Interesting fraudulent development of the Singapore Merchant Tokens

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by TuckHard, Oct 22, 2019.

  1. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    I recently bought a lot of several of the Singapore Merchants Tokens. They are fairly common and I got them all for under $1 per coin but the coin below led me down an interesting path of research that I was unfamiliar with. This coin is the result of decades of colonial pressures fighting against private entrepreneurs, leading right up to legal loopholes and confiscations.

    1 Keping
    Singapore Merchants Token
    Obverse shows rooster right, reads Tanah Malayu (Land of Malaya)
    Reverse script reads Pulau Melayu (Island of the Malays)
    Dated 1411AH in fraudulent error; truly minted 1835 or 1836
    The story behind this Singapore Merchant Token was one I was unfamiliar with before digging deeper into sources. As I read more, I found that it is quite the interesting tidbit of history and irony in the form of borderline fraud. Let me explain how I discovered this all from from this worn piece of copper. On the reverse side I could see a tiny portion of script on both left and right sides. The right side in particular looked like a clear 3 or W so I scanned over the Numista listing for Keping coins and found the one that looked closest.​
    Reverse Highlighted.jpg
    1 Keping, Singapore Merchants Token dated 1411AH. Below is the Krause entry that gave me my first bit of information on the coin.
    The 1411AH date seemed odd to me, considering most of the similar tokens read years around ~1247AH. Converted into Gregorian/AD, the 1411AH date would become 1990 AD. I decided to turn to The Encyclopaedia of the Coins of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei by Saran Singh. I had a friend relay some information from Chapter Nineteen, beginning with page 443. This chapter's section on the history of Singapore describes the context and story of why these fantasy coins were minted and dated nearly two hundred years in the future.

    An interconnected network of traders, mostly British merchants working from Singapore, worked to mint these private tokens that are today called the Singapore Merchant Tokens. The tokens were originally made to emulate an official 1804 Keping issued under the British East India Company (BEIC); below is the Krause entry. The Keping was a familiar and valued copper piece that was well known to local merchants.​
    Official BEIC Keping.PNG
    The early merchant coins, issued in the 1820s and 1830s, were obviously banned from using the "East India Company" name so many turned to local areas nearby the trade region. The most common one found reads "Island of Sumatra" rather than East India Company. Below is my worn copy that reads the Sumatra legend with the same reverse as the official BEIC coin above.
    Island of Sumatra.jpg
    1 Keping
    Singapore Merchants Token
    "Island of Sumatra" with EIC arms, reverse reads 1219AH
    Dated 1219AH = 1805; truly minted 1830s
    These tokens eventually moved to using a rooster or "fighting cock" on the obverse, rather than the BEIC arms. It should be pointed out that many of these token varieties were likely minted concurrently and it is not such a linear progression as I might make it out to be. During this time, the Dutch authorities who ruled Sumatra as well as several regional colonies were frustrated by the illicit, private tokens circulating alongside their own colonial coinage in Sumatra. The fact that especially infuriated the Dutch was that many of these tokens read "Island of Sumatra", which implied it was a proper coinage of the island rather than the Dutch VOC coins that merely read "Nederl Indie". See Numista's listing of Dutch coins issued to Sumatra, beginning 1814.
    Singh writes that the Dutch East Indies Company took action against these illicit "Island of Sumatra" coins in October 15th, 1835. They began to confiscate all of the private coinage within Dutch jurisdiction; Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi (Celebes), and Java. This strong show of economic force drove the Singapore Merchants to the next step level; fraud (sort of). Beginning in 1835 and 1836, the Merchants flooded the region with the next iteration of the series; the "Island of Sultana" coinage.​
    Island of Sultana Example.png
    Photo credit to Heritage Auctions via Numista

    These coins were still dated 1804 as an imitation of the original 1804 BEIC Keping, despite being minted over thirty years later. By using the "Island of Sultana" rather than the Sumatra version, the merchants could skirt the Oct. 1835 proclamation and legally circulate the tokens.​
    Obverse reads Tanah Malayu (Land of Malaya)
    Reverse reads Pulau Melayu (Island of the Malays)
    Dated 1411AH in fraudulent error; truly minted 1835 or 1836
    My token, the Keping that reads "Island of the Malays" in Jawi script, was also minted during this time. By using a fictitious, yet familiar sounding name, the merchants were able to heavily circulate their own private coinage at the frustration of the Dutch officials.

    The London officials overlooking the relevant jurisdiction finally cracked down on the Singapore Merchant tokens in 1844, right before the introduction of the new 1845 copper coinage by the BEIC, which soon turned coinage rights Straits Settlements territories. See Numista for examples of the 1845 1 cent, ½ Cent, and ¼ Cent. The Merchant tokens were phased out pretty quickly on the Malaysian Peninsula but remained in circulation for decades in the more remote islands of the archipelago.

    I'd love any further information, corrections, or examples of any coins that anyone has of these Singapore Merchant tokens or relevant regional coins! I have several other of the more common examples to share but this is getting pretty lengthy. Thanks for reading!
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
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