For the most part the inhabitants of South African carried out their extensive trading activities by barter. It is interesting though that on the coast of Pondoland both Roman and Egyptian coins dating back 2200 years have been found, as well as Venetian coins of the 1200’s by the first Portugese explorers.
The Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company
In 1652, when Jan van Riebeeck founded the settlement at the Cape, the Spanish dollar 8 Real was the basic coin in use in the Netherlands. The VOC received from Spain permission to use similar pieces of eight but with different designs for trade with the East.
In 1681 the guilder and its multiples were introduced in the Cape. About this time the real was replaced by the rix-dollar. In 1726 copper doits began to be struck for the VOC as well as silver ducatoons and guilders.
The English East India Company had also set into circulation Indian silver rupees as well as gold pagodas and mohurs. Besides these coins Japanese koban, English guinea, Portuguese joannes, Russian roubles and several other nationalities’ coins are mentioned in the tariffs.
The First British Occupation
By 1795 there was a perpetual shortage of small change. The cartwheel pennies of 1797 were introduced in 1800 and were declared current at two stuivers.
The Batavian Republic
In 1803 the Batavian Republic which had taken the place of the Dutch East India Company tool over the task of reforming the Cape currency. They proposed the guilder be made the standard coin of the Cape and legal tender be confined to the ducatoon, daalder, guilder and doit. The usefulness of British copper had however by now spread itself through the Colony.
The Second British Occupation
In 1806, to ease the scarcity of small coins, the ship guilder coins were put into circulation. A further supply of shillings and pennies were circulated and the Spanish dabloon of sixteen dollars is mentioned for the first time. Troops continued to be paid in Spanish dollars.
In Griqualand in 1815 four denominations of coins were put into circulation. A silver ten and five pence and bronze half penny and farthing were circulated – however the experiment was not a success and these were withdrawn. Patterns were later struck in 1890.
Own coinage for the Cape Colony was proposed in 1823. This came to nothing as British Government planning was to put the currency of all its colonies on a sterling basis – which it did in the Cape with effect from 1826. When the supply of British coinage was insufficient for paying garrison troops other silver coinage such as Spanish dollars, Sicilian dollars, United State dollars, French francs and Indian rupees were also used. Sydney mint sovereigns were also declared legal tender.
In Natal there was no official currency although British gold and silver coins were the primary coins in circulation. Copper was practically unknown and due to the shortage of small change stores issued tokens and good-fors. Indian rupees were imported from Mauritius, but were not popular.
Before and after the declaration of independence in 1854 of the Orange Free State, British coinage was extensively used. Government payments were however often assessed in rix-dollars. Due to the shortage of small change and extensive use of good-fors and tokens which were unpopular, suggestions were made that the government should have its own metal coinage. This never got any further – however various patterns of different denominations were made. In 1900 the coinage of the South African Republic was adopted as legal tender.
In the Transvaal monetary transactions were initially in rix-dollars, however the sterling system was used concurrently and by 1868 exclusively. British currency, tokens and good-fors were used extensively. In 1874 president T.F.Burgers had gold ponds struck equivalent to the British sovereign. By 1890 the Z.A. Republic had decided to have their own coins struck. Various patterns and proofs of the different proposals are in existence. In 1892 all denominations equivalent to the British sterling series with Paul Kruger on the reverse was issued.