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Mapping the African Coins in Sarah Sophia Banks's Numismatic Collection


Madeira Coin

Madeira Coin in Sarah Sophia Banks Collection

Authority: Vicente d'oliviera & Co.

Place of Issue: Iberian Peninsula

Madeira, a Portuguese colony established in the 15th century, was a commercial and trading hub for sugar, then, beginning in the 17th century, wine. While Catherine Eagleton points out that Sarah Sophia did not record a coin in this section of the catalogue, we know that "Mr. Hodgkinson gave her an 'old coin' from Madeira in November 1792, and Mrs. Harris 1 bit and K bit coins from Madeira in February 1792."1 From this, then, we begin to see Sarah Sophia's unique cataloging method take shape: the coins, rather than appearing under Madeira in her catalogue, appear among Spanish coins "with notes of their names in use in Madeira recorded there."2 This categorical move exemplifies Sarah Sophia’s strategy of cataloguing the Madeira coin according to the authority behind its issue, rather than the geographical location of its use.

Placing this coin, first, on the map in the location where it has been assigned by the catalogue, presents us with a very different view of the global reach of the coin. Rather than reaching toward the coast of Africa, the collection reaches only to the Iberian Peninsula. By connecting the coin, through this map, to its country of issue and use, Madeira, we begin to develop a new appreciation for the span of Sarah Sophia’s coin collection.


Sierra Leone Coin

Sierra Leone coin in Sarah Sophia Banks Collection

Authority: Sierra Leone Company, London, England

Place of Issue: Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, a British colony founded in 1787, was administered by the Sierra Leone Company beginning in 1791. The Company was incorporated 1791 and " aimed to undermine slave trade."3 The colony of Sierra Leone transferred to the Crown in 1808 when the company failed4 and has been viewed as a colony " plagued by poverty, poor cash crops, financial debts, and abolitionists' ideals."5 Sierra Leone was immortalized in accounts by Anna Maria Falconbridge and others as, particularly, a failure in its foundations of abolitionism and its attempts at creating a " Freetown."6

The image on the reverse side of the coin illustrates the philosophical aims of the Company: peaceful trade, friendship between nations, and the " rehabilitation of negro slaves in dignity and friendship," while the image on the obverse side of the coin illustrates the colony’s name: Sierra Leone, "The Mountain of Lions."7 As David Vice points out, even if the main objective of the company was said to be commercial, " they were also reminded that their trade was subserving a nobler purpose:  the Blessings of Industry and Civilisation" to a country " long detained in Barbarism."8

The Sierra Leone company was created at the height of British participation in the slave trade and was part of an attempt" to reform trading practices and to transfer British value systems to the West African Coast."9 Importantly, it " constituted one of the first tangible manifestations of abolitionism in Africa" and also participated in the European imperial interest in Africa through its implementation  of " commerce, civilization, and Christianity."10 The coin bears the date 1791 in commemoration of the Company's founding.

As Sophie Mew points out, Sierra Leone is an interesting case in terms of currency, for it had no centralised currency system before the presence of colonizers and, therefore offers a special opportunity for analyzing the role of users of money in the region's development.11

The example shown is a penny given to Sarah Sophia by the Swedish botanist Adam Afzelius in 1793.12 This coin is unique from the number of Sierra Leone coins in circulation in Sarah Sophia's collection because, as she indicates in her catalogue, it was " brought from Sierra Leone."13 While it remains in its design an example of the European-style currency created for trade within African nations, it is a significant piece because the coin had actually been in circulation in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone was linked to the authority of the Sierra Leone Company in Sarah Sophia's catalogue and was one of 214,764 one penny pieces minted in Birmingham in 1792 by Matthew Boulton at the Soho Mint, which was "looked upon as the most advanced of its kind in the world."14 This coin demonstrates another aspect of her collection's content and structure, particularly in terms of its associations with authority; it is simultaneously linked to and valued for both its place of use in Africa and that African connection to Britain through the Sierra Leone Company. Much like the Company exists as both an English and African entity, this coin exemplifies the strange understanding of geographical location developing with the British empire, an understanding of place as validated by a foreign authoritative body of power.


Bulama Coin

Bulama Coin in Sarah Sophia Banks Collection

Authority: Royal Africa Company, London

Place of Issue: Bulama

Bulama, described in a tract published in 1794 by Andrew Johansen, as a " spot admirably adapted for the joint purposes of agriculture and commerce."15 In his longer discussion of the suitability of Bulama's climate, geographical situation, and people for the establishment of a colony, Johansen notes that the goals of African settlement are to " people in those fertile territories, despoiled of their inhabitants by the slave trade; to rear the production of the climes between the tropics, by the assistance of freemen; to give ample scope to the industry and exertions of those who might be inclined to remove from Great Britain; and to extend the commerce and manufactures of our native country."16 He contends that these are the goals that have " excited the attention of the Bulama Association," which was formed in London as the Bulam Association in 1791.17

Deirdre Coleman narrates the history of Bulama, noting that it was a colony formed in opposition to that of Sierra Leone.18 In contrast to the seemingly impenetrable interior of Africa, the island of Bulam was a space where the imagination could go to work, a space that could be penetrated and " grasped."19 Bulam in the minds of the public was likened to an earthly paradise, and Eden.20 Interestingly, however, this paradise was set aside by the Bulam colony for an especially militarized colony.21 Its radical constitution prevented it from receiving parliament's sanction22, but it notably laid the foundations for a hoped-for colony in which Europeans and Africans existed together on equal social terms.23 Ultimately, however, the island's colonization was subject to violent beginnings and a disheartening end, as it was learned that the island was " so unhealthy as to be uninhabitable."24

The coin depicted here from Bulama, is part of the currency of the Gold Coast Settlements. As is indicated in Sarah Sophia's catalogue, this coin is one of the 1,080 coins minted by Matthew boulton at the Soho Mint in 1796.25 Interestingly, the coins Sarah Sophia attributes to Bulama are examples of silver coinage of the Royal Africa Company, bearing on the obverse of the coin the Royal Africa Company's arms and on the reverse the royal cypher, GR, above a laurel wreath.26 The cataloguing of the Bulama coins in Sarah Sophia's collection is significant because it appears that Sarah Sophia made a mistake with her attribution of the coinage to Bulama. According to Eagleton, when Sarah Sophia acquired the coins, she recorded the information correctly, but, upon compiling the catalogue nearly two decades letter in 1815, the misattribution occurred.27 Sarah Sophia, thus, takes coins minted for use in Gold coast slave-trading settlements and attributes them to the " failed utopian anti-slavery colony" of Bulama.28 Also, of note is the fact that with her previously entered Sierra Leone coins, the catalogue clearly indicates these coins' association with the Sierra Leone Company. With the Bulama entries, however, there is no specific authority like the Bulam Association listed. Through the misattribution, these coins serve as reminders of the utopian ideas that motivated the European colonial ventures in places like Bulam29 and Sierra Leone.


Angola Coin

Angola Coin in Sarah Sophia Banks Collection

Authority: Ruler: Maria I, Queen of Portugal

Place of Issue: Guinea; Lower Guinee of Angola

Angola was a part of Portuguese West Africa from the 16th century until it became a sovereign state in 1975. As a colony, it was strongly associated with the slave trade and, from its beginnings into the early 19th century, over a million people were taken as slaves from Angola to the " New World."30 Beyond this horrific reality, Angola serves as a prime example of the manner in which, according to Catarina Madeira Santos, European nations used the territories of Africa as " intellectual laboratories."31 The developments in the fields of cartography and education in Angola to meet the needs of a modernizing world in eighteenth-century are prime examples of the manner in which colonial territories contributed to the development and transformation of Enlightenment science.32

The coins from Angola are listed in the catalogues as from " Angola and other parts of Africa belonging to Portugal." Catherine Eagleton notes,

As with other sections of the catalogue, the coins in these sections are carefully listed, with each country's coins arranged first by the monarch, in date order of their reigns; then by metal, with gold preceding silver, and then copper; then in descending order of their denominations. This organization of information reiterates the importance to Sarah Sophia of the authority issuing the coins, and links to her cataloguing of coins under their place of issue, not their place of use, since the coins of Angola were issued specifically for that country, in the name of the Portuguese king.33

The metadata available in the British Museum's catalogue attributes the place of issue for the Angola coins to Guinea. Not only were both Angola and Guinea colonies of Portugal, but in a number of maps from the period these coins were struck, Angola was included in the portion of the continent identified as " Lower Guinea."

The coin we have chosen to display is of interest because its associated authority is that of a queen; the inscription is to Maria I, Queen of Portugal and Brazil. This makes it unique from many of the other coins attributed to the authority of a king. The network of power represented with coins like this one, connecting the monarchy to its imperial reach, to the actual place of the coin’s use among the people, reflects the interests of Sarah Sophia's collection as a whole, specifically her heraldic collection, located at the British Library.34 This collection displays an interest in ceremonies of authority, their organizational structures, and hierarchies, and the public's access to these ceremonies. In the taxonomical strategies applied to her coin collection, their attention to the authority behind the coin, Sarah Sophia continues to reflect upon the display of power and the reaches of authority in the minting and inscription of currency.


Isle de Bourbon Coin

Isle de Bourbon Coin in Sarah Sophia Banks Collection

Authority: Isle de France

Place of Issue: Isle de Bourbon

The coin from the Isle de Bourbon is another example of Sarah Sophia's attention to the monarchical authority behind the coin's issue. After her associating the Portuguese monarchs with the Angola coins, Sarah Sophia catalogs the coins from Isles de France and Bourbon.35 She lists, first, the monarch, which in this case is Louis XVI.

This coin is, of course, another example of the European-style of currency promoted in Africa and is dated 1781. Considering the coin's strong association with the reigning monarch, one cannot help but consider this date in terms of the French Revolution, which would begin just 8 years later and would lead to Louis XVI's decapitation. The effects of the Revolution can be seen even in the contention over the island's name, which began in 1793 with the change to "Ile de la Réunion."

The Isle de Bourbon stands in contrast to the French colony of Isle de France, or Mauritius, mainly in terms of its economic status. Inhabitants of Bourbon were predominantly employed in small-scale agriculture; Bourbon was looked at as the "sleepy agricultural backwater" of the two islands.36 It was also characterized by a more accepting attitude toward interracial relations: "Though the colonists of Isle Bourbon might be recognized as less than 'white', this 'melange' had at least arrived at some kind of stability. . . On Isle de France, by contrast, the moral consequences and context of sexual relations between the 'races' were perceived as far more dangerous."37

By looking at both the authority behind the issue of this coin and the social history of the place of issue, we can see the currency's connection to the larger network of colonial power and identity. Though Isle de France and Isle de Bourbon were both French colonies, they exemplify different relationships to the economic and cultural values of the crown.


Bambara Coin

Bambara Coin in Sarah Sophia Banks Collection

Authority: Kingdom of Bambara

Place of Issue: Collected in Bambara

The Kingdom of Bambara was a significant location in the narrative of the travels of Mungo Park in Africa. Today, it is identified as the Republic of Mali in West Africa. It’s capital, Segou, is located on the Niger River, which was reached by Mungo Park, the first European to visit its banks, in 1796.

The inclusion of these cowry shells is of particular importance to Sarah Sophia's African coin collection. The understanding of the shells in Anglo-European terms indicates not only that lens of the familiar through which African society was being viewed, but their cataloguing within Sarah Sophia's collection indicates that Sarah Sophia saw the shells given to her by Mungo Park, more than any cowry shells she could easily purchase in London, to be associated with the authority of the King of Bambara.37 These coins came directly from the King of Bambara and are a rare example within her collection of 1) traditional currency, and 2) currency from an African-ruled sub-Saharan state.38 The other African coinage included in her collection is of the anglo-European style and is connected to an imperial authority (such as the Sierra Leone Company or the Royal African Company). The inclusion of the coins from the King of Bambara displays the potential seen in Africa for trade, since, as Eagleton points out, "the money of Bambara can be understood in the same framework as the coins of European powers in Africa."39

Importantly, according to Catherine Eagleton, these coins " give a glimpse of how a well-connected woman in Georgian London understood African kingship and authority and into her assumptions about currency and its links to political authority."40 Mapping the cowry shells provides us a unique opportunity to view the currency in Africa in a manner unconnected with the English and European powers that are the authority behind the other coins in Sarah Sophia&rsquo's collection.


Footnotes

1. Eagleton, “Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins,” p.30.

2. Eagleton, “Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins,” p.30.

3. Suzanne Schwarz, “Commerce, Civilization and Christianity: The Development of the Sierra Leone Company,” Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery, D. Richardson, S. Schwarz, and A. Tibbles, Liverpool UP, 2007. P.253.

4. Suzanne Schwarz, “Commerce, Civilization and Christianity: The Development of the Sierra Leone Company,” p.254.

5. Sophie Mew, “Trials, Blunders, and Profits: The Changing Contexts of Currencies in Sierra Leone,” p. 198.

6. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p.107.

7. David Vice, The Coinage of British West Africa and St. Helena 1684-1958, Birmingham: Peter Ireland, 1983. P.23.

8. Vice, The Coinage of British West Africa and St. Helena, p. 21.

8. Schwarz, “Commerce, Civilization and Christianity: The Development of the Sierra Leone Company,” p.252.

9. Schwarz, “Commerce, Civilization and Christianity: The Development of the Sierra Leone Company,” p.253.

10. Schwarz, “Commerce, Civilization and Christianity: The Development of the Sierra Leone Company,” p.253.

11. Sophie Mew, “Trials, Blunders, and Profits: The Changing Contexts of Currencies in Sierra Leone,” p. 199.

12. Eagleton, “Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins,” p.30.

13. Eagleton, “Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins,” p.30.

14. Vice, The Coinage of British West Africa and St. Helena, p. 142, 131.

15. Andrew Johansen, A geographical and historical account of the island of Bulama ... and an account of the formation and progress of the Bulam Association and of the colony itself: ... London: printed for Martin and Bain, 1794, p. 4.

16. Andrew Johansen, A geographical and historical account of the island of Bulama ... and an account of the formation and progress of the Bulam Association and of the colony itself: ... London: printed for Martin and Bain, 1794, p. 21.

17. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 81.

18. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 81.

19. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 83.

20. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 83.

21. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 81, 86.

22. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 86.

23. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 87-88.

24. Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 89.

25. Vice, The Coinage of British West Africa and St. Helena, p. 152.

26. Vice, The Coinage of British West Africa and St. Helena, p. 152.

27. Eagleton, “Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins,” p.30-31.

28. Eagleton, “Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins,” p.30

29. See also Michael Teague, “Bulama in the 18th century,” Boletim cultural da Guine Portuguesa, 13.50 (1958): 175-194.

30. Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730-1830, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

31. Catarina Madeira Santos, “Administrative Knowledge in the Colonial Context: Angola in the Eighteenth Century,” The British Journal of the History of Science 43.4 (2010): 539-556, p. 556.

32. Catarina Madeira Santos, “Administrative Knowledge in the Colonial Context: Angola in the Eighteenth Century,” p. 548, 551, 556.

33. Eagleton, “Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins,” p.31.

34. See, for instance, Sarah Sophia Banks Heraldic Collection, BL MS 6292, and BL MS 6304.

35. For more on the cataloguing of these coins by monarch, see Eagleton "Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins," p. 31.>

36. Megan Vaughan, "Slavery and Colonial Identity in Eighteenth-Century Mauritius," Transactions of the Royal Historical Sociaty, vol. 8, (1998): 189-214, p.195. >

37. Megan Vaughan, "Slavery and Colonial Identity in Eighteenth-Century Mauritius," 196.>

38. Eagleton, "Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins," p.33.>

39. Eagleton, "Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins," p.31>

40. Eagleton, "Collecting African Money in Georgian London: Sarah Sophia Banks and Her Collection of Coins," p.34.>