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The forgotten South African Currency


The old and staid beliefs are often hard to move - thus it is with many numismatists who cannot come to terms with the fact that a token coin was once accepted by the wider community as "currency". Thankfully this stance is slowly shifting with detailed research revealing that a set of S African token coins are that country's oldest circulating currency. There are many other tokens in other countries which can probably claim the same type of pedigree - but I have not researched THEM!

And, no, when I talk about S African currency I am not talking about Campbell's Griquatown coins which were never actually used as currency at Griquatown or Hardcastle - simply one of those accepted fallacies that arose out of H Alexander Parsons' "The Coinage of Griqualand" (Spinks 1927) and was never questioned. (Read Rev Campbell's own accounts in his book "Travels in South Africa a second journey" which closely followed their "circulation" and Rev W Moffat's diary of his time with the Griquas in the 1817s in which NO reference is made to the "Griquatown" coins.) Interestingly most Griquatown coins that have appeared on the market have originated in England - where they were struck by Thomas Halliday. In the book "From Barter to Barclays" by Eric Rosenthal the author states, "the entire commerce of the Griqua nation totalled just fifty pounds per annum".

The first South African Currency:

In 1874 the highly valued gold Burgerspond was struck - a coin which, in mint state, is today valued in 10s of thousands of dollars.

In the same year on the other side of the Drakensberg a trader, Donald Strachan, circulated the first of four identifiable sets of Strachan and Co trade tokens. Strachan and his partner, Brisley, were the most influential men in the region known as Nomansland. In letterbooks of the period there are references to these coins being circulated and accepted everywhere in a region devoid of coins of the crown.

Enter the Griquas (again) - this hotch-potch, multiracial community who's roots can be traced to the Khoi-Khoi (Hottentots) who lived in the area now known as Cape Town before the arrival of the whiteman. Where Campbell's Griquatown coins had failed 60 years before the Strachan and Co tokens succeeded with the Griquas gladly embracing the coins. This followed their earlier exposure to small amounts of imperial coinage before being booted out of Philippolis by the Boers. Yet very little official recognition has been given to this currency.

A few years before their minting the Griquas of Nomansland (aka Transkei, East Griqualand) had attempted to circulate their own one pound bank note. This bank note can only be found in the extremely rare "Early Annals of Kokstad" Rev W Dower (1902). The rest were burnt and the note never circulated.

At this link you will see the results of years of painstaking research into the purpose behind the Strachan and Co (S&Co) tokens. Many early records point to their general use as currency for over 60 years in Nomansland but two key factors provide irrefutable evidence.

Firstly, the Standard Bank of Kokstad actually accepted from and handed out S&Co tokens to its clients in the 1800s - their own recent celebration of their 125th Anniversary brochure confirms this fact! As Dower records in his book there was virtually NO circulating imperial coinage in this isolated part of S Africa before this time!

Secondly, in recent years large caches of these S&Co tokens have been found - totalling many tens of thousands of coins. It is my estimated that nearly 100,000 S&Co tokens were issued between 1875 and 1932 with the earlier two issues S&Co and S&Co MH sets reflecting smaller numbers. The volume of coins far exceeded the needs of a relatively small trading company - yet would have ideally suited the needs of tens of thousands of a scattered people living in an area about the size of the United Kingdom.

A complete set of 16 S&Co tokens recently exchanged hands at US$3,000 - a prominent S African collector recognising the facts and the important role of S Africa's forgotten currency. (I would dare suggest that he made a damned good investment when one considers their fast escalating price from US$600 a set just two years ago!) - The "MH" (Mountain Home) series is extraordinarily rare with less than 100 in most denominations.

When one considers the importance given to the seven year hiatus of the 1892-1899 ZAR coinage and their many varieties (kaal pond, 1902 veld pond, Sammy Mark tickey etc...) the importance of the Strachan and Co currency, which preceded them and survived the relatively short tenure of the ZAR, starts to come into focus.

Would welcome any feedback or comments.

Scott Balsonimage
Research creates interest, interest creates value.


  • 1960NYGiants1960NYGiants Posts: 3,396 ✭✭✭✭
    Hello Scott,

    Welcome to the Darkside!

    Very interesting 1st post. There are a few SA copper collectors here.


    Life member #369 of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association
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  • Holy Cow!! image Welcome to the forum. image I only collect SA coppers from the Union period, but nice website!!

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  • Welcome Scott - with research like that, you will contribute quite a bit to our collective knowlege.
    Stick around.image
  • wybritwybrit Posts: 6,949 ✭✭✭

    Excellent website. It will make for some great reading. Thanks for a great first post and welcome.
    Former owner, Cambridge Gate collection.
  • AskariAskari Posts: 3,713
    Welcome aboard, Scott!! What a wonderful experience you have documented so well! image

    Come on over ... to The Dark Side! image
  • 1jester1jester Posts: 8,638 ✭✭✭
    A warm welcome, Scott. I find it a refreshing pleasure to read through your vast reference material on your site. Thank you so much for contributing so much to numismatics, as well as joining us here.


    "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." -Luke 11:9

    "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." -Deut. 6:4-5

    "For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He will save us." -Isaiah 33:22
  • This is the first I remember seeing this thread. image

    Great informative thread and web site. Thank you so much for the write up and site link. image
    currently owned by 5 Labradors

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  • cosmicdebriscosmicdebris Posts: 12,333
    Wow where was I when this was first posted????????????

    Great stuff Scott and welcome to the Forums.


  • SYRACUSIANSYRACUSIAN Posts: 6,429 ✭✭✭✭
    Truly an amazing post.

    Thanks for a great reading and welcome to the forum tokencoin.


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  • wybritwybrit Posts: 6,949 ✭✭✭
    ttt - great thread.
    Former owner, Cambridge Gate collection.
  • lordmarcovanlordmarcovan Posts: 43,075 ✭✭✭✭✭
    image (a bit belatedly, I see)

    I've been to South Africa. Does that count? image

    Explore collections of lordmarcovan on CollecOnline, management, safe-keeping, sharing and valuation solution for art piece and collectibles.
  • Welcome aboard! Great Post I really enjoyed it.

    "Any fool can use Power, but it is our wits that make us men."

    Collecting Penguins, Named Ship Coins and other assorted goodies

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  • MrEurekaMrEureka Posts: 23,612 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Andy Lustig

    Doggedly collecting coins of the Central American Republic.

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  • I have a full set and a few 'spare' MH tokens. image
    The meaning of life ? I don't know but I am sure that coins have something to do with it.

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  • DaltonistaDaltonista Posts: 354 ✭✭
    Heigh-ho, Scott! And welcome aboard the Darkside Express!
    Great introductory posting...it took me about three sentences of it to recognize
    you as the buyer of one of my Griquatown pieces...what was it? About five years ago?
    My son "Googled" me not too long ago, and one of the listings was a link to your website,
    where you mentioned this piece's pedigree (me, Ron Milcarek, etc.). He says you've connected me for all time to the Strachan tokens...immortalized!
    You've found a great home away from home, Scott...these are wonderful people here!
    And to all our forum friends...Scott's one of the good guys.
    Best to all ~
    I never pay too much for my tokens...but every now and then I may buy them too soon.

    Proud (but humbled) "You Suck" Designee, February 2010.
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