The Numismatist's Resource Guide to African Coins and Currency
Numismatics can study or collect any type of currency, including those made of stones or shells as well as paper and metal. Before colonization, few areas of Africa used the kind of currency typically expected in the modern world. People traded items, but they rarely used abstract forms of money. Today, African nations use a variety of currencies that attract collectors. Some of the coins even challenge the modern understanding of Africa's history.
Types of Currency Used in Pre-Colonial Africa
Before Europeans colonized Africa, the people there used a range of valuable objects as currency. Some popular items exchanged as currency include salt, metal, cloth, beads, and even some European coins. Since most parts of the African continent did not have the kind of nations that exist today, the objects traded as money did not have backing from a government. Instead, they had value because of shared cultural values. As long as the people agreed that an item had value, they could trade it according to that accepted value.
Coins of Ancient Africa
Some African civilizations did use metal coins before the wave of European colonists. Archaeologists uncovered nearly 400 Egyptian coins about 50 miles from Cairo dating to the 3rd century BCE.
Ancient African coins have also been found in present-day Tanzania. This discovery calls into question the modern understanding of Australian and African history, indicating that people on the two continents may have traded with each other.
Currency in Modern Africa
Some Modern African countries use the currencies of Europeans who colonized them. Kenya, Somaliland, Tanzania, and Uganda, for instance, use Shillings. Algeria, Chad, Congo, and several other countries also use a version of the Franc.
Other countries have created their own currencies. South Africa uses Pounds, but it also has the South African Rand. Somalia has the Scellini; Zambia has the Kwacha and Ngwee; and Nigeria has the Kobo.
Determining the Value of African Currencies
The value of African currencies depend on several variables. Rare coins and paper notes usually have higher values than those that are relatively abundant. This often makes older currency attractive to numismatists who want to see their investments grow. Two rare South African coins sold for over $9 million at 2012 auction in New York City.
The value of modern Africa currencies depend on how they fare relative to other world currencies. The Zimbabwean government issued a 100-trillion-dollar bill in the 2000s, but the country's economic status caused the value to fall below USD$5. The Zimbabwe currency has become popular for collectors because it looks like an outrageous sum, but global economic forces keep the actual value very low.