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  • Why are some Coins & Tokens holed?

    The first holed coins that we have record of are those of the East (I.e. China and Korea)

    On page 236 of a book written by Homer Hulbert in 1906, entitled "The Passing of Korea", he writes about coin casting, stating:

    "The metal was poured into molds ()… These were broken up, and the coins were strung on square metal rods that just fitted the (square) hole in the coin. The ends of this rod were then put in a rude vise, and men with enormous coarse files ground down the edges of a thousand or more coins at a time."

    In other words, the square hole was used in making the coins.

    A second reason that ancient eastern coins had holes, is that it meant the coins could be strung together to create larger denominations, with typically around 1,000 coins on a single string which was worth one tael of pure silver.

    So at the least regarding the ancient coins of the East, the coins were not holed for people to conveniently carry them around their necks. People indeed carried them as jewellery on strings – but that was not the original purpose of the holes.

    Some many modern day coins are still (at least until recently) made, with decorative holes in them

    Not that long ago, milk coupons were still in use in South Africa as a kind of token coinage – the coupons were left in the empty bottle(s) on the front porch to pay for the next order.

    Why were these tokens holed? This is the reason why – it was just a matter of convenience when buying and storing them…

    Why were African coins, like those of Eastern Africa, Western Africa and Southern Rhodesia holed? Was it, as in the case of the later milk coupons, also a matter of convenience when storing them – thus grouping them securely together wherever they are stored – and not necessarily to carry them on a person’s arms or legs?

    Look at this picture – the coins are still binded together on its original string and from the picture it is clear that the intention was not to carry them on body parts but to store them. As shown, the string would not fit around an arm or a neck. It would however, fit safely and conveniently into a bag and bundle the coins together like a purse does.

    Coins were indeed carried around the necks or arms of people, but the reason was that because the coins were holed (for another reason) they could be strung around one’s arm or neck.

    That however, was not the original and primary reason for them being holed.

    At least that is what I think. What do others think?

  • #2
    Interesting thread, I for one see a holed token or coin as more secure to the recipient. When received put on a string with the others and safely carried around the neck or arm. Little chance of getting lost unless all were lost.
    Other use for a hole as you have pointed out is placing similar denominations together, whether they did it in certain amounts is unknown but it would facilitate counting out large purchases quickly.
    Another thought is the amount of coins or tokens one family could amass, more, logically would require some secure way of carrying. Yes a leather bag would work but from early pictures most Africans preferred the neck as for beads.
    Just my thoughts.


    • #3
      Is the following statement true or false?

      The reason why some African coinage was holed in the old days was for the natives to carry them around their arms or legs on strings because they had no purses.

      I say the statement is most probably wrong, and say the following:-

      African coinage was indeed carried around (their) arms or necks on strings, because the coins had holes in them,- the holes being manufactured for other reasons.

      Let’s look at holed English copper & brass tokens of the 1800s

      According to a record, the hole was for “stacking and safe keeping a multiple of similar tokens on a steel cord” …

      Like this …

      Look at the following picture, - the token in the center was issued by James Cole (Umzimkulu South Africa) while the two other 19th century brass tokens were issued in England

      The English tokens were holed so that they “could be tied round either a sack (for say flour or grain), or in the case of multiple values, a bale of sacks

      So from the English examples we have seen, the reasons for them being holed were either for “stacking & safe keeping” or for practical reasons like tying them to sacks or whatever. I cannot find any contemporary record of any token anywhere & at any time being manufactured specifically with a hole so that it could be carried on a string around a bodily part.

      And lastly, an interesting observation …

      In 1820 the North West Company of Canada issued both brass and copper tokens, each representing the value of one beaver pelt. Most known examples have a small hole at the top. Instead of using them as money at the trading posts, “the Native Canadians often strung them on a cord and wore them around the neck as ornaments

      What does the jury say?

      Last edited by Pierre_Henri; 09-04-16, 13:19.


      • #4
        I believe that the coins/tokens were holed for many of the reasons you have stated. They would be easier to store on a wire and sorted as to denomination. I find many miners tags with their locker number on them, they were holed so they could be attached to their pit buckets, lights etc. for identification.
        I believe the natives just took advantage of what was provided and may have used the hole to carry them. In the case of the North West tokens I believe the tokens as issued were not holed and the natives did punch a hole and use them as ornaments. There are not many examples of the unpunched North West tokens out there and most holed examples are usually taken from archaeological native sites and burials. All examples are extremely valuable and frequently sell in the thousands of dollars, and many counterfeits abound.


        • #5
          Originally posted by ngwena View Post
          I believe the natives just took advantage of what was provided and may have used the hole to carry them.
          Hi Rege

          I totally agree with you.

          We absolutely have no evidence that any past South African tokens were deliberately holed because natives did not have pockets in those days, and used to hang the tokens around their necks because of the absence of them having purses.

          The tokens were mechanically holed beforehand for many other reasons, but stringing them around bodily parts was definitely not one of them.

          They were simply strung around their native necks or arms because the holed tokens had convenient stringing holes (drilled for other reasons) like modern-day trinkets have.

          Here are some reasons why tokens and coins were drilled with holes …


          • #6
            Larkin tokens were originally produced without a hole, yet some are holed in various places in a random fashion. All the holes seem to be punched and not drilled perhaps these holed specimens were done by natives to string up for various reasons? The Strachan, James Cole etc tokens were definitely manufactured with a hole in a certain position on the token. Other tokens with random holed positions and hole sizes seem to suggest native alteration.
            I love learning about these things and this thread has taught me much. Tokens tell a story and some have more to tell than others if we just look.


            • #7
              Thank you for giving us something to ponder and the conclusions we have come to.
              Let us continue to delve into the mystery of these fantastic tokens!


              • #8
                According to the British Museum ...

                “The central perforation in the (African) coins was designed to allow the African people to string them together, (like) the traditional method of storing the cowrie shells which were used as currency in both East and West Africa”

                Nothing is mentioned of stringing the coins to be carried around bodily parts; - - they were strung for reasons of safety & convenient storing and also, so that traders could place a certain amount on a string rather than counting them out one by one

                So how were the strings of cowrie shells carried?

                The description reads

                “He has 3,000 cowrie shells on his arm and the book seller is giving him the bible in exchange for them (cost at the time 10/-). The boy standing up on the right has brought a bundle of shells to buy books with for his master. 'Photographs taken in Uganda in early part of 1900, or before this - by Mr. Hattersley C.M.S.”.

                However, I could not find one single picture of an African with stringed coins (obviously excluding those carried as jewellery or as ceremonial attire) on any website anywhere and I have been searching for days on end.

                The closest I could get to a contemporary picture;-, not even from Africa, was this Indonesian girl with a string of coins called 'pis bolong', Chinese coins strung on a string – look where she carries them. (The bottle on her head contains holy water)

                If anyone could show me a contemporary (old) picture of an African (late 1800s to middle 1900s) with a bodily stringed rope of coins or tokens (obviously not worn as jewelley) it would truly make my day.