, and so distribution by means of trade to me is sufficient to use the term circulation. A parallel: Circulation of newspapers means nothing else than selling them. And circulation of money to me means nothing else than exchanging the money for goods. The money doesn't have to change hands again, the first act of trade - money for goods - in itself represents circulation. Thanks again for exchanging views.

Following the debate my views, based on fact, remain unchallenged and I stand by the following statement with regards to the Griquatown tokens unless new information comes to light:

The silver Griquatown tokens were a failed experiment. At best they might have had very limited circulation for a brief period of time in 1820, but there are no records to support this and it is highly unlikely one Griquatown token was ever used in a trade. Helm notes in 1821 that he had the great majority of the tokens meaning very few were actually distributed. The copper tokens may not have been minted until much later as no reference is made to them in any reports from that time.

For what reason were the copper Griquatown tokens minted and when - that remains a mystery as they are never referred to back then.

My statement, which has gone unchallenged on the BidorBuy forum following this debate, paints a very different picture to the previous comments such as the Griquatown COINS circulated WIDELY from 1815 to 1816.

It will be interesting to see if Hern corrects the errors in his coin book after claiming for years I did not know what I was talking about.

Return to Articles