Last time we talked about Malta - a tiny place, a bit over 100 square miles.  Well, the Marshalls add up to more territory, almost 200, but it's spread out in tiny islands over about half a million square miles of the blue Pacific Ocean.  My encyclopedia tells me that somewhat more than 40,000 people are resident, that half of them live in two urban centers, and you and I know
what they use for money over there, don't we?
    Look.  It's not their fault.  They couldn't redeem those coins.  There's not enough money in the country.  It's the fault of those guys out in Wyoming, if it's anyone's, for smart talking a neophyte country into a bad deal.  And, at the time, at least at first, it seemed to be working.
    I shall explain.  Let's start at the beginning.
    The Republic of the Marshall Islands consists of more than 1000 low coral islands formed into atolls surrounding lagoons.  Typical high points are 50 feet above sea level.  The southern islands get a lot of rain, the north is drier, and largely lacking in ground water.  Vegetation is limited, dominated by coconut, breadfruit, and pandanus.  There is nothing much in the way of
minables.  On most of the islands even stones are scarce.  If you live there you're going to eat a lot of fish.  And you're going to be isolated, and "poor."  That's what life is on the out islands.
    Withal, a true tropical paradise.  Plenty of food, lovely climate, everything they could possibly need when the first people arrived perhaps 5,000 years ago.  Where did they come from?  We'll probably have the answer in a couple more years when someone studies the genetic drift in the Pacific islands.
    People came to these islands without pottery, or metal work, or the bow and arrow, and they never developed those tools.  They worked in stone when they could get it, but their main tooling materials were shell and bone.  Whatever developments occurred over 4,500 years have left no material relics.
    Skip to the 16th century.  In 1521 Magellan put in at Guam, in the Mariannas, 1200 miles west of Eniwetok atoll, now a far western outpost of the Marshalls.  So he probably knew about them, but his informants undoubtedly told him there was nothing there.  The Spanish continued to find Guam convenient, and they annexed it in 1565.  They treated the natives in their traditional abusive way, the natives rebelled, and were decimated as usual.  But that's another story.  The Spanish claimed the Carolines, to the south and east of Guam, but they didn't actually do anything there.  In the Marshalls there was no foreign presence whatsoever.
    A British captain named John Marshall visited in 1788, and his name came to be attached to the islands, though Britain never sought to establish a claim.
    In the 19th century traders and missionaries from Europe and America spread out all over the world, looking for profits to be made and souls to be saved, and eventually they arrived in the Marshalls.  German traders came to predominate, and in 1886 the German government declared a "protectorate" to protect them.
    In numismatic terms, we really have no idea what was going on in thePacific islands before the 17th century, and then only scraps of description until very recently.  The traditional trade items "still" in use in the 19th century had the aura of picturesque survivals of vast antiquity, but they could just as well have been modern fads.  Whatever the truth of the unknowable past, the Europeans found a well developed trading system among the islands, with local specialty products moving great distances.  Some of these items were used as standard values in certain places, so that we can make a case for calling them "money," or something like it.
    The bibliography on "primitive money" is not large.  The two books in my library are "Odd and Curious Money," by Charles Opitz, which is a valuable catalog of what's out there, but which must of necessity give short shrift to the vital background, and "A Survey of Primitive Money," by A. Hingston Quiggin, which is something of a bible to the field. Quiggin says (in 1948) that in the Marshalls they liked to trade lanyards of woven black and white palm leaf strips called ihrik, standard shell money strands, tekaroro shell strands, and fishhooks.
    I've never seen ihrik.  The shell money strands are about 20 inches long, made of a few hundred tiny circular beads strung parallel in a stack.  They come in more valuable "red" (really pink), less valuable "white," and mixes.  Old ones were strung on handmade twine.  They were still making these for use in the Solomon Islands, 1200 miles southwest, during the 1980s, but
they were stringing them on nylon fishing line.  They had function in a lot of local transactions, like land sales, which were done in dollars and shell money.  At least that's what they told me when I bought them at the going rate of $20.00 a piece for a "mostly white."
    Tekaroro is a shell money strand made of alternating white shell beads and brown coconut.  In contrast with the standard length shell money, tekaroro was made and measured by the fathom - the length of the outstretched arms of
one or other of the involved traders.  I obtained a couple of feet of tekaroro from a bloke in Australia once.  That well appears to have gone dry.
    The fishhooks are large items with very impressive barbs, usually made of pearl oyster shell, and tied to a stout, wooden shank.  I got a few from the Solomons.  Very nice items.  Not particularly cheap, and long gone from my inventory.  And that fellow has moved back to the States and changed his name.
    There are also shell rings made of conus, and other, larger ones made of the tridacna, or giant clam.  These things are valuable, and tend to be expensive should you try to get one on the collector market.  This discussion notwithstanding, approximately none of the Micronesian "primitive money" that shows up on the market is from the Marshalls.  Most of  it seems to hail from the Solomons. or points west.
    These traditional manufactures began to become obsolete with the introduction of western trade goods in the 19th century.  Metal knives, axes, pots and pans, cloth, trade tobacco, and so forth became the standards by which values were judged, and more and more, the old trade items became restricted to ritual use in bride purchase and such.
    Japan picked the winning side in World War I, and no sooner had hostilities commenced than it set out to capture the German possessions in the Pacific.  The Marshalls were taken in 1914, and Japan continued to administer them under a League of Nations mandate during the interwar period.  Captured by American troops in 1944, they were made into a so-called "Trust Territory" by the UN, to be administered by the USA.
    American development of the islands was minimal.  From 1946 a number of atomic and hydrogen bomb tests were performed on Bikini and Eniwetok atolls.  I suppose the logic of the decision to have those tests there was inescapable
at the time - those islands are very far away from anyplace else.  The two islands were evacuated, and the people set up in camps elsewhere.  The tests ended in 1962, but the islands were contaminated and the people could not return.  Some of those camps stayed open for decades.  Not a pleasant story.
    During the '70s the strategic usefulness of the islands to the USA seemed to diminish.  At the same time, thoughts of self-determination were becoming strong in the Pacific.  The Marshallese looked at the mixed bag that was American trusteeship and thought they had a moral card to play, because the Americans had indubitably made a mess out of some of the islands.
    Negotiations led to the promulgation of a constitution in 1979, and a "Compact of Free Association" was drawn up between the Trust Territory and the USA in 1982.  The terms allowed the continuation of an American missile testing range on Kwajalein atoll, for ongoing, partly reparational support payments on the part of the Americans, and the USA to handle defense needs, if any.  The compact was ratified on both sides, independence was proclaimed in 1988, and the Trusteeship was formally terminated in 1990.
    In 1988 I got a piece of promotional material from an outfit in Wyoming.  They had been designated the sole agent for the coins of the new Republic of the Marshall Islands.  The coin was a copper-nickel $5 piece, which was being sold at face value plus shipping and handling of $1.50 per coin.  Total price $6.50.  Strictly limited to five coins per customer.
    I got probably five or more of these flyers.  $6.50 was a bit much for a copper-nickel crown at the time.  We were used to those big, cheap 25 pence the British Commonwealth was putting out, though actually they had inflated to 50 pence by then.  Now of course you pay $8.50 for such things, and don't bat an eye.  But back then it was high.
    Still, it was a new country, and dealers like me can do well with new countries if the coins are cheap enough.  I ordered a total of 20 coins as Bob Reis, Robert Reis, R. A. Reis, etc.  I got them all.  They sold too.  I made a cool $2.00 or so per coin.  Welcome Marshall Islands to the community of nations.  Welcome their legal tender coins to your one-of-every-country
    You and I know that the only money in the Marshalls is American.  We've always known that.  It doesn't matter.  Like Bosnia-Herzogovina, and Eritrea, we know they don't use the coins over there, but we put up with it, because they're pretty, they fill a space in the concept we're collecting.  As long as they're cheap enough.
    Well, the next coin was the 1989 "space" $50.00.  Again, only minimal shipping costs.  But I've always had, and continue to have strong reservations about silver dollars with issue prices over $30.00, which is most of them these days, I admit, but there's no good reason to go ten times the bullion value and keep on calling them coins.
    So I didn't buy them.  Never participated at that level.  I bought the moonwalk $5 in 1989, and then dropped out of the program.  JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.
    Now, I can't understand why anyone went for the $50.00 coins.  By the time the tenth one was issued in mid-1989 it became obvious that this was going to be a rival to the Isle of Man in coin issues.  The public got out of Marshall Islands coins in a hurry.  Sales plummeted.  The result being that while the "space" coins are reasonably easy to collect, and the Discovery
coins are a glut, the rest of the coins are SCARCE and, to my mind, DESIRABLE.
    Now the latest scandal about this mishandled promotion is that the Marshalls doesn't want them back.  Well, you wouldn't either.  They're afraid of 20,000 of them coming home.  A million dollars is a whole lot of money in the Marshalls.  I don't know what the government's cut was on those coins, but I guarantee you it wasn't much.
    None of this had to happen.  If they had made them $10.00 coins instead of $50.00 everything would have been fine.  Meanwhile, you can't find anything other than the depreciated space coins.  For six months I offered 80-100% of
catalog for all the base metal coins, and SOMETHING for silver coins other than the space series.  Nothing much appeared.  I had the Elvis $10.00.  Sold it high.  People are always asking me about the Marilyn Monroe coins.  Sorry, I tell them.  Can't get them.