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Pierre_Henri

Metal Detecting Coin Finds in South Africa

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Pierre_Henri

Mike Klee asks a very interesting question regarding the silver Scheepjesgulden that was sent to the Cape in 1803 and introduced in 1806 here as the first coins struck specifically for South Africa (Cape of Good Hope). 

“For a coinage that was in circulation, what happened to them all? Why aren't they found by metal-detectorists” 

Let me start off by saying that finding (metal detecting) ANY pre-Victorian coins in South Africa is a rare occurrence. (However, I must state that we are not talking about shipwrecked coins – they are fairly frequently found by underwater detectorists)  

Coins from the first quarter of the 1800s and earlier, are seldom found on dry land here.  

The few that I have found I could count on the fingers of one hand. My oldest was a Charles I Rose Farthing that was interestingly enough struck before Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape in 1652. I have also found a Dutch India Company Doit from the late 1600s or early 1700s and a 1797 Cartwheel Penny.  

So I have never found a silver coin dating from the period of the VOC/ Dutch occupation of the Cape (pre 1806) and even the fairly common Georgian silver coins from 1816 to 1836 were only found on the rarest of occasions – I may have found two or three.

And it was not due to a lack of trying - I have detected with friends from 1997 till around 2012 on a weekly basis – sometimes we would go out twice a week and during holidays every single day finding literarily 1000s upon 1000s of coins over the period.   

Our detectors were set to discriminate against modern “clad” coins, so the nickel coins minted after 1964 and the cladded coins minted after 1989, were not even dug up by us  

But between the whole group of us (we were about 20 metal detectorists searching in the Western Cape at that time – mostly the beaches - but also other sites from time to time) pre-Victorian coins were seldom found and called for a glass of Champagne when a strike was indeed made.  

Obviously, in a country like England, pre-Victorian coins are found on a daily basis by hundreds of detectorists – but at the Cape in the olden days, things seem to be not the same… 

Here is a picture of me joining an American & Canadian group of metal detectorists on a detecting trip to England a few years ago (2010 I think) – but that is obviously a different story …   

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Pierre_Henri
Posted (edited)

Here are pictures of two interesting local coin finds

The first is an ancient Byzantine coin from 395 – 403 AD found near East London by Clarence Coetzer in 1955 (the were digging up a washing pole in their back yard and found the coin)

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Clarence speculates  

Quote

It was probably brought to South Africa by a German Mercenary who fought for England in the Crimean War and a member of the of emigrant-community that was settled in the Eastern Cape in South Africa during the 1800s

 As a matter of interest, ancient coin finds have been made before in South Africa – in 1893, some Greek and Roman coins were found in Pondoland – see this link …

 

But as our subject concerns colonial times, I think that the most interesting silver coin found locally (about 20 years ago) by a metal detectorist, is this coin found by my friend Wolfgang Roux, on his father-in-laws wine farm situated about 150 kilometers north of Cape Town in the Hex River Valley.

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It is a silver German 1/24 Thaler of 1624 struck in the name of Prince Wolfgang (the same name as the finders name!) found hundreds of years after it was minted – and in South Africa of all places!

To be continued…

Edited by Pierre_Henri
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Pierre_Henri

Tokens (found by means of a metal detector) are a lot scarcer than coins, and tokens from the 1800s are truly rare finds.

Here are a few token finds that I am aware of …

Both a 3d and 6d token of the Royal Field Artillery were found on one of our detecting trips on an old British Military Camp (Boer War era) near Harrismith in the Free State. I cannot find my pictures of the tokens, but interestingly enough and on the same day, this Victorian gold half sovereign was found.

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The picture shows it in “as dug” condition.

I have found an EK Green Wine Merchant (Cape Town) token that was used circa 1903-1930. It was detected near the old airport building at Wingfield, Goodwood.

In the olden days (pre 1954) Wingfield was the official airport of Cape Town. Here is a vintage picture of the airport building – the token was found near the clump of trees as indicated.

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One of the best token finds that I know of, is a very rare Blackwood & Couper Durban One Shilling Token found by a friend of mine on a sugar cane farm near Blythedale beach near Stanger in Kwa Zulu Natal.

 Here is the finding spot and a picture of a similar token of 1861 (not the one that was detected)  

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Anther fabulous token find was recently made on a Durban beach, being an unrecorded Durban Model Dairy (5-Gallon) Token. Hern only records a ½ Gallon token for this dairy so a rare find indeed. The picture shows the token as it was found, and after a bit of careful cleaning.

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The finder writes

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“Here is a picture of the Model Dairy 5 Gallon token. It was found on Dairy Beach in Durban where Model Dairy had a small shop and where the beach got its name from”

 

To be continued …

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Pierre_Henri
Posted (edited)

The following question still remains:-

Why are coins like the Scheepjesgulden, Griqua series and even the S & Co tokens seldom if ever found by South African metal detectorists?

Engelbrecht (1986:30) writes

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“Coins were scarce at the Cape (in the late 1700s & early 1800s), the old cartwheel penny being the only coin of which large numbers were in circulation. Other coins such as the 3-guilder piece, the zest’half, schelling, 2- and 1 stiver pieces, doits and the ¼, 1/8 and 1/16-scheepjesgulden were also in circulation”

 I have also read that as soon as the silver coins were put into circulation locally, the soldiers and sailors would hoard them and sold them to bullion dealers destined for the East where they would be sold at a premium.

That is probably one of the reasons why examples of the Scheepjesguldens and other silver coins, are so scarce – large quantities left the country as soon as they were dispersed.

However, I must add that I have indeed found some examples in old Cape coin collections and family “junk” boxes on more than one occasion – here is an example of a locally found 1/16-scheepjesgulden that was graded almost uncirculated details by NGC. It was found in the estate of a Simons Town family. Another example of this denomination was sold to me by a retired nurse who received the coin from an old lady patient of her from Somerset West many years ago.

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To explain the absence of the Griqua coinage as metal detecting finds is fairly easy.

Firstly, it is believed that only a relative small number of them were put into circulation and the series as a whole was a monetary failure.

Secondly, Griquatown is not situated in a part of South Africa that is regularly frequented by metal detectorists so the area is seldom if ever searched. Lukas van der Merwe, the current editor of our newsletter, and I actually had a detecting trip planned to go there in the 1990s, but for some reason it was cancelled.

However, it is interesting to note that a worn Griquatown ½  Penny was actually found on a hill near Matjiesfontein – a hamlet near Beaufort West where the Griquas had a trading fair with Cape colonists during this period as recorded in an article by Dr. F.K. Mitchell  in 1978 (The Coinage of Griqua Town – the Missionary Coinage of South Africa)

Here is a picture of the same denomination (½ Penny) graded VF35 showing wear on all the high points

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Just as a matter of interest, we actually detected twice at Matjiesfontein searching for Anglo Boer War artifacts. When the Anglo-Boer war broke out in 1899, Matjiesfontein served as a command headquarters and home to many British officers. This was the furthest north from Cape Town that wives and sweethearts were allowed to travel

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In his novel In Stede van die Liefde (2005), the esteemed South African author and Hertzog-prize winner Etienne van Heerden, based one of his characters on our metal detecting experiences at Matjiesfontein. The novel was also translated into English for his international readers.

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 However, returning to more pressing issues, I have the following question to ask regarding the S & Co tokens:- 

“For a series that indeed circulated widely during the later 1910s up till the mid-1930s, why are so few (if any) examples recorded as metal detecting finds in South Africa?”

To be continued…

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Edited by Pierre_Henri

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Pinkx

Thanks Pierre. A most interesting topic. Looking forward to the next post .... I am not aware of any S & Co metal detecting finds.

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MacMuffin

Thanks @Pierre_Henri for sharing - although I am not into coins, I always find your posts very interesting. 

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coinoisseur

Hi Pierre

I have never seen or heard of a 5 Gal Model Dairy token.... This is new to me

 

Cheers

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Pierre_Henri
Posted (edited)

I am sorry for interrupting myself, but have received a few more photos from token finds from the current newsletter editor, Lukas van der Merwe.    

The first item was found recently at Elandsrand, near Brits in Gauteng. It is an apothecary’s weight token. 

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The second item is the photo that I could not previously find, but luckily Lukas had a copy. It is of a Boer War 3d Canteen Token of the 85th Battery, Royal Field Artillery.

It was found on the old British Camp at Harrismith in the Free State. For some reason, I cannot find other examples of it on the internet – very rare perhaps? If I remember correctly, a 6d token of this unit was also found.

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The following token was found near Tugela in Natal in 2006. It is a 2 Annas Canteen Token. For an Indian unit perhaps?

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The last picture is of a Whyte & MacKay Special Whiskey 3d token find last week near Port Elizabeth

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Edited by Pierre_Henri

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Pierre_Henri

“Why are so few (if any) S & Co Tokens recorded as metal detecting finds in South Africa?”

 (Let me just be clear and say that quite a few hoards of these tokens were in fact unearthed and / or stumbled upon by chance, but our topic regards metal detecting finds)

Although we do not know when the first S & Co Tokens were issued, we know that if by chance, they indeed circulated towards the end of the 1800s, it could only be in an extremely small geographical area.

Why?

Before Milner Snell’s brilliant research paper was published last year, it was always thought that there were three S & Co stores operating in the Umzimkulu district during the 1880s.

However, his research proved that one of the three, the Mountain Home store, was only opened up in 1904 - a quarter of a century later.

That only leaves the Main Store and the Inbisi store in operation during that period. So the area the S & Co tokens could have circulated in then, has since shrunk to almost shouting distance. 

Secondly, this small area in Umzimkulu, like in the case of the Griqua coinage of Griquatown, is seldom or never searched by metal detectorists. (I have never heard of anyone detecting the area).

The following pictures shows the location and approximate size of the areas in which the S & Co Tokens and Griqua Coinage could have circulated in during the 1800s – the third picture is of the Umzimkulu area where some S & Co tokens could have circulated in before the Boer War period – pre 1899 thus – but please look at the size of the area if one takes the actual distance of the 2 stores (from each other) into consideration..

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Although a few stores were added in 1907, it was only from 1915 onwards that the Strachan and Co stores became prolific and one would accept the fact that the tokens started to circulate widely in the Eastern Cape (the old Transkei area).  

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But even this larger area was seldom searched by metal detectorists, and the few that did, like Clarence Coetzer from East London and Simon Morris from Queenstown, never recorded an S & Co token found.

The following could be one of the reasons … 

Milner Snell (as quoted by Stephen Coan in 2011) tells us “Tokens could not be used other than at the store that issued them. This meant you had to go back to the same store that issued them,” says Snell. “That might seem restrictive but at the time, banks and other stores were usually very far away”

So the usage of the tokens were heavily concentrated in the immediate areas that the shops were situated in and I am sure that if these old shop-areas would be thoroughly searched today, quite a few tokens will be found. 

Very few metal detectorists (if any) do it for any financial benefit, but it is also a nice bonus when one finds a really scarce & valuable item to pay for one’s travel costs. .

In the case of the S & Co tokens, there would really be very little incentive from a financial point of view to drive all the way to Umzimkulu to search for them as they currently sell for a pittance (if compared to earlier prices) due to so many being available on the market.

In the case of the Griqua coinage however, even finding one coin would be a super magical event and the financial reward for the finder obviously over the top.

To be continued…

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Pierre_Henri
Posted (edited)

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Oops, sorry - I see I still owe jwither an answer regarding the find that was made on this little island.

My metal detecting mentor, Wolfgang Roux, refreshed my memory after I called him last week. An old detectorist friend of us  (he was the official photographer of the South African Parliament then) found a lump of compacted metal objects here.

Taking it back to his home and dissolving it in vinegar over a 10 day period, it turned out to be six Spanish Pieces-of-Eight (Silver 8-Reale pieces) fused together by many centuries under water. The two outer coins in the lump were ugly and corroded, but the four inner coins were beautifully preserved (under the circumstances)

Now for the sad part ...

Alan packaged the coins neatly and posted them to England to be properly identified and recorded there. He has never heard from anyone since regarding this interesting find.

And very sadly, the coins are lost again ...

To be continued ...

Edited by Pierre_Henri

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Pierre_Henri

I have had many inquiries regarding metal detecting in South Africa since I started this  post on our forum

A fellow coin dealer on BidorBuy contacted me asking if I know of any metal detecting sites in the Eastern Transvaal.

As I have never detected that area of our country, I forwarded her inquiry to Lukas and as luck would have it, a detecting trip there is planned for later this year.

I have blocked / blacked out all telephone & contact details from the poster, but if anyone should seek more info on the trip, please send me a private message via this forum.

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Please note that I will only be back home coming Monday, so can only respond to inquiries then

 

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Pierre_Henri

I have blackened out the contact details again, but if someone is interested, please send me a private message in the next 4 days

I would think that quite a few Eastern Cape  Coins & Tokens will be found during this trip.

I will not be joining this metal detecting hunt, as we will be leaving on a Rhine trip (Netherlands to Switzerland) till the end of the month

But please contact me if you are interested before coming Tuesday when we leave 

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Pierre_Henri

 

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