Fortunately for my editor, the coinage history of this
tiny nation is extremely brief, so much so that I can devote
almost half of this very short article to its depressing
history, and there will still be room at the end for the
latest non-news from Estonia.
Equatorial Guinea consists of an island now called Bioko,
formerly Fernando Po, and the small mainland tract of Rio
Muni, the total about equal in area to the state of
Maryland. The indigenous inhabitants of the island are
Bubi, the Rio Munians are mostly Fang. All told there are
about half a million of them.
The Portuguese explorer Fernao Po sighted the island late
in the 15th century. Portugal later established a slaving
station around which a small colony grew. Spain acquired it
in 1738, intending to make a major upgrade of the slave
operation. However, they became preoccupied with
continental problems to the general neglect of all their
colonies, and nothing was done in Fernando Po.
Decades passed, alliances shifted, the French Revolution
and Napoleon came and went, all the Spanish colonies in the
New World revolted. Finally Britain, formerly the greatest
of the slaving nations, renounced slavery, and began to
suppress the trade in Africa. To this end they seized
Fernando Po in 1827, and in 1840 pressured Spain to sell the
island. This proposal did not fly, and the local result was
anarchy. Eventually the British left, but Madrid didn't get
around to sending out a new governor for almost two decades.
During this out-of-control period a number of Spanish
individuals opened operations on the mainland. They staked
claims deep into Gabon and Cameroon, but were eventually
pushed back by the French and English, and the current
borders of Rio Muni were set by the Paris Convention of
The Spanish government did basically nothing to support
these colonies. The private commercial operations were left
alone, save for tax collection. As a result, when
Independence came in 1968, the government was, shall we say,
immature. The islanders thought the mainlanders were hicks,
the mainlanders resented the (slightly) more prosperous
island. Riotous disorder ensued. As usual, out of the
anarchy appeared a dictator, Francisco Macais, from the
mainland. Later he africanized his name in a gesture of
authenticity, so he is now styled Masie Nguema Biyogo. His
wishes deserve no respect. I shall call him Macais.
Macais was the worst thing that could happen to the new
country. His style was blanket repression, similar in
general tone to that of Papa Doc in Haiti, though not quite
as thoroughgoing. Witness the outcome: Papa Doc managed
preserve his regime after his death through his nonentity
son and that son's ouster. His people are in control today,
while Macais was kicked out by his own army in 1979. The
military has retained control of the government. Terror is
no longer the guiding philosophy there, but it is not a
happy place, and still is extremely poor.
Quiggin, in A Survey of Primitive Money, illustrates a belt made
from plaited strings of Achatina shells, and collected on
Fernando Po. The belts, called jibbu, were used on the
mainland in the late 19th - early 20th centuries, and were
thought to have come from the mainland. Imported conus
shells were also reported in use in Rio Muni. "Primitive
money" from Equatorial Guinea hardly ever shows up in the
Neither coins nor banknotes were made during the colonial
period, nor are there any tokens of which I'm aware. (They
probably exist. I'm usually wrong about tokens. I wrote
that I didn't know of any Cape Verde tokens and someone sent
me some pictures.) For the sake of completeness, however,
there are postage stamps for both Rio Muni and Fernando Po.
As an independent state Equatorial Guinea has struck a
small number of circulation coins, a number of banknote
issues, and two spurts of commemoratives.
The 1969 circulation coins used to be rare, then a bunch
came on the market maybe five years ago. The peseta was
available in Unc for a while, but most of the available 5,
25, and 50 peseta coins were VF-XF with small patches of
corrosion. They seem to have disappeared of late.
In 1970 27 silver and gold commemoratives were issued.
Most were sold in Italy. Approximately none were sold in
Equatorial Guinea. The silver coins are not uncommon, and
occur both as singles and in the big pink presentation case.
The gold coins are harder to find, but are not at all
impossible. The most popular and promotable of these coins
has been the "Maja Desnuda" piece. The original promoters
were canny about this and had at least 7½ times more of
these made than any of the others. For a while there was
talk of a rare "X-rated" version, supposedly anatomically
more correct. In light of the fact that the original
painting is not "correct," and after examining about 50 of
the coins, I have come to the (tentative) conclusion that an
X-rated Maja coin is (probably) hogwash.
Onward. In 1975 they africanized the currency from
"pesetas" to "ekuele." There were occasional wholesale
supplies of the three 1975 minor coins in the late '70s and
early '80s, but they're all gone now, and the lucky dealer
who acquires these coins can usually pump them up well past
the SCWC quotes. Commemoratives struck in 1978 and '79 are
a lot harder to find than the 1970 coins, though the 1980
animal coins show up from time to time, especially the
zebra. Later in 1980 the spelling of the denominations was
further africanized, which operation I'd hesitate to call a
monetary reform. The circulation bipkwele are rare.
Everyone needs them for their type sets, no one has them.
They're far scarcer than the sylis of Guinea, and those are
tough! The only official bipkwele commemorative was the
Pope John Paul II visit gold hockey puck. John Paul II
collectors seems to like giant gold coins, and this one is
very hard to find.
There is an unofficial series denominated in bipkwele for
the visit of the King and Queen of Spain. These were struck
by the same people who struck the unauthorized 1980
Dominican Republic coins. For both countries they made
off-metal essais in extremely small mintages (though actual
mintages are almost certainly higher than the reported
average of 20 pieces). The gold and silver versions are not
uncommon, and the OMS essais are occasionally seen, selling
in the $40-80 range, which would be extremely reasonable for
such rare items, if only they were real official coins.
In 1985 Equatorial Guinea traded in its worthless
monetary autonomy and joined the French Community in Africa.
The CFA might be of greatest benefit to France, but it's the
most stable system in West Africa, so welcome aboard. The
only CFA coin so far is the 1985 100 francos. This coin is
priced at $1.50 in Unc in the 18th edition of SCWC, and
$10.00 in the Deluxe Centennial edition. But never mind,
the coin is not around. In Germany they go for $35.00 and
sell out before you can get to them. I've got to get a fax.
When I wrote my Estonia article it had not yet seceded.
Now there is a reborn country, but still no currency. They
are making do with old USSR money, which the Russian
government is continuing to issue, Lenin portrait and all,
and their own cash coupons, which have not made it out to
the west. The Estonian government is flat broke and seems
not to be making any plans for a currency at this time.
The whole of the USSR territory is drifting, a potentially
very dangerous situation. There are undoubtedly local
municipal and private chits and tokens, mostly in paper, but
almost all are as yet rumors. From Russia there are 1 and 5
ruble coins dated 1991 issued by Gosbank, not the USSR.
There is also a 10 ruble bimetallic coin of the same series,
and I was told that this coin was countermarked by the
Ukraine State Bank. Every one of the former constituent
Republics is issuing cash coupons which are needed for
purchase of certain necessities. Since these products are
in short supply there is no incentive to trade the coupons
for dollars so they are not showing up in the collector
market. As the coupons have a time limit we can expect that
very few will be saved in perfect condition. Rarities are
being created as we watch. We await developments.
else can we do?