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The very specific history of token coins

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First off I have to say that minor variations or gradings on Union or other South African coins don’t do it for me. I cannot get excited about them. I can understand why others do and I have a few gems as an investment but they are NOT my passion.


In a post on BoB some time ago I talked about how the “le Fleur rebellion” in East Griqualand partly resulted from a large quantity of Strachan 2/- pieces being collected in a bucket in the early 1900s when Griquas decided to financially support their popular leader. (This event is on the historical record). The coins were confiscated by police soon after to prevent any uprising. In recent years a large number of Strachan 2/- pieces were acquired by some South African collectors (no, I was not invited to be part of the group) from a policeman who lived south of Durban (unfortunately details still sketchy on the man as I was not allowed to be part of the “buyers group”).


For a couple of years after the sale of these coins dozens of S&Co 2/- pieces were almost given away on BoB because no one understood their relevance. I was an active buyer and have acquired about a third of the five hundred 2/- S&Co pieces sold. At the height of the selling, in 2008, I bought a parcel of seventy 2/- (mainly "In Goods" three and four) for about ZAR20 each. Such was the mad rush for dealers to clear stock! The coins have now all apparently been sold as the selling frenzy dried up about two years ago.


Although I cannot state categorically that the plus/minus five hundred 2/- S&Co tokens were the ones collected and confiscated by police from the Griqua “rebels” in the early 1900s it doesn’t take rocket science to realize that the policeman obviously “acquired” them in recent years from the Kokstad police station vaults. (If he had had other denominations like 3d and 1/- pieces I would not be making this claim that they were linked to the "le Fleur rebellion". Every single coin the policeman had was a 2/- piece. I have this from an impeccable source, a prominent Johannesburg collector who was part of the consortium of buyers.)

This is where numismatic history, to me, becomes fascinating. Forget the year or minting imperfection; consider the role or historical relevance of the coins.


The fact that so many S&Co 2/- pieces had been donated by Griqua to support their cause reflects a very important fact. They were considered as currency by the indigenous people even as late as the 1900s – long after coin of the crown became more common in even the most remote areas. And those of you who hold those 2/- S&Co sold so cheaply a few years ago on BoB have real history in your hands.


As Dr Frank Mitchell famously said, "My final downfall came then an old family friend showed me his collection. I listened spellbound as he introduced me to his coin portrait gallery. He allowed me to hold a Macedonian tetradrachm of Alexander the Great while he told me of his incredible exploits. My hand trembled as I studied the fine portrait of Alexander in his lion-head headdress. Two and a quarter thousand years ago he died – though only 33, the conqueror of most of the known world. Suddenly, as I studied the coin, the truth dawned – I was holding History in my hand!"


As I am not a seller of Strachan or other tokens on the web I hope that BoB will allow this link More than just tokens


The late Tom Mullins, who I refer to in this article, was the Magistrate at Umzimkhulu. In 2006 when presenting special copies of “Children of the Mist” to museums and Griqua leaders I met with Tom in Port Elizabeth; the year before (2005) I had bought his collection of books, coins, stamps (Mount Currie Express) and hand written notes pertaining to East Griqualand.


This included about thirty S&Co pieces that he had been given by the Magistrates office in Umzimkhulu, because of his interest, when he was moved to another location. The Strachan coins he had (only S&Co and “In Goods” set three) reflect an additional twist. They had been accepted in the payment of fines by the government in the 1800s only to early 1900s but never redeemed. No S&Co set four can be found amongst the coins I purchased from Tom Mullins.


It was (Judge) Tom Mullins who found former Bophutatsawana President Lucas Mangope guilty of committing millions of dollars of fraud in 1998. (Do your own Google searches).


Now my Mullins S&Co pieces and the 2/- rebellion coins are kept by me in very separate packaging from the mainstream Strachan coins I have.


To me they represent REAL history and are, as a result, more valuable than the “mainstream” S&Co pieces I have. If you talk about a rare Union piece, I can give you a historically significant S&Co equivalent that reflects what Dr Frank Mitchell talked about.


That to me is what makes collecting token coins so fascinating and more rewarding than "rare" Union coins.


Kind regards


Scott Balson

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King of the Cocos Islands


The first two sets of Strachan and Co coins are as argued above, by legal and technical definition, not tokens but bona-fide circulating currency coins. There is an accepted numismatic precedent of a business issuing bona-fide coinage namely Clunies Ross in the Cocos Keeling Islands in the early 1900s.

Strange you should mention Clunies-Ross…


If you look at the NGC PoP report of the coins graded for the Cocos Keeling Islands, you will see only one graded Proof coin (the few others are all MS and PFUC)


The coin is a PF-64 Silver 25-Rupees. The obverse shows a palm tree whilst the reverse shows our friend John Clunies-Ross facing left. See KM#9.


I sent that coin for grading to NGC and I sold it here on BoB a while ago. I had the following description accompanying the picture and description of that coin …


For those interested: King of the Cocos Islands was a title given by the press to John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish sea captain and other members of his family. He went to live on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in 1827. Queen Victoria granted the islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family in 1886. Thus, the title to the islands was claimed by his descendants until 1978 when John Cecil Clunies-Ross was forced to sell the islands to the Commonwealth of Australia for £2.5m ($4.75m).


Anyway, whilst I am not a collector of tokens, I salute your enthusiasm for this facinating field of numismatics.


Kind regards



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