Author Topic: Essequibo and Demarara: Sarcastic coin?  (Read 1892 times)

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Online Figleaf

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Essequibo and Demarara: Sarcastic coin?
« on: November 13, 2009, 11:20:31 PM »
The British took advantage of the wars of Napoleon to merge the Dutch colonial empire into theirs. After that war, they forgot to give a few of them back. Two of those were Essequibo and Demarara. Wisely, the Dutch had made an unspeakable mess of the monetary system that took the British at least half a century to clean up. That was the last time the British touched a Dutch colony.

In theory, things were straightforward. Essequibo and Demarara maintained an account at the Bank of England, where their trade surplus for Britain was kindly kept out of the hands of local governors, who'd only have spent it. Well, if you pay for stuff coming from Britain and the stuff you sell to Britain never gets paid, money disappears. So it was in Essequibo and Demarara. From time to time, the situation became shameful and coins were struck in stivers (sic!) and Guilders (sic!), but they just disappeared as being undervalued against paper. It is therefore strange that only a few tokens (underweight, of course) are known, two denominated in stiver, one in bitt (one real, maybe a plantation token) and two without denomination, i.e. no sterling, no guilders.

This one, though anonymous, is known to have been issued by a dry goods merchant, Mr. Balgarny of Water Street, Georgetown. The obverse design is clearly inspired by British copper: Britannia is seated on a bale, with a caduceus (business) and an olive branch (peace) with a ship on the horizon. The motto TRADE AND NAVIGATION reinforces the message: make trade, not war. Similar designs were used for Canadian tokens whose provenance are clear, so it is quite likely that these tokens came from a Birmingham manufacturer, probably Halliday. The reverse is also Canadian in style, but instead of ONE PENNY TOKEN, the legend is ONE STIVER (see Davis Not Local 42-46 or Breton 962). The legend PURE COPPER PREFERABLE TO PAPER remained unchanged, but where in Canada this referred to reasonable and stable issues of paper money, in Essequibo and Demarara the situation was so bad that Pridmore noted: "the reverse inscription was apparently selected as a sarcastic allusion to the local government irredeemable "joe" notes which had, by 1838, almost succeeded in driving out of circulation all metallic money."

The Canadian token is dated 1813, while the Essequibo and Demarara token is dated 1838. The motto had therefore already been invented. It is however quite possible that Mr. Balgarny was given a choice of designs and that he liked this one because it fit the local situation and his own feelings so well.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.