Numismatically speaking, this is perhaps the most
mysterious country on earth, the more so as it would seem to be fairly
well established that there was no coinage at all before the 14th century
or so. In my role as a dealer I've had some limited experience with
the pre-modern coinage, and rather more with the later issues of the various
British colonial authorities and the modern independent state, but there
are still vast gaps in my understanding of the complicated numismatics
of this complicated part of the world. Of course, many of you, being
familiar with this series, will be thinking "Reis doesn't know, so what's
new?" But Malaysia is more complicated than most countries.
Fortunately, there is a book: "The Encyclopedia of the Coins of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei," by Saran Singh. The first edition was published by the Malaysia Numismatic Association in 1986, Scott Semans imported a few copies, and I got one. It is really quite excellent, notwithstanding it is filled with references to the need for more research, notes about coins that are mentioned in old records but not known to exist today, and the free admission that much is missing from the listings. But it provided a framework on which one could pretend to have some understanding of what went on, numismatically speaking, from 1400 to 1986.
Unfortunately, it was out of print and impossible to get. But when I called Scott in the course of the preparation of this article he informed me of the happy news that the second edition has been published and copies are on their way to his office as you read this. I will be getting a copy, and perhaps even a few extra to stock. Suggest that you who have interest obtain one if you can, for without it you will be, numismatically speaking, lost.
The key to Malaysia's complexity is in its geography, on which is overlaid an even more complex ethnography. A skeletal knowledge of these basics will give us something to hang our hat on as we go through the numerous series of numismata that have been produced by the various political entities that controlled parts of this nation over the last few centuries.
The core of Malaysia is the bottom half of the peninsula that extends from southeast Asia into the South China Sea. The peninsula is named for the indigines, the Malays, but the top half of it is controlled these days by Thailand. While the northeast coast of this territory faces the open waters and seasonal storms of the Gulf of Siam, the southeast faces the large Indonesian island of Sumatra across the Malacca Strait. The interior of continental Malaysia is filled with steep mountains, always heavily forested until the last few decades, when the pace of timber cutting has picked up to the extent that people are now making projections on how long it will be until the entire jungle is gone. But until very recently the interior mountains formed a serious barrier, and the people of the coasts would always have more to do with their maritime neighbors than with the up-country folk.
A bunch little islands are associated with peninsular Malaysia, the most important of which, for most purposes (including ours) are Penang and Perlis off the west coast, and of course Singapore at the southern tip. But Singapore is it's own country at the moment, and so, vital as it is to the story of the Malay peninsula, is outside the scope of this discussion.
And there is one other piece of the country, brought to it by the vagaries of 19th century European colonial struggles. This is the northern quarter of the island of Borneo. The rest of Borneo is Indonesian. It could have just as easily turned out differently; it could have all become Indonesian, as indeed could have Malaysia proper. But it didn't, and this is what they have: a continental nation with an island dependency twice as large some 500 miles away. This is the basic fact of Malaysia: a nation in two pieces.
Ethnologically, Malaysia is composed of several separate cultures, all of whom value their uniqueness perhaps more than their national unity. The dominant group in peninsular Malaya is, not surprisingly, the Malay, but they are only about 60% of the population. 30% and a bit more are Chinese, and most of the rest are Indian. Approximately all of the Malays are Muslim, and the official religion of the state is Islam, and there is a built in tension between Islamic and Chinese culture exemplified in it's crudest form by the fact that Islam thinks pigs are disgusting and China thinks they are delicious. Historically, there has been little or no intermarriage between the main ethnic groups, and the main mode of intercultural contact has been economic.
Over in Borneo, the indigenes, who form the majority, are Dayaks, and there is colonization from the mainland by all three of the peninsular ethnic groups. The administration of the island has somewhat of a colonial character as well; planning and development tends to be imposed from the mainland, and profits seem to flow from the island rather than to remain where they were generated.
Politically, Malaysia is officially a kingdom, but it is not an ordinary monarchy in the sense that we usually think of it, with a hereditary sovereign ruling absolutely in the past and constitutionally in the present. Rather, it is divided into thirteen states, and a couple of Federal Territories, most of which are indeed ruled by hereditary monarchs, the rest by governors, and these state rulers get together every five years to elect one of their number to be "paramount ruler," or, if you will, king. Aside from this bow to tradition there is a popularly elected legislature that does the legal business of the country.
I'm going to give you the names of all the states, because all of them were at one time independent nations, and all of them and more have a numismatic history. So get ready for a bunch of foreign words.
In the peninsula, from north to south on the eastern coast, are found the states of Kelantan, Trengganu, Pahang, and Johor. On the east coast, again north to south, are Perlis, Kedah, the island state of Pinang (Penang), Perak, Selangor, Negeri (Negri) Sembilan, and Melaka (Malacca). The capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is a Federal District. East Malaysia, on Borneo, contains the states of Sarawak and Sabah and the Federal District of Labuan. Tucked into Sarawak are the two coastal enclaves that make up the Sultanate of Brunei. Brunei is former times was a dominant factor in northern Borneo, then it became weak and its power waned, now there is oil to be pumped and it has some money and power to throw around again.
We may wish that every branch of knowledge was clearly defined and that the underpinnings of such historical artifacts as nations could be presented simply and their story laid out in broad strokes. This is nowhere less possible than in Malaysia, where the catchphrase could be "Meanwhile..." Let us now take a brief look, through numismatic spectacles, at the turbulent and shadowy history of this interesting country.
Remnants of homo erectus have been found in Malaya. That's at least 150,000 years ago. And they find Neolithic ground stone axes of 10,000-5000 years or so both on the peninsula and on Borneo. These axes are found more or less all over the world, are available on the market, and perhaps every now and then, or maybe even a bit more often than that you will have a chance to buy one from a southeast Asian site. Metal working came early to the region, this is, after all, the home of tin, and there is some evidence for southeast Asia as the birthplace of bronze. In terms of modern scientific paleontology and archaeology very little has been done, so there are great holes in the story. There's nothing much on the BCE period, nor on the first millennium CE. To the great medieval cultures of the region Malaya was the hinterland, the original boondock if you will, filled with pagan barbarians. I'm talking about the Khmer empire up in Cambodia and Sumatran Srivijaya for the period circa 600-1200 CE. Khmer was kind of far away on the other side of Thailand, but Srivijaya was directly across the Malacca Strait, and undoubtedly was a dominant economic and cultural influence on the Malay peninsula. It was probably politically dominant as well, but direct evidence is lacking.
Bean shaped billon coins are traditionally assigned by numismatists to Srivijaya, but in a recent conversation with Scott Semans he seemed to be of the opinion that such attribution is conjectural; maybe they come from the Philippines, maybe from Java, probably not from Malaya.
A Javanese kingdom, Majopahit, succeeded Srivijaya as the dominant power in southeast Asia during the late 13th century, and its little silver coins with their archaic Greek-looking incuse mill-sail types are common and well known in a corner of the collecting fraternity. Scott says attribution of these to Majopahit is debatable as well (but later conversations with Indonesian experts confirms that attribution, as well as the existence of associated gold coins.).
What is certain is that two events of note were occurring in Malaya during the Majopahit period. The first is that the tin mining industry, which had been going on for thousands of years already, had begun producing standard ingots in a size convenient for the purposes of personal commerce. The most common of these are cone-shaped, about half dollar size on the base and about half an inch tall, and perhaps also the canoe shapes. But common in the case of these early ingots is purely relative, as they have virtually no market presence whatsoever.
The other significant event was the conversion to Islam of the raja of Samudra in Sumatra . Islam spread, steadily if not rapidly, until it became the dominant faith in the region. Islamic governance marked a new phase in Malay history, because the regimes of the sultans left both literary and numismatic evidence to posterity.
Since about the 10th century CE the Thai have always been a looming presence in Malayan politics. They move in, take over, have trouble at home, leave, come back again. For the past two centuries, more or less, and with minor interruptions, they have held the northern half of the Malay peninsula.
At the close of of the 14th century the Thai were rampaging down at the southern tip of Malaya, and they drove a Srivijayan prince, Param0ashwara, from his seat on Temasik island, site of the city we now call Singapore. Parameshwara crossed to the mainland, wandered for a few years, and finally established himself at the mouth of the Bertam River, some 150 miles up the west coast. He named his new abode after a local tree of some utility, the Malacca. The traditional date for the founding of this new kingdom is 1400.
Parameshwara prospered in his new domain. In 1405 he sent a mission to the Ming emperor of the Yung Lo period in China, who duly acknowledged him as the true ruler of Malacca and placed him formally under Chinese protection. This was an important recognition, but practically an empty gesture; the Chinese had no presence on the Malay peninsula. The consolidation of the Malaccan realm was materially enhanced in 1409 when an alliance was wrought with the sultan of
Pasai on Sumatra. Part of the deal included the marriage of the sultan's daughter. Now there is a rule in Islam that a Muslim male can marry women of any faith but that Muslim women can only marry another Muslim, and the kids have to be Muslims too. No problem, thought Parameshwara, and he converted, taking the new name of Iskandar Shah.
Malacca continued to grow and prosper, so that in the time of the sixth sultan, Mansur Shah, of the mid-15th century, the Sumatran states of Palembang, Djambi, Siak, Pasai, Tunkal, and Inderagiri were under Malaccan control, as well as the islands of Lingga, Bantam, and Singapura. Pahang, in northern Malaya, was taken from the Thai in 1470. Malacca took over from the crumbling Majopahit state as the dominant power of the southern region of southeast Asia.
The Malaccan merchants traded far and wide, doing business with China, India, Iran, and the far off Arabs as well as with the islands that would one day become Indonesia and the Philippines. The civilizing cultures of the north and west had long been in the habit of using standardized bits of metal to facilitate their commerce, and in the mid-15th century the Malaccans started to pick up on the utility of that idea and to make their own coins.
Tin coins had been issued not too much earlier by Sumatran Pasai, though I have seen neither the coins themselves nor illustrations. The first known Malaccan coins carry the name and titles of Muzaffar Shah, 1445-56 or 59, the uncertainty undoubtedly due to the questionable reading of the last cipher of that latter date on whatever record was available to the compiler of the dynastic list. The coins we have are well struck and somewhat resemble the contemporary coppers of the sultans of Madura in southern India. Like all tin coins of the region, they are referred to as "pitis."
In 1979, when Michael Mitchiner wrote his three volume survey: "Oriental Coins and their Values," the named tin coins of Malacca were little known and unavailable. But during the late '80s some quantity of them started to appear on the market, along with later coins of the Portuguese conquerors and the native
states. These pieces were for the most part characterized by a "pimply" surface, said to be caused by long immersion in sea water. From the start there has been controversy regarding the authenticity of these things, and to this day there has been no definitive resolution. In market terms the debate is neither here nor there, for the pimply tin coins have all been absorbed and are no longer to be found on the market or in the ocean.
In the 15th century the Islamic state of Malacca was the dominant power on the Malay peninsula. From their capital on the west coast the Malaccan sultans exercised political influence, if not hegemony, over their neighbors, and conducted far flung trade and diplomacy. The very first of the Malaccan rulers, Parameshwara, even before he converted to Islam and changed his name to Iskander Shah, sent a mission to China as early as 1405. Sought and obtained was recognition by the Chinese emperor of the Malaccan regime, and the kingdom was placed under the formal protection of the empire. The emphasis must be placed on the formality rather than any actuality; the Ming dynasty had no military presence on or near Malaya, nor any intention of ever establishing any. If the Malaccan king got in trouble that was going to be his problem.
Trade flourished, however, between Malacca and China, and the business led to the establishment of Chinese trading depots in Malaccan territory. The traders brought their families, their retainers, their workers, and their slaves, and in no time (several decades) there was a large population of Chinese.
Now if there's one thing we numismatists know about the Chinese it is that they used money (coins) in their business. The new settlers brought with them their money - silver and gold ingots and tens of thousands of square holed cash, and these latter began to percolate out of the Chinese settlements and into the land of the Malays, where they doubtless made a good impression.
As the 15th century progressed the expansive Ming dynasty reached a high point and began to stabilize, and then contract. Overseas trade diminished, and contact with the overseas Chinese trading communities as well. The numismatic result was a declining export of Chinese coins to Malaya, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc.
In Malaya the need for Chinese small change was made up by the production of local copies. Chinese cash are usually made of copper, but there's not much of the red metal in Malaya. So the copies were made of locally abundant tin. And copies is exactly what they are; the producers used year titles of the Northern Sung emperors three centuries back. This usage served a dual utility: for the originals of these coins, though 300 years old, were still the most common items in the East Asian money mix, and besides, it would be somewhat impolitic to copy the coins of the current dynasty. That would be a lot like, what shall we call it? Counterfeiting?
Anyway, there are these tin coins in existence, and you can see pictures of them in Saran Singh's Encyclopedia of the Coins of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, in Michael Mitchiner's Oriental Coins and their Values, volume 3, and, very rarely, in the of offerings of dealers such as Scott Semans and Paul Bosco. They must have been made in relatively small quantities, and/or have been melted in large quantities, for they are very rare today.
While Malacca was blooming there was this intellectual ferment over on the other side of the world. A restless wanderlust was overtaking the pale skinned, hairy people who lived there, and they were beginning to travel over the horizon in their leaky little boats. They were specifically looking for spices to liven up their boring diet, or rather, they were looking for a way to get around the (Arab) spice dealers who were charging what the Europeans considered way too much for their wares.
The Europeans knew where the objects of their desire came from, but the two traditional routes east: the long land caravan known in parts as the Silk Road, and the short portage from the eastern Mediterranean through Palestine to the Red Sea and thence o the Persian Gulf, were firmly controlled by Muslims, who inspired fear and loathing in the Europeans. So, when they were good and ready, if not a little before, little boats started down the west coast of Africa, eventually rounding the Cape of Good Hope and heading eastward across the Indian Ocean. Eventually they reached their goal: landfall in India and points east.
Many wondrous products have emerged from European culture over the last 500 years, but in one area of manufacture there was unchallengable preeminence for most of the last 500 years, and that is weaponry. European boats were not as good as those of the Chinese or the Arabs, but no one made better guns, and that in the end was the deciding factor.
So the Portuguese, by bluff, diplomacy, and force of arms established themselves at Goa in India at the end of the 15th century, and from that base expeditions were sent further east toward China and the "Spice Islands."
In 1511 Afonso da Albuquerque, the second governor of Portuguese India personally led a naval expedition that attacked and conquered Malacca. The Portuguese remained in occupation for 130 years, controlling the strait between mainland Malaya and the island of Sumatra that was the best route from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Portuguese were mainly interested in doing business rather than pursuing any kind of glorious vision. One of the first things they did wherever they were was to strike coins with which to do that business. They did that in India, and they also did it in Malacca. There was already a mint in Malacca, but the new governor da Albuquerque opened a European style establishment during the first year of European occupation, in 1511, at which were struck a few gold and silver coins and a set of denominations in tin.
The gold and silver were struck mostly to demonstrate sovereignty, and perhaps were sent back to Portugal to show the king that he had a new piece of real estate. They almost certainly never circulated, and no specimens are known today. Examples of the tin coins, formerly extremely rare, appeared on the market during the 1980s. The typical "pimply" surface of these coins was explained as the result of their having lain in water for several centuries, from which they had lately been dredged. Sometimes the water was supposed to have been the Bertam river, other times the location was given as the sea.
These coins were greeted with some skepticism when they appeared, it being noted that water is unkind to tin and that one would have expected immersed tin coins to have crumbled to dust over three centuries, the more so if they had been resting in salt water. No matter as far as the market was concerned. It would seem, at the start of the third millennium, that the coins have been generally accepted as authentic.
There were basically 3 denominations of tin coins struck at the Malacca mint: big ones called bastardo, their tenth, called soldo, and later a tenth soldo, called dinheiro. The weight relation of the bastardo and soldo started out fairly correct, but the bastardo became light fairly quickly, and the soldo, and later the dinheiro, became tokens. Latterly, a half dinheiro, or bazaruco, was struck.
Over the 130 years of Portuguese occupation about 20 tin types were struck, in several dozen major and minor varieties. While all were extremely rare, since the 1980s' flush of "pimply" coins, and notwithstanding their current absence from the market, most of should be classed as scarce-to-rare, as there remains the chance of running into them in the stock of somnolent dealers or of coaxing some out of collections. There were also some silver coins struck at the Malacca mint during the closing decade of the Portuguese period; tangas, multiples, and fractions. These are all extremely rare. To complete the picture, a few silver and gold coins were struck at Goa and Lisbon for Malacca, and these are all extremely rare as well. I have never seen any actual specimens, so no point in warning about possible fakes. I have seen fake Goan silver coins, though, so perhaps a bit of skepticism would be in order if you should happen to be confronted with one of these coins with "D and "M" (De Malacca) separated by the "TA" (Tanga Asia) monogram.
At the start of the 16th century a new European nation went adventuring on the high seas. The Dutch, who had fought a very long war for independence against their Spanish overlords, had finally established themselves and proceeded to build themselves a great trading economy. The linchpin of their operation was the United Eastindies Company, familiar to us by its acronym as the VOC. Not the least bit reconciled with their former masters, the Dutch went into direct competition with them in India and southeast Asia, employing the military option wherever necessary.
Throughout the 16th century Portugal and Spain had been one nation, united at the top by dynastic union. The Portuguese didn't like the arrangement, and conducted a revolution in 1640 that restored their country as a sovereign entity. If the Dutch had moved on Malacca in 1639 they would have been striking a blow against their former oppressors, but when they made their move in 1641 Spain was out of the picture. No matter. The Dutch wanted access to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malacca guarded the chief trade route, the Portuguese had to go.
The Dutch overseas companies started playing around with striking coins to use in their overseas operations as early as 1602, but these were pretty much patterns or trials made in very small numbers, hardly used if ever, and extremely rare today. They also did some countermarking of foreign money later in the 17th century. These days the most famous of the counterstamped coins would be the Japanese gold koban, a specimen of which made a splash at a recent auction. Counterstamps are also found on various European and Indian coins. All are rare, and fakes are known to have been made of more than a few types.
A few years after the Dutch took Malacca a coin shortage was recognized as being in progress throughout the Dutch East Indies, and the authorities at Batavia (modern Jakarta in Indonesia) produced some local products in an attempt to ameliorate the situation. These emergency coins were struck in silver and tin in several denominations, but were disallowed and suppressed by the home office back in Holland. The tin coins are said by Saran Singh to have circulated in Malacca, so are pertinent to this story. Mr. Singh also mentions that the Portuguese tin bazarucos of Malacca were called in and recoined with Dutch designs shortly after the territory changed hands, but that none of the Dutch coins have survived.
With the center of operations now being Batavia, the importance of Malacca declined, and it became an outpost rather than a key player. Despite some playing around with the idea of issuing coins during the 17th century, the VOC's governors found it more convenient to use Spanish cobs in trade. VOC coinage didn't really get off the ground until the 1720s, when production of the well known copper VOC duits began. These proved to be very popular throughout the islands and Malaya. Struck in large quantities, they are today among the most common and least expensive of 18th century coins. Struck by seven mints in the Netherlands, one can collect them by date with at least a theoretical possibility of completing a set. Though they were indeed used in Malaya, the vast majority of specimens available to collectors come out of the ground in Indonesia. Low grade pieces with corrosion are normal. Uncirculated of otherwise high grade specimens are rare, as are the off metal versions in silver, gold, etc., struck for contemporary collectors.
A series of silver coins - crowns and fractions - was also struck during the 18th century. These were not used very much, the Spanish dollar being preferred, and they are not so easy to find these days.
Meanwhile, as all this colonial activity was going on, a number of native kingdoms were in operation on the Malay peninsula, and Thailand was active in the north.
Everything numismatic relating to Indonesia derives from one of three places: Europe, China, or Malacca. Malayan history, for at least the last thousand years, has been the tale of local chieftains, occasionally in fief or tribute to a royal or imperial suzerain, but just as often in formal independence. Whatever their technical state, the local bosses were used to running their own shows.
When the Portuguese captured Malacca in 1511 the defeated Sultan retreated northeastward to his vassal state Pahang on the other coast. Pahang turned out to be not so safe, so he fled to his southern island, Bantan (now Indonesian Riau). The Portuguese came for him there too, so he fled yet again to Kampar on Sumatra, where he died (1527/8).
Two of the suns claimed the lost throne, and, there being no point in arguing about who was going to be the next sultan of Malacca, each went off to secure some of what remained of their father's patrimony for himself. Younger brother Alauddin seems to have set up marginally before elder brother Muzaffar. Alauddin opened for business in Johore, at the southern tip of the peninsula, where he could possibly be of annoyance to the Portuguese at some future time, should circumstances permit. Muzaffar went in the opposite direction, northwest to Perak.
The Malacca dynasty thus declined to the level of the local warlords who had formerly been in fief to them. In the 17th century there were five states with numismatic products: Johore, Perak, Pahang, Kelantan, and Kedah. To these would be added in the 18-19th centuries: Trengganu, Perlis, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Penang. Let's take a stroll through the coinage of these mini-states. Bear in mind as we gambol through the odd and curious that most of the big
business was being done with Spanish colonial silver and VOC duits.
According to Saran Singh in the 1986 edition of his Encyclopedia of the Coins of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei 1400-1986, there were no gold coins known from the old Malacca sultanate. But the very first of the Malaccas in Johore, Alauddin Riayat (1527/8-64), struck gold. These are handsome little items, well struck, in the style of contemporary Sumatran issues. Some of them are octagonal. The normal denomination is the kupang (about 0.6 grams), with the
occasional mas of 5 kupang. These little gold coins became a fixture of the market throughout the peninsula during the 16-17th centuries. Issued by a number of authorities and quantities of them having been put in the ground and never reclaimed, it is not hard the come up with "a kupang." It's more likely to be from Atjeh over in Sumatra than from the peninsula.
If the early Johore sultans were striking gold early on, they must have been coining tin back then too, because that is what they had been used to doing back in Malacca. But there is no actual proof that the first sultan, for example, coined tin. Actually, Singh presents a line drawing of a tin coin with legend "Sultan Alauddin..." but tells us that it belongs to the second of that name, not the first. All the tin coins are known as katun. There are many types of Johoran tin katuns, including some whose type consists of a single dot. None of them are commonly available, and both manufacture and objective grade are usually horrible. They generally cannot be dated closer than to the general period of 1527-1800.
The sultans here seem to have issued no gold. What we have is a variety of tin objects ranging from mere lumps through ingots in various shapes including animals, and even in the normal round and flat items we recognize as coins.
Singh mentions "foreign traders recorded" that tin was cast in standard ingots. The earliest ones were irregular or lens shaped, followed by ingots cast in sea shells, cones, and other simple shapes. This would have been a cottage industry, as tin can be rendered from its ore in an ordinary fire.
There is a series of ingots cast in ornate "mountain" shapes, which look rather religious to me, and conceivably served double duty as temple offerings. The most "common" type would be the "truncated pyramid," occasionally with floral patterns on the top, but "common" is only relative, because all these ingots are rare to the point of unavailability. The truncated pyramids seem to me to be royal. Singh's photos of some moulds show well made devices designed for multiple use.
The animal types are famous objects of desire among the odd-and-curious collectors, but they are not to be found. Contemporary accounts seem to indicate that they were mainstays of the markets in Perak and neighboring regions until the late 19th century, but all gone now. In 30 years I've seen them offered perhaps twice.
Most of the tin "coins" of Perak have round central holes. Most have floral designs. In terms of relative availability the Perak pitis are very rare.
This region north of Johore and south of Trengganu on the East Coast was par of the Malaccan Empire, governed since 1470 by an imperial offshoot that survived the fall of the Malacca sultan. Swept up in the mid-17th century advance of Atjeh, it went to Johore in the wake of its retreat. Johoran suzerainty lasted until 1853.
Singh lists a single gold coin that might have been a 17th century Pahangan item, but it was lost during World War II. Pahang is numismatically famous, though, as the home of the "tin hat money." These are cast squares of tin with a hollow truncated pyramid raised in the center. Inscribed on both sides, cast in several denominations, most dated with dates ranging from 1819-97, these are obviously what we would have to call "coins," not "primitive money." They should be in the Standard Catalog.
But then, practically speaking, it doesn't matter. There aren't any on the market. I owned a broken piece of one once.
There are no traditionally shaped coins of the Pahang government. There are tokens made by foreigners, mostly Chinese. I'll discuss these later.
This northern region, and yet more northerly neighbor Patani, have spent time under Thai control. Obtaining independence during the 15th century, it worked on its economy until conquered by Malacca in 1499. Malacca was overthrown in 1511, and general anarchy prevailed until the Thai reconquest of Patani in 1603. Kelantan, torn to bits by local warlords, became vassal to Patani, itself subject to Thailand.
More than 150 years later a charismatic warlord united Kelantan, but his new country was taken away from him by another warlord who had friends in Trengganu, the southern neighbor. This guy ruled for 30 years, after which direct rule from Trengganu was imposed. The new regime was unpopular, and resentment grew into revolt, which culminated in recognition of the local regime by Thailand in 1812. Patani, however, was annexed in 1831. The subsequent history is mixed up with the British, whom I'll discuss later.
Coin-wise, there are a number of gold kupangs and a few doubles. The major series include a) anepigraphic, b) bull or deer (take your pick), and c) floral pattern. An example could conceivably be found at a theoretically reasonable price, but the similar specimen from Atjeh is no problem.
There are also some silver and copper pieces to go along with the gold. All are rare.
Finally, there are the tin coins, called keping or pitis. All but the last of the series were cast with round central hole. Included in the Kelantan series are the two most common of the Malay native tin coins: the large, incuse legend pitis of 1896 (AH 1314), and the smaller relief pitis of 1904 (AH 1321). Modest quantities of the former, and large quantities of the latter have percolated through the market for the last two decades.
There is some mystery to these coins. It is known that the originals were subject to forging by contemporary crooks, and it is also known that, um, restrikes, so to speak, of some types were made for, er, the benefit of us collectors. Thus the little 1321 pitis have come to me in hard, weathered, tan and gray tin and in dull gray, bendable metal I could have sworn was lead. Of course I jumped to the normal conclusion and called the soft ones fakes, which went well with some earlier ones (1256, and undated) I had obtained (from Malaysia) in the same metal.
But no! When I talked to Scott about them he said people nowadays think the soft ones are real and the hard ones are the fakes. Explained why, too, but I can't remember the reasoning. I must have a mental block. Doesn't make sense. Tin is hard. Lead is soft. What do I know?
Anyway, more than just the two common coins can be found. Kelantan is, relatively speaking, the easiest state to collect.
Patani issues are generally similar to those of Kelantan, except that the coins seem to have been issued in smaller numbers to begin with, and the coins are eagerly sought after by Thai collectors, which latter fact as essentially put them beyond the reach of all but the most intrepid collector.
This state occupies the western coast at the latitude of Kelantan. Like Kelantan and Patani, it's history is bound up with northern neighbor Perlis, now part of Thailand. In ancient times it was said to have been the chief port for the shipment of Siamese elephants to the rest of the world. Kedah converted to Islam during the 12th century, and was evidently never under direct Malaccan control. Always under threat from Siam to the north, the sultans several times tried to get the British on their side during local disputes, and finally they struck a deal whereby the British were given the island of Penang in return for their promise to stick around and keep order. The way things eventually worked out, Siam got to keep northerly Perlis, while Kedah, nominally independent, huddled under the Union Jack.
From Kedah have been found the normal gold kupang, rarer than from other places, distinctly unusual (and extremely rare) copper and silver coins, and some rare tin. Oh yes, and the very cute "primitive" item: the tin cock-and-ring coins. These were made during 1710-73. I don't know how many rings were in the original casts. Extremely rare. Highly desirable.
Part of the Malacca Empire, Trengganu devolved to Johore, but the relationship was more formal than effective. Johore obtained the upper hand, however, and in 1725 a relative of the Johore sultan was enthroned in Trengganu. Siam meddled in Trengganu's internal affairs throughout the 19th century until they made a deal with the British in 1909.
Once again there are gold kupangs of the 18th century, and a series of tin coins running from the 18-20th centuries. The gold is rare. One or two, perhaps, of the early tin coins have some market presence, or at least I've seen them (ugly, corroded pieces with blank reverses). The "modern" style coins, issued since 1882 range from very scarce (most of them) to somewhat available (AH 1325 cent). This latter coin is probably more common in the market as a contemporary lead fake.
Selangor occupies the West Coast between Malacca and Perak. The region was settled by Bugis from Indonesia. Renowned seafarers, oft times pirates, these are the original "Boogiemen." The local Bugis dynasty was vassal to Malacca, and like the other northerly Malay states, experienced some overbearing behavior from Siam. Once again we see the rulers turning to the British for help. A succession of weak rulers permitted the development of anarchy in Selangor through the 19th century, and British influence grew.
In the early 19th century large deposits of tin were found. One find, near the confluence of two rivers, grew into the city of Kuala Lumpur, the present day capital.
Selangor seems to have used the ingots of neighboring Perak for the most part. Singh records a single tin pitis for the period 1770-1826, and no gold.
This region sits between Malacca and Selangor. Firmly held in the days of Malaccan hegemony, by the 18th century it had degenerated into a supposed confederacy of nine warlords who were constantly subjecting each other's citizens to armed bickering. The situation dragged on through the 19th century, when finally a guy, helped by the British, put together a workable government in time to join the British-inspired Federation, about which more later. Throughout its history none of the rulers in the region issued any coins.
During the later 18th century the British stated thinking about a permanent presence in Malaya, and started looking around for a suitable place to set up their headquarters. At first they thought that the northern island of Penang on the West Coast fit the bill, and when the sultan of Kedah requested British aid in 1785 to help with a local problem, it seemed at first provident that the sultan offered the lease of the island. An initial contract was concluded by the man on the scene, Captain Francis Light, and sent to the Governor-General in India, who accepted the contract in principle but sent it on to London for detail work.
A series of unpleasant negotiations dragged on until 1791, during which the sultan progressively lost ground, Capt. Light having physically taken possession of the island in 1786. Penang therefore became the first formal British settlement in Malaya. I'll discuss the coins later.
Rounding out the picture of the local coinages of Malaya are the Chinese tokens. Chinese have been immigrating into the Malay peninsula for centuries if not millennia, and though there was never such a thing as a Chinese "dynasty," the local leaders were hereditary, and exercised, after a fashion, the mint right. Thus we have (though we cannot readily collect) tin cash in the Chinese style from 16th century Malacca, and local Chinese style money is known from a bunch of locations through the end of the 19th century and possibly into the 20th.
The early Malaccan types are direct copies of Song Chinese coins cast in tin, and are essentially unobtainable. 19th century pieces are known from Johore, Trengganu, Pahang, Perak, and Kelantan. A few, mostly from Trengganu, have some market presence, and when you find them they are often fairly nice looking. A few types are supposed to have "an anti-forging wire" embedded in them, but as often as not there's no indication that it was ever there.
A DISTINCTLY BRITISH INFLUENCE
The British had been nosing around the Malay peninsula and neighboring islands throughout the 18th century, but the Dutch were the top dogs in the region, and besides, England was involved in conflicts with the French throughout much of the period. That conflict resolved in England's favor in the early 1770s, to be immediately replaced by another "problem," the rebellion of the American colonies. This latter conflict resolved, if not particularly advantageously, Britain finally, in the 1780s, finding itself with no pressing emergencies, was able to turn its attention to its neglected business in far flung places like Southeast Asia.
During the 1780s the British were dominant in India, but their presence in points east was ephemeral at best. Burma was powerful, Thailand was resurgent under the new, vigorous Bangkok dynasty, China was a nut as yet uncracked, Japan was closed, and the Spice Islands were in the hands of the Dutch. Could the British find a spot in East Asia where to rest their weary heads?
The northern Malay peninsula has always been under some degree of threat from its more northerly neighbors Burma and Thailand. The threat grew more apparent during the 1780s, what with the Burmese in a rampaging mood and the new dynasty in Bangkok. The sultan of Kedah, fearing for his skin, went looking for some help, and who should wander along but Captain Francis Light, in mind of a possible British base in the east. His eyes lighted on an island at the northern entrance to the Malaccan Strait, which happened to belong to the Kedah sultan. It looked like a good deal to both sides, and an agreement was concluded on the spot.
Captain Light proceeded to occupy the island in 1786, at the same time forwarding his treaty to the Governor-general of India, who dithered, temporized, delayed, and finally sent the contract off to London for further action. The sultan was displeased, and Captain Light's position became somewhat delicate. He made temporary arrangements; half of the profits to be delivered to the sultan, and business began to be done. Since the date of the formal proclamation of British occupancy, August 11, was the birthday of the Prince of Wales, the island was renamed in honor of his title. Administratively, the new settlement was attached to the office of the Governor-general in Bengal.
London finally got its act together and sent back an answer in 1788. The British proposal was, in essence, a denial of any military aid and a reduction of the lease payments for Penang from a 50/50 split to a pittance of 10,000 Spanish dollars per year for 8 years, after which ownership was to be transferred to the East India Company in perpetuity.
Naturally the sultan was sore. In addition to this insulting hardball offer, Captain Light had, in actuality, failed to deliver the stipulated 50% commission. His remonstrances being ignored, the sultan prepared his fleet for an attack in 1791. Captain Light moved first, however, destroying the fleet before it could act. The sultan folded, and accepted the final British offer of $6000 per year. Britannia had her base.
At the turn of the century it was decided that an island was rather vulnerable; where to go in the event of an attack from the tigerish regimes to the north? Some mainland territory was thought to be necessary, and a new representative was appointed by a new lieutenant-governor to negotiate with a new sultan for the rent of a small pocket of land on the Kedah coast directly across from Prince of Wales / Penang Island. The deal was for $10,000 Spanish per year for as long as Penang was occupied, and the new acquisition was named Province Wellesley after the then governor-general of the East India Company.
The EIC officials were thinking that Penang would become a major star in their corporate firmament, and in 1805 they raised its status to the presidential level, which brought it, in administrative terms, equal with the Indian presidencies. In 1826 they joined the other British bases in the region into a Presidency of the Straits Settlements, with Penang as capital. But the hoped for bloom of high profits did not materialize and they transferred the star status to Singapore a decade later.
All the coinage being essentially British in inspiration and origin, is fairly straightforward compared with the native stuff I dealt with last time. It starts with a nicely made copper, uniface and undated, in 1786, followed by a dated copper set the next year, and a silver set the next year. All were made at the Calcutta mint, and are advanced products for their time. All are scarce and rare, and usually turn up in high grade, which probably says something about the degree of their circulation. There are fakes, both contemporary and modern.
In 1800 none of these coins, or much of anything else, was available to grease the wheels of commerce. The local governor put out some nice, big, exotic looking emergency coins in tin, which were immediately overwhelmed with counterfeits and were withdrawn. Another governor tried the same trick with the same results in 1804, and yet a third in 1809. These coins are so rare, might as well forget about them. The next definitive set were the London coppers of 1810 You can find these coins, but they're not common. The same types, struck in 1825 and 1828, are perhaps a bit easier to locate.
The original Straits Settlements consisted of the three British bases of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. In the aftermath of the Indian Uprising of 1858 the East India Company's territories were taken over by the British Crown. The Straits Settlements were administered from India until 1867, when they were made a Crown Colony, thenceforth administered by London.
Other territories joined the Straits government. Labuan was first 1846, and, after a hiatus, again in 1906, Brunei. British North Borneo and Sarawak became protectorates in 1888, as well as the Keeling & Cocos Islands.
The Straits government extended "protection" to Selangor, Perak, Pahang, and Negri Sembilan during the 1870s, and in 1896 these states were formed into a unit called the "Federated Malay States." The other five native states: Johore, Kelantan, Perlis, Kedah, and Trengganu, were aggressively lobbied by the British, and by 1914 all had resident British advisors pulling their strings, thus bringing the entire peninsula and a big piece of Borneo under the Union Jack.
The Straits government was conquered by the Japanese in 1942 and was not revived after their expulsion in 1945, receiving its formal dissolution on April 1, 1946.
Straits coins, are, how shall I say it? Popular. Especially the 50¢ pieces in high grade. Can't find them. There are a lot of well-heeled collectors in Singapore, and more than a few in Malaysia, and they like those coins.
First issues by the East India Company in 1845 include the unusual denomination of ¼¢. They are not particularly common in low grade, and if you can find them at low prices it's your lucky day. High grades and proofs and such are theoretically available, but in practice don't even seem to make the auctions much. The same comments apply to the "India-Straits" coins of 1862.
The main run of regal coins proceeds from 1871 to 1935. There are a handful of rare dates that never show up. All the nice 50¢ are gone, disappeared into deepest Singapore, and what's left are low grades. The 20¢ coins are less heavily collected, so you will have better luck. 10¢ and 5¢ coins seem not to be under pressure from the East, and high grade common dates are fairly easy to come by. The coppers are generally no problem in circulated grades, but the
older dates in uncirculated, well, usually they turn out to be chocolate AUs.
As for the dollars, they do show up in uncirculated, though prices are high on the early, big ones. The dollars are the least of your problems. Though you will have no problem obtaining a circulated type set, dates and high grade are another matter, leading me to the conclusion that nice Straits Settlements coins are a little hard to collect right now. As partial consolation, there are a relative plenitude of contemporary fakes available, and always at reasonable prices!
We've been concentrating our attention on the Malay Peninsula so far, but things were cooking in that other hotbed of international activity: Borneo. Northern Borneo, that part which is currently Malaysian, had been owned by Brunei in the 17th century, but successive sultans mismanaged affairs, and the Brunei domain languished. In 1840 the sultan was faced with a rebellion in Sarawak. Who should arrive on the scene but the British adventurer James Brooke, with whose help the rebellion was quashed. In gratitude, he was created "Rajah of Sarawak" by the Brunei sultan in 1841.
Rajah Brooke proceeded to enlarge his domain in the following decades, was knighted by Queen Victoria, and died in 1868. Nephew and successor Rajah Charles J. continued to enlarge the Brooke holdings until it occupied much of the northern part of the island. The third rajah, Charles V., ruled until expropriated by the Japanese in 1941. After the war he found himself unable to finance a reconstruction, and ceded his territory to the British Crown as a Crown Colony.
The first numismatic item of the Brooke dynasty is the "badger keping" of 1841 with additional nonsense date of 1247 on reverse. This oddity arose through the use of an old Singapore merchant token die that happened to be available. These are pretty scarce, to say the least.
Regular coinage, all in copper, commenced in 1863. We have quarter, half, and whole cents. The smallest is the toughest, the largest is the easiest. High grades are possible, uncirculated is very difficult, and proofs are not to be found, by and large. More coppers were struck in from the 1870s-90s, with no impossible dates, and a similar availability profile as regards grades.
20th century base metal issues include bronze cents and half cents of the 1920s-30s, and copper-nickel cents, 5¢, and 10¢. There are two impossible dates, and a few of the later dates ( 1937 1¢ for example) can be found in BU.
Silver coins were made starting in 1900, and be careful, because the vast majority available have been removed from jewelry. The mount marks are usually very skillfully removed, to the point that the edge reeding is almost perfectly restored. Be careful with these coins, and if you find a restored piece that the dealer has neglected to describe, bang on the table until the price goes down.
BRITISH NORTH BORNEO
This region, the modern state of Sabah was formed in the late 19th century from bits and pieces carved out of the Brunei sultanate: the British island colony of Labuan, a failed American concession, and a failed concession originally started by an Austrian baron and subsequently taken over by his partners, the opium trading firm of Alfred Dent. They were amalgamated into one entity and granted in 1881 to a newly created British North Borneo Company. Crown Colony status was granted in 1888, though the Company continued to administrate. After the Japanese occupation ended in 1945 the Company was liquidated and administration transferred to the Crown.
The coins are all available; there are no impossible dates. High grades, and late date Uncs, are not uncommon, but examine the surfaces carefully for pits and corrosion spots. The silver 25¢ are frequently ex-jewelry, though the situation is not as bad as with the Sarawak silvers. Proofs pretty much never show up.
There was talk during the 1920s-30s of a unified Malayan currency, and a Board of Commissioners of Currency was formed in 1938. After the war the administrative system was overhauled and a Malayan Union formed in 1946. This entity was replaced by a Federation of Malaya in 1948.
Coins were issued starting in 1939, and continued through 1950, including some dated 1943 which could not have entered circulation earlier than the Japanese surrender of 1945. None of the coins are rare, except as proofs. In contrast with the Straits coinage, there is no outlandish collector pressure on the series.
MALAYA & BRITISH BORNEO
The coinage of the Malayan Federation used this title from 1953 until the independence of Malaysia a decade later. The coins are less common than they used to be, as is fitting with items that are becoming antique, but all are easy to find in uncirculated. Proofs, as usual, are rare. And there are errors on which the security feature on the edge is missing, but they don't turn up much, if at all.
The Federation of Malaya became independent in 1957. In 1963 Singapore joined the Federation to form Malaysia, but left after two years. A central bank had been formed in 1959 with sole authority to issue currency, but this provision was suspended temporarily to allow the situation to stabilize, and the Malaya & British Borneo currency continued in circulation. The M&BB coinage was last issued in 1961, and the Board of Commissioners of Currency closed down its
operations in 1967, the inaugural year for the Malaysian currency.
This is a normal modern coin series, with a full range of minor denominations in base metals. There are circulating dollars (they call them ringgits), some of which are commemoratives, special gold and silver collector items, and bullion products. It is hard to make a complete date set of minors over here in America, because the value of the coins is too low for dealers to bother getting them, and certainly collector interest is extremely moderate. The same applies to the commemoratives; not rare, but not so easy to find either, and this mostly due to market situations.
There is a lot of Malaysian exonumia. Throughout much of the 19th century and the pre-World War II 20th many private estates issued tokens for their workers. And there is more: hotel, casino, and racetrack items, and of course the various issues of the Chinese communities. More types are found from time to time, and many mysteries remain regarding where and when some of them were used. Most of them are at least scarce, and low grade and corroded items are normal.