Alas, Liberia! Gangs of kids with machine guns ripping
up the country.
Such a poor country, where do they get the money for the ammo?
But you have to realize that official life goes on in the midst
current mess. Coins were issued last year, authorized by a government.
called the embassy in Washington to see who is supposed to be in charge.
chief of state is Wilton Sankawolo. Ever heard of him?
The various factions
are maintaining the organs of state or allowing them to persist as
tears itself to pieces. War is strange, isn't it?
Liberia sits under the shoulder of West Africa,and is about the
the state of Ohio. To the west lies poverty stricken Sierra Leone,
equally poor Guinea, while east sits the Ivory Coast, economic powerhouse
West Africa. Aside from the swampy coast, most of the country
hills. It's hot and muggy most of the time.
There is not much in the way of archeological literature for
The West African coast is known to have been visited by Phoenician
before 500 BC, and people were living there at the time. They
left little or
nothing in the way of durable artifacts for us to dig up, and no written
Notes on West Africa start appearing in the middle ages, written
Muslim travellers. Islamic culture advanced across Arica from
east to west, and
by the 13th century the Muslim kingdom of Mali began to grow not too
hundreds of miles inland.
Islam pretty much stopped at the jungle, so Liberia, except for
northerly sectors, was not much influenced by that faith.
The Portuguese explored the West African coast during the 15th
going so far as to establish some small settlements. Like a lion
driven off its
dinner by a pack of hyenas, the Portuguese were evicted by nasty French,
and English traders. The entire West African coast became involved
in the slave
trade during the 17th century, but activity on the Liberian stretch
there were richer places to go, like the Gold Coast.
By the early 19th century the West African coast was dotted with
trading/slaving stations and permanent enclaves sponsored by various
governments. European and American manufactures were circulating;
tobacco, cloth, and metal, the most popular forms of which were pots,
In 1816 the American Colonization Society was founded by abolitionists
with the goal of repatriating freed slaves to their (generically) ancestral
homeland. They started building settlements in 1820. There
were problems; the
land and climate were difficult, malaria and other diseases were endemic,
they, shall we say, mishandled the indigenous population, particularly
coastal Krahn people.
The Colonization Society did not give up, and by 1837 had advanced
stage of having to form a government. By 1847 they thought their
the freed slaves, were ready for nationhood, and the "independent"
Liberia and Maryland were proclaimed.
These were supposed to be African Americas, purified of slavery,
otherwise recognizable. There was a constitution, separation
elections, the whole shebang. Britain recognized the new countries
in 1848, and
other nations followed. The USA, however, continued to regard
them as business
ventures of the Colonization Society, and maintained that position
politics of the Civil War forced its hand in 1862.
There was a basic problem in the Liberian scheme. One looks
amazement at the undeniable fact that neither the colonizers nor the
colonists had any regard whatsoever for the indigenous peoples.
They were not
included in the constitutional scheme. They were not made citizens,
vote, had no representation. They had reproduced America as well
as they could.
They even had Indians.
The seeds of today's situation were sown in that basic contradiction,
it has worked out as it has in Liberia because the locals outnumbered
colonists by 40 to 1. They could not be ignored forever, but
they were ignored
for a long, long time. They didn't get the vote until 1945.
The two republics merged into one in 1857. As was the case
other countries, Liberia conducted international trade to its detriment
late 19th century. By 1911 it was bankrupt, and the USA arranged
a loan in
return for some of the "concessions" that were so common at the time.
the biggest was the million acres granted to the Firestone company
in 1926 to
grow rubber trees. The 99 year lease is still in effect.
That rubber operation made Liberia strategic during World War
American money poured in. Infrastructure was built, and after
the war more
money was invested by interests in a number of countries. Liberian
favorable. Labor was cheap. Liberia prospered.
The government figured out that there was money to be made being
registrar, and began offering the most lenient terms in the world.
A lot of
tonnage has come to be sailed under the Liberian flag, though Liberian
of these vessals is practically nil.
That basic Liberian problem remained: what about the natives?
very little trickle-down in Liberia. All the money and other
good stuff stayed
in the Americo-Liberian sector. When William V. S. Tubman became
1944 he began to make some efforts to improve the lot of the natives;
it was he
who enfranchised them in 1945. But it was hard to get serious
development. Resentment simmered through his reign (he remained
his death in 1971) and beyond, until his successor, William S. Tolbert,
assassinated one night in 1980.
You see, the Americo-Liberian government had felt the need of
and had staffed it with natives, all oblivious to the facts of history.
forms an army drawn from the ranks of the oppressed, said army eventually
devouring its creators. How many times has this happened since
before the time
of Rome? The troops of Sergeant Samuel K. Doe shot Mr. Tolbert
as he slept in
his bed. They hauled his cronies and their wives out on the beach,
tied them to
stakes, and shot them too. We got to see it on the evening news.
amazed. Liberia had been quiet for 130 years. The status
Americo-Liberians changed from top of the heap to hunted vermin.
Doe ruled as a dictator for 6 years, after which he adopted a
window-dressing constitution and became "president." 3 years
later some of his
old army colleagues launched a rebellion in the eastern region.
It seems that
Doe, a Krahn, had been allowing, as it were, his collateral relatives
advantage of his rule to the violent disadvantage of other native peoples,
especially the Mano and Gio peoples. Unreasonably oppressed,
they raised an
army among their compatriots across the border in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Doe was
captured and executed in 1990. The victors fell out. Thus
began the civil war
that endures to this day.
Through all this turmoil and destruction the government has continued
register ships, and many of the concessions have been operating more
normally. "Who's responsible for what?" is a really interesting
question in the
Collectors of "primitive" money love West Africa. People
there seemed to
develop a lot of what are called "standard trade items," or specific
against which other things were valued. Cowries were ubiquitously
in trade use
all along the coast and far inland, as well as salt, metal, cloth,
when you get a cowrie for your collection it will be a new "uncirculated"
from Asia, but Scott Semans got in a batch of "used" ones from Liberia
Liberia is famous as the home of the "kissie penny," one of the
common primitive money items on the market. An extremely wierd
"coin, it's a
long, thin, twisted rod of iron with splayed ends, one sort of spade-like
the other sort of handle-like, hence their soubriquet "hoe money,"
they are and maybe they aren't. They range in size from 9-20"
long. That they
were real coins is attested by the annoyed records of Europeans, who
trade their silver coins for bales of the iron sticks (and the bearers
them) for trade in the interior. They evidently remained useful
until World War
The 1833 Colonization Society 1 cent tokens are fairly common.
in several varieties and in all grades, though uncirculated specimens
The heavy module 1 and 2 cents of 1847 are also fairly easy to
even as proofs. 1862 date is only slightly less common.
A hiatus ensued until
1896, when a more or less comprehensive set of coins was issued.
cent more or less followed the Canadian module, while the silver coins
to an odd weight lighter than any other country in the world at that
These are common in circulated grades, difficult in solid uncirculated,
in proof. The set was reissued in 1906 and then the country slept,
numismatically speaking, for 31 years.
Brass coins were issued in 1937; common ½¢, scarcer
1¢ and 2¢. The metal
of these coins likes to grow spots, so keep them away from moisture
The three types were issued again in 1941, this time in copper-nickel.
is pretty common, but the 2¢ is a bit tough and the 1¢ s
Interestingly, all of these coins, 1937 and 1941 alike, are almost
They didn't bother issuing coins again until 1960, at which point
into the coin business for real, with a complete set of American style
from 1¢ to 50¢, though the silver coins are, in American
terms, about an eighth
lighter. The silver hark back to the 1906 coinage, save that
the model Miss
Liberty on the silver was a local girl. The bronze cent and copper-nickel
cents have an elephant on one side and a sailing ship on the other.
It is a
well known fact that the elephant and ship theme collectors are more
and fanatical than others, and that makes these coins popular.
The cents are
easy to find, but the 5 cents have proved over the years to be somewhat
The dollar coin was added in 1961, making a 6-coin set (not officially
issued) for that year, and repeated in 1962. None of these coins
to find. Some gold coins were struck in 1964 and 1965 to the
glorification of the president, and these can be found as well.
Circulation coinage resumed in 1966, using the same types as
1960 but in
copper-nickel rather than silver for the higher denominations.
Two years later
they started making sets for us collectors. Surprisingly perhaps,
are not so easy to find by and large. 1973 date, the year they
added the 5
dollar silver elephant crown is perhaps the easiest to find, sealed
Franklin Mint card. (Look for little black chemical discolorations
edges.) A client sent me a proof set want list once, containing,
of the '70s dates. I worked it for two years and found... none
What about gold? 1970 and '72 coins are not seen that often.
gold $10 coin, virtually equivalent to the American coin, is not a
popular piece. It's not to hard to find if you look, and the
price should be,
as we dealers like to say, "bullion related." A lot of them must
melted in 1980. There are a few more gold types, and in market
terms they act a
lot like other 25 year old gold collector coins; seldom seen and bullion
All right. Then there are the President Tolbert coins of
experience has been that they are generally hard to find. Regular
coins - hard
to find. 1979 OAU edges - hard to find. Gold - not common,
but prices tend to
be bullion related when they are seen. A 1987 Tolbert dollar
is listed in the
1996 SCWC. It's a typo, should be 1978.
Dictator, and later president Doe abandoned attempts at a circulating
coinage. American money has been legal tender since 1943, so
why bother? The
nearest attempts were the 5 dollar coins of 1982 and '85, which may
circulation, and are not a big presence in the market..
He did, however, opt for a bunch of collector coins, starting
FAO fisheries coin in 1983 (copper-nickel version not so easy to find
later, silver uncommon, gold not seen), the disabled and scouting coins
particularly common), 1985 Women's Decade (uncommon), the silver ounces
find) and miscellaneous uncommon gold coins. These are uncommon
were originally issued at high prices, thus were undersubscribed, and
bullion related after-market prices have discouraged their disposition
Post-Doe coins are strictly collector items and have nothing
to do with
Liberia other than the name and coat of arms with which they are emblazoned.
All of them have been available on the market. The copper-nickels
enough that they all sold out and now you have to go search for them.
silver and gold items are difficult due to their to my mind excessive
So that's Liberian numismatics in a nutshell. Peace loving
hope and pray for an end to the craziness, the restoration of order,
future reintroduction of a regular circulating coinage.