FROM A to Z SERIES
The teaching of geography may be holding its own
in American schools. I asked my 13 year old: "Where's Mozambique?"
After only a few seconds on pondering he answered correctly: "Africa(?)"
I had occasion to be unexpectedly pleased.
Probably most Americans know precious little else
about this East African nation. As large as Texas and, say, Virginia
combined, it tends to slip away from the few newshounds who follow African
affairs for two reasons:
1. no strategic resources
2. they don't speak English.
Even among the numismatists there is some tendency
to overlook the products of Mozambique. I have noticed a strong growth
of general interest in Portuguese colonial coins over the last several
years. Timor and Macao lead, followed by Portuguese India, Portuguese
Guinea, St. Thomas and Prince, Cape Verde, and Angola. I gauge interest
by shrinkage in my inventory. Mozambique trails the pack - still
some left - an opportunity for the venturesome. Let us then examine
this unjustly neglected area of the world, briefly reviewing its geographical
and historical details, and discussing its scanty numismatic relics.
Most of Mozambique lies north of the Tropic of Cancer.
It is faced on north, west, and south by former English colonies Tanzania,
Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Swaziland. Madagascar
lies a few hundred miles offshore. The southern provinces: Gaza,
Inhambane, and Manica, are lowlands with relatively poor soil and usually
inadequate rainfall. Lowlands proceed up the coast of course, with
average rainfall increasing northwards. Highlands begin in northern
Manica and proceed through central Sofala to the northern provinces, where
the country bifurcates into western, mountainous Tete, and
eastern Zambezia, Nampula, Cabo Delgado, and Niassa. The two
northern horns are inconveniently separated by Malawi and a big lake, named
Lake Niassa in Mozambique and Lake Malawi across the border.
There is no oil, no diamonds, no uranium.
There is plenty of low grade coal, but exploitation has been minimized
by politics. There are other potential resources in the ground, but
they have not been brought forth to any great degree. Almost the
entire country is engaged in agriculture, most of it at a subsistence level.
Paleolithic relics have been recovered from Mozambique,
and, as the oldest hominid fossils were found about a thousand miles north,
it is reasonable to assume occupation by humans or humanoids for more than
a million years. For many thousands of years the region was roamed
by nomadic Khoisan peoples, who left hardly anything in the way of an archeological
Starting around 300 CE Bantu peoples started migrating
southward from what is now Kenya and Sudan. These people brought
with them the habit of herding goats and cattle, garden agriculture, and,
most importantly, ironworking. Bantu infiltration continued through
the 19th century, pushing the Khoisan west and south, until today they
are virtually absent from the Mozambican scene.
The coastal Bantu found themselves in contact with
Indonesian, Indian, Persian, and Arab traders, who were trading spices,
Chinese porcelain, weapons, gold, ivory, slaves, etc. across the Indian
Ocean. The last three formed the Mozambican contribution - the gold
from the western region, slaves from anywhere, and there were plenty of
elephants. This trade was being
conducted a thousand years ago, and probably was going on a thousand
years before that. There was a major migration from Indonesia to
nearby Madagascar about two millennia ago, and it seems unreasonable to
assume that none of these adventurers made it to the mainland, thereafter
to send back the ivory and gold of the country to their compatriots across
Arab traders settled all along the East African
coast, and their some of their posts became city states. Inland there
was some tendency toward consolidation of political power into larger states.
In particular, the Shona state of Mwanamutapa flourished in the 14th century
in the Zambezi River valley, comprising the eastern region of modern Zimbabwe
and neighboring western
Mozambique. These were the people who built the famous fortress
town that is the national treasure of Zimbabwe. Their descendants,
a few centuries later, may be related to the well known "x"-shaped copper
ingots known among the primitive money collectors as "Katanga crosses."
These things, in various sizes, are not impossible to find in today's market,
but my feeling is that none of them hail from Mozambique.
The Arabs, Persians, Indians, etc. used coins in
their homelands, but not in their trade in East Africa. There cattle
were king, and business was conducted by barter with value calculated in
relation to wealth-on-the-hoof. East Africa is rather notorious among
the primitive money collectors as being practically devoid of picturesque
pseudo-money items, and for Mozambique
there is not even so much as a cowrie tradition. Cowries are
native to the coast there, and in later centuries the European traders
would load up their boats with the shells and take them around the Cape
of Good Hope and on to West Africa, where they were worth something.
But in Mozambique they were just a commodity.
The first of those Europeans in the region was the
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who stopped for provisioning on the
Mozambique shore in 1497. Their goal being to seize the Indian Ocean
spice trade from the Arabs, they quickly set out to set up strategic bases
at the eastern, central, and western termini of the circuit. Accordingly,
they first seized Goa in southern India, then got themselves a foothold
Mozambique, and finally they destroyed the sultanate of Malacca off the
Malayan coast, effectively cutting the direct overseas Arab supply lines
and thereafter restricting their activities to coastal trade.
The first Portuguese settlement of any size was
Beira, established in 1505, and a major fortress on Mozambique Island in
1558, by which time the Portuguese Indian Ocean trade monopoly was being
challenged by the Dutch and English. In Mozambique, Portuguese adventurers
were drawn inland towards the Mwanamaputapa gold. Settling on large
estates called "prazos," defended by slave armies, they established a claim
to the interior for the Portuguese crown, though there was not a shred
of control by the home government. Indeed, the prazeros adopted African
ways, and became, in time, indistinguishable from their native neighbors,
save for their custom of maintaining large armies of slaves. The
presence of the prazeros became a
useful pretext later, when Portugal was trying to consolidate a colony.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese were losing out in the
global trade business to the aforementioned Dutch and English, and in colonial
exploitation to their Iberian cousins the Spanish. During the 17th
century they lost ground in Mozambique to the Shona, Makwa-Lombe, Makonde,
and Yao, and found themselves restricted to the coast and western Tete
province. In the 18th
century they established small settlements in the south at Inhambane
and Lourenco Marques, the latter eventually growing into a city which,
under the name of Maputo, is now the national capital.
At the beginning of the 18th century ivory was the
main export, but by the 19th it had been eclipsed by the slave trade.
Of course, this business occasioned a massive disruption of the region,
so many people being taken out of circulation. By the mid-19th century
large areas of the coast had been practically depopulated.
Coinage use in Mozambique was restricted to the
Europeans before the late 19th century. While coinage was struck
in Portugal for Angola at the end of the 17th century, issues for more
distant Mozambique didn't get their own special money until 1706 at the
earliest. These would be undated coppers with M-E on them, values
in Arabic numerals (as opposed to Roman for metropolitan issues) for 10,
15, and 30 reis. These coins are quite hard to find, and there is
a strong pull back to Portugal, where a lot of collectors really want to
A dated silver issue, struck between 1735 and 1743,
is even harder to find, with SCWC prices starting at three figures, and
whenever these rare coins show up they will fetch far more. A third
18th century series, dated 1755, includes gold coins, which are hardly
As I've mentioned many times before in these articles,
the world's coinage needs during the 18th century were served overwhelmingly
by Spanish colonial coins, and these turned up in Mozambique as well as
everywhere else. In 1767 a validation countermark was authorized
consisting of an "MR" monogram. These coins make their appearance
in auctions with moderate frequency. Usually the mark is on Mexican
pillar dollars, occasionally on other coins, including cobs. I have
no data or stories to tell, but I think it is always useful to keep the
possibility of fakery in mind when considering 18th century countermarks.
During the 1820s the southern region was invaded
by the Ngoni people, who set up a state in Gaza, and harrying the prazeros
in the Zambezi River basin. Partially as a consequence of their raids,
and partially because of emerging opportunities, men began to migrate south
into the Natal region of South Africa, where jobs were available at the
newly developed sugar
plantations. Additional migrations were spurred by the developing
mining industry in Transvaal.
Copper coinage was issued for use in Mozambique
in 1820, 1840, and 1853. Similar in module and design to homeland
issues, they circulated interchangeably with the homeland issues, and today
are not too hard to find, except that they are heavily collected in Portugal,
so that prices are tending higher than the SCWC indicates. Uncirculated
is probably an impossible dream
for these coins, though the odd extremely fine will be found.
Of more inherent interest than the homeland mimic coppers are the
peculiarly Mozambican silver and gold ingots of 1835-47. Made
locally for local use, these rectangular objects circulated until the 1890s,
their value fluctuating with local prices. Today the silver ones
are rare and you need to be careful of fakes. Gold ingots turn up
a little more often, at appropriately high prices, and they are rare enough
that you will have very little to compare them with when you try to decide
if you're holding a real one in your hand.
The Maria Theresia thaler became popular in East
Africa during the 19th century, with Mozambique forming the southernmost
limit of their range. Also widespread along the East African coast
was the Indian rupee. In 1889 circulating non-Portuguese silver coins
were ordered countermarked, first with a crowned "PM," and then, following
the accession of a new king in Portugal, with an uncrowned :PM."
These countermarked coins, usually Maria Theresia thalers, show up with
moderate frequency in the market, always at prices above catalog quotes.
I am fairly certain that these countermarks are subjects of the forger's
Colonial fever hit Europe late in the 19th century,
and Portugal began to take an interest in seriously organizing its territories.
During the 1880s the government moved against the outlaw prazeros, finally
breaking their power by the close of that decade. And the Gaza state
was eliminated by 1895. But the dream of extending Portuguese authority
across the continent and uniting
Mozambique with Angola was thwarted by the British, and the current
boundaries of the country were set by treaty in 1891.
Portugal was always the poorest of the colonial
powers, and had always looked for ways to run their operations on the cheap.
The usual procedure was to lease charters to private parties. The
early delegation of authority gave rise to the outlaw prazeros, who turned
out to be more trouble than they were worth.
In the late 19th century the government pinned its
hopes on corporations, granting large territories to the Mozambique, Zambezia,
and Nyassa companies. These companies established mines and plantations
in their domains, utilizing forced labor to get the work done. So
vicious were their methods that within a few years over 100,000 people
had fled from the Nyassa plantations into German East Africa, where conditions
were only slightly better.
Though the companies were Portuguese, most of the
capital, and the industrial machinery, came from Britain. A numismatic
reflection of this relationship is seen in the extremely rare patterns
for the Nyassa Company struck in Birmingham.
The modern history of Mozambique is intimately tied
to the of South Africa. The discovery of gold in the Transvaal in
the 1880s, and the development of industry and agriculture that resulted,
created an ongoing need for manual labor that could not be met within the
borders of the British region. Mozambican workers were drawn like
moths to a flame. So many left that things didn't get done back home
and the economy there languished.
Portugal thought about what to do for a couple of
decades, then entered into negotiations with the British. The result,
enshrined in treaties signed in 1909 and 1928, was a deal by which a percentage
of South African shipping would be routed through Lourenco Marques (modern
Maputo). There was also a cute provision stipulating that part of
the workers' wages would be paid in gold and remitted directly to Portugal,
which would then pay the workers in turn. Portugal paid the workers
on their return home in Portuguese money, at a rate set by the government.
The result was a significant loss for the workers and a gain for the Portuguese
treasury. But exploitation was what the colonies were for, wasn't
The Portuguese monarchy was abolished in 1910 in
favor of a parliamentary government, which proved to be unstable and was
overthrown in 1926 by a military coup. Faced with a very messy fiscal
and social situation the new government clamped down on the people and
squeezed the economy. Of course the colonies were squeezed harder.
That's what they were for.
In Mozambique the new get-tough policy meant that
agriculture was directed by quotas for exportable products set in Lisbon
and enforced by soldiers. Production of food for local use was neglected,
and famine resulted. During the 1930s-40s hundreds of thousands of
people fled to Rhodesia and South Africa.
In the midst of this officially sanctioned disorder
Lisbon decided to inaugurate a regular coinage for Mozambique. Maybe
it wouldn't do much for the situation overseas, who knows, but it would
mean more work for the Lisbon mint. A pair of silver coins was struck
in 1935, and the rest of the denomination set followed the year after,
making for a range of coins roughly equivalent to British farthing through
florin. These coins are easy enough to find in circulated, but are
very tough in true uncirculated. They have rather flat designs, and
there is often a tendency to soft strikes, so one can be fooled by AU pieces
hopefully misgraded. I've also seen several uncirculated coppers
that were cleaned, and some of the copper-nickel coins had tiny pits.
Overall it seems to be a series that hasn't worn well. Prices for
top grades are higher in Portugal than here.
Where do these coins come from? Obviously
there was traffic back and forth between Portugal and the colonies, and
people would bring some of the colonial money back with them as pocket
change. But the volume of material available leads me to believe
that more than a few slipped out of the mint at Lisbon. The Mozambican
coinage had the same module as the homeland coinage, and would have circulated
Silver coins were struck in 1938 in denominations
of 2½, 5, and 10 escudos. This is a tough year. The
coins are hard to find in any grade, and perhaps I've never seen any in
uncirculated. Underpriced in the SCWC, I think. There was one
coin in 1941, a 20 centavos. Also a very tough coin. Never
had one. Same goes for the 1942 10 centavos, very hard to find, though
the 2½ escudos of the same year is perhaps not quite so elusive.
Two coins were made for 1945 - a 50 centavos and
an excudo, both in bronze. These are somewhat more common than preceding
issues, though still scarcer, I think, than the 1935 and 1936 coins, and
still quite elusive in uncirculated.
1949 saw the release of a bronze 20 centavos and
a silver 5 escudos. These coins are considerably easier to find in
uncirculated than previous issues, though I wouldn't by any means call
them common. In circulated grades they're no problem.
1950 was a relatively big coin year, with the bronze
20 centavos, 50 centavos and 1 escudo in new and experimental nickel-bronze
(didn't work so well, spots are common), and a silver 2½ escudos.
These coins are neither rare nor common in circulated grades. Uncirculated
pieces will be difficult. The 50 centavos and escudo were repeated
in 1951. Same comments relative to availability.
For 1952 there were three coins - a 2½ escudos,
newly debased from silver to copper-nickel, a 5 escudos of smaller size
and lower fineness, and a new denomination; the 20 escudos. The small
ones are tough in uncirculated, findable in circulated. The 20e is
common in uncirculated, the first Mozambican coin in that category.
We can go year by year with this country because
there really aren't that many coins. 1953 - reduced size 50 centavos
and 2.5 escudos, same comments as for 1952. 1954 - 2½ and
10 escudos, of "normal" availability (findable in circulated, difficult
in uncirculated). 1955 - 2½ and 10 escudos, both
of "normal" availabilty, and 20 escudos, more common even than the 1952.
1956 - nothing. 1957 - 50 centavos and 1 escudo, of normal availability.
No more coins until 1960, when a 10 centavos was presented to the eager
Mozambican public for the first time since World War II, along with 5,
10, and 20 escudos, all common in any grade.
1961 - 10 and 20 centavos, both common in any grade.
1962 and 1963 - only 1 escudos, curiously difficult to find. 1965
- 1 and 2¼ escudos, ditto. 1966 - reduced fineness 10 and
20 escudos, common, but less so than the 1960 coins.
1968 - 1 and 10 escudos, the latter in copper-nickel,
availability: "normal." 1969 - nothing. 1970 - 10 escudos,
availability not too bad. 1971 - 5 and 20 escudos, "normal" availability.
1972 - 20 escudos only, availability "normal." 1973 - tiny little
20 centavos, 50 centavos, 1, 2½ and 5 escudos. The 20 centavos
is notably scarce, the others are "normal."
1974 - again the 20 and 50 centavos, and a 10 escudos.
Again, the 20 centavos is scarce, the others are "normal."
And that's the end of the colonial series.
Portugal quit the following year.
How did the demise of the colonial regime come about?
After the end of World War II a wave of anticolonialist thought swept the
world. Several Nationalist groups were formed by Mozambican exiles
in neighboring countries. Portugal would not negotiate, responding
instead by imposing military law in the colony.
In 1962 three of the groups united to form the Mozambique
Liberation Front, better know by its acronym Frelimo. Two years later
this group launched a war for liberation. Though Portugal had 30,000
troops on site and recieved aid from NATO, South Africa, and Rhodesia,
Frelimo was soon in control of a good chunk of territory in the northern
Similar wars sprang up in Portuguese Guinea and
Angola, draining the Portuguese treasury and promoting unrest at home.
In the spring of 1974 a military coup overthrew the dictatorship in Portugal
and immediately opened negotiations with Frelimo. A provisional government
was organized in September, and independence was achieved in June, 1975.
Frelimo had become radicalized by the independence
struggle, and decided that it wanted to develop in a "socialist" direction.
This stance precipitated a massive flight of Europeans and Indians, who
had made up almost all of the administrative and business class.
These people took their money with them, so the new government, with no
money and no trained personnel, was effectively crippled from the start.
South Africa did not take kindly to the new direction, and responded by
severely limiting both the import of workers from Mozambique and transshipment
of goods through the port of Maputo.
The Frelimo government turned for assistance to
the Soviet Union, which was a poor choice under the circumstances, that
poor nation having not much to give besides war materiel. Production
and trade suffered a precitous decline after independence. Nevertheless,
efforts were made to extend education and health care throughout the country,
and great strides were made in the face of enormous difficulties.
Mozambique's policy of ideological resistance to
the racialist regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa caused it to give sanctuary
to rebels fighting for change in those countries. To put pressure
on Frelimo to change this policy, first Rhodesia and then South Africa
promoted and supplied a proxy rebel army to maraud around in Mozambique.
This bunch of mercenaries caused tremendous damage for more than a decade.
In 1984 Mozambique signed a treaty with South Africa (Rhodesia having left
the conflict after the demise of its racialist regime and the birth of
independent Zimbabwe) by which each country
agreed to stop supplying rebels fighting against the other nation's
government. Mozambique complied thoroughly, expelling the African
National Congress, but South Africa continued to sponsor the Mozambican
Mozambique staggered on through the 80s, gradually
attracting a small degree of sympathy from the outside world. In
1990 it officially abandoned Marxism, and with the end of apartheid in
South Africa the guerillas lost their sponsor. Negotiations were
begun to effect a reconciliation, but even now there are disaffected elements,
and general security has not been attained.
As for the money of independent Mozambique, the
first emissions were paper money of the Provisional Government, overprinted
on notes of the last colonial issue. Evidently most of them were
not used, as they are extremely common and cheap in uncirculated.
Inflation has been a constant fact of life in independent Mozambique, and
paper money has formed the main medium of exchange since the last years
of the colony.
The new government immediately cut it's tie to the
Portuguese escudo and established a controlled currency after the fashion
of the Soviet Union, called the metica. A 1975 issue, the minors
called "centimos," was never released and is very rare. I had most
of the set once, had to pay through the nose for them, took a long time
to sell because who wants to pay $175 (at the
time) for a tiny modern aluminum coin? I think that possibly
the entire issue is still sitting in a bank vault in Maputo, waiting for
someone to sweet talk the bank president into releasing them.
Five years of coinlessness ensued before the release
of a definitive set in 1980, the smaller denominations in aluminum, the
larger in copper-nickel. These coins actually did circulate, at least
the higher denominations, which can be found with heavy wear. They
are not common though, and must have formed only a tiny fraction of the
money supply. The types were reissued in 1986, that time all in aluminum,
with the addition of a large 50 meticais. These are not easy to find
either, though a small quantity seems to have been exported for collectors.
A few were made up into sets with a cancelled stamp for the "Coin
Sets of All Nations" marketing effort.
The government began issuing commemoratives to earn
a spot of foreign exchange. The first of these was a patriotic silver
and gold pair for the fifth anniversary of independence - hard to find.
Next was a 50 meticais for the FAO - World Fisheries Conference in 1983,
relatively common in copper-nickel and silver, never seen in its gold version.
A tenth anniversary 250 meticais, though less often seen than the fisheries
coin, is not uncommon in dealer stocks in both copper-nickel and silver
versions, though the same cannot be said of the companion gold coin, of
which only 100 were made.
Pope John Paul II visited Mozambique in 1988, the
event memorialized in a 1000 meticais crown. The copper-nickel version
is the most commonly seen coin of independent Mozambique, though the silver
coin is tough.
Three animals crowns issued in 1989 and 1990, the
last issues of the People's Republic, are hard to find.
Under the "Republica da Mocambique," a set of coins,
supposedly meant for circulation, was issued in 1994. The inflation
factor is obvious. I've had the 500 and 1000 meticais coins, with
exchange values of 10 and 20 cents at the time, but the smaller denominations
were worthless even in the Mozambican context, and my supplier was unable
to obtain them. A trio of overpriced silver soccer commemoratives
issued that same year was poorly distributed and are never seen.
How about the specials? The Lisbon mint has
had a long habit of issuing sample coins stamped "PROVA." Virtually
all of the coins of the Mozambique colony are known thus. Prices
for these are higher in Portugal than here by a factor of three or so,
and you'd be extremely unlikely to run into any beyond the Lusitanian border.
The smattering of patterns, the odd 1983 fisheries piedfort, and the 1975
and 1980 sets are no-see-ums as well.
This poor country has not had a break in over three
centuries. It really deserves one.