Haitian coin depicts Faustin I, who rose from slavery to become emperor

The Research Desk column from Dec. 8, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 11/19/14
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A standout among Haitian coins is the 32.4-millimeter, copper 1850 6¼-centime piece, bearing a crowned bust with French legend for “Faustin I, Emperor of Haiti.”

The reverse presents a shield supported by lions reguardant (looking over their shoulders). The shield bears a crowned eagle perched on crossed cannon before a palm tree, with the French legend for “Liberty – Independence, Six Centimes Un Quart.” 

The high-quality design and strike suggest an American or British private mint of the era. Not common, it is hard to find in the highest grades. With its exotic design and denomination (a bit or half of a Spanish real), this coin should have seized the imagination of collectors and researchers long ago. Instead it has routinely appeared in standard references without comment. 

Portrayed is Faustin-Élie Soulouque, born a slave in Petit-Goâve in August 1782. Freed by the French revolutionary government in 1793, he was among thousands taking up arms in 1803 to 1804 to defeat Napoleon’s plans to reintroduce slavery in the colony of Saint-Domingue.

Soulouque rose in the army of independent Haiti to lieutenant general and commander of the Guard under President Jean-Baptiste Riché. Seeing Faustin as an ignorant puppet, the “Mulatto elite” made him Haiti’s seventh president in March 1847. Showing considerable political ability, he arranged for the legislature to proclaim him emperor on Aug. 26, 1849, forcefully shunting aside the once-dominant Mulattos. 

The new emperor married his companion of many years and embarked on an iron-fisted reign of glittering extravagance. Copying Napoleon’s coronation, Faustin spent some $350,000 on regalia, including a gold crown that is still extant. Faustin created a nobility of more than 350 titles, including princes, dukes, barons and knights. Handsomely designed patterns for the imperial coinage were struck, though only the copper 6¼-centime portrait coin, a few scarce fasces and liberty cap 1-, 2- and 6-centime coins and imperial arms coins of 1 and 2 centimes were issued.

His repeated attempts to annex Spanish-speaking Santo Domingo failed and his lavish spending led to an uprising in December 1858 under Gen. Fabre Geffrard, who re-established the republic. Faustin fled to Jamaica, and died at the extraordinary age of 84, having returned at some point to Haiti.

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