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 of the
current mess.  Coins were issued last year, authorized by a government.  I
called the embassy in Washington to see who is supposed to be in charge.  The
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 the country
tears itself to pieces.  War is strange, isn't it?
 Liberia sits under the shoulder of West Africa,and is about the size of
the state of Ohio.  To the west lies poverty stricken Sierra Leone, northward is
equally poor Guinea, while east sits the Ivory Coast, economic powerhouse of
West Africa.  Aside from the swampy coast, most of the country is forested
hills.  It's hot and muggy most of the time.
 There is not much in the way of archeological literature for Liberia.
The West African coast is known to have been visited by Phoenician traders
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 records
at all.
 Notes on West Africa start appearing in the middle ages, written by
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 many
hundreds of miles inland.
 Islam pretty much stopped at the jungle, so Liberia, except for the most
northerly sectors, was not much influenced by that faith.
 The Portuguese explored the West African coast during the 15th century,
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, Dutch,
and English traders.  The entire West African coast became involved in the slave
trade during the 17th century, but activity on the Liberian stretch was light;
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 European
governments.  European and American manufactures were circulating; liquor,
tobacco, cloth, and metal, the most popular forms of which were pots, knives,
and guns.
 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, and
they, shall we say, mishandled the indigenous population, particularly the
coastal Krahn people.
 The Colonization Society did not give up, and by 1837 had advanced to the
stage of having to form a government.  By 1847 they thought their beneficiaries,
the freed slaves, were ready for nationhood, and the "independent" republics of
Liberia and Maryland were proclaimed.
 These were supposed to be African Americas, purified of slavery, but
otherwise recognizable.  There was a constitution, separation of powers,
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 until the
politics of the Civil War forced its hand in 1862.
 There was a basic problem in the Liberian scheme.  One looks back in
amazement at the undeniable fact that neither the colonizers nor the 25,000
colonists had any regard whatsoever for the indigenous peoples.  They were not
included in the constitutional scheme.  They were not made citizens, couldn't
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, and
it has worked out as it has in Liberia because the locals outnumbered the
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 with many
other countries, Liberia conducted international trade to its detriment in the
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.  One of
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 II, and
American money poured in.  Infrastructure was built, and after the war more
money was invested by interests in a number of countries.  Liberian terms were
favorable.  Labor was cheap.  Liberia prospered.
 The government figured out that there was money to be made being a ship's
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 ownership
of these vessals is practically nil.
 That basic Liberian problem remained: what about the natives?  There was
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 president in
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 money for
development.  Resentment simmered through his reign (he remained president until
his death in 1971) and beyond, until his successor, William S. Tolbert, was
assassinated one night in 1980.
 You see, the Americo-Liberian government had felt the need of an army,
and had staffed it with natives, all oblivious to the facts of history.  Elite
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.  Everyone was
amazed.  Liberia had been quiet for 130 years.  The status of the
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 to take
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 to
register ships, and many of the concessions have been operating more or less
normally.  "Who's responsible for what?" is a really interesting question in the
Liberian context.
 Collectors of "primitive" money love West Africa.  People there seemed to
develop a lot of what are called "standard trade items," or specific things
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, etc.  Usually
when you get a cowrie for your collection it will be a new "uncirculated" one
from Asia, but Scott Semans got in a batch of "used" ones from Liberia about 10
years back.
 Liberia is famous as the home of the "kissie penny," one of the few truly
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 and
the other sort of handle-like, hence their soubriquet "hoe money," which maybe
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 had to
trade their silver coins for bales of the iron sticks (and the bearers to carry
them) for trade in the interior.  They evidently remained useful until World War
 The 1833 Colonization Society 1 cent tokens are fairly common.  They come
in several varieties and in all grades, though uncirculated specimens are tough.
 The heavy module 1 and 2 cents of 1847 are also fairly easy to come by,
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.  The bronze
cent more or less followed the Canadian module, while the silver coins were set
to an odd weight lighter than any other country in the world at that time.
These are common in circulated grades, difficult in solid uncirculated, and rare
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 and dirt.
The three types were issued again in 1941, this time in copper-nickel.  The ½¢
is pretty common, but the 2¢ is a bit tough and the 1¢ s downright difficult.
Interestingly, all of these coins, 1937 and 1941 alike, are almost always found
in uncirculated.
 They didn't bother issuing coins again until 1960, at which point they ot
into the coin business for real, with a complete set of American style coins
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 5
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 tenacious
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 elusive.
 The dollar coin was added in 1961, making a 6-coin set (not officially so
issued) for that year, and repeated in 1962.  None of these coins are impossible
to find.  Some gold coins were struck in 1964 and 1965 to the personal
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, these sets
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 in its
Franklin Mint card.  (Look for little black chemical discolorations on the
edges.)  A client sent me a proof set want list once, containing, actually most
of the '70s dates.  I worked it for two years and found... none of them.
 What about gold?  1970 and '72 coins are not seen that often.  The 1972
gold $10 coin, virtually equivalent to the American coin, is not a particularly
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 have been
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 related
in price.
 All right.  Then there are the President Tolbert coins of 1976-79.  My
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 have seen
circulation, and are not a big presence in the market..
 He did, however, opt for a bunch of collector coins, starting with the
FAO fisheries coin in 1983 (copper-nickel version not so easy to find 13 years
later, silver uncommon, gold not seen), the disabled and scouting coins (not
particularly common), 1985 Women's Decade (uncommon), the silver ounces (hard to
find) and miscellaneous uncommon gold coins.  These are uncommon because they
were originally issued at high prices, thus were undersubscribed, and the
bullion related after-market prices have discouraged their disposition by the
original purchasers.
 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 were cheap
enough that they all sold out and now you have to go search for them.  The
silver and gold items are difficult due to their to my mind excessive issue
 So that's Liberian numismatics in a nutshell.  Peace loving collectors
hope and pray for an end to the craziness, the restoration of order, and some
future reintroduction of a regular circulating coinage.