World Coins

Token of first ‘White Rajah of Sarawak’ for sale in London auction

An 1841 copper keping token is an example of the first money or monetary substitutes issued in the private nation of Sarawak.

Token images courtesy of St. James’s Auctions. Brooke image courtesy of the Brooke Family Trust.

When Sir James Brooke assisted the Sultan of Brunei in quelling an uprising in Borneo in 1841, he was appointed as the governor of Sarawak as payment for his valorous efforts and good deeds.

That act paved the way for a century of tokens and coins issued by the rulers called the “White Rajahs of Sarawak.” An example of that first copper keping token highlights St. James’s Auctions’ auction No. 35, closing Feb. 9. 

Before its fall in 1941 to Japanese conquest, the state of Sarawak on the northwest of the island of Borneo was ruled by three generations of the Brooke family from the West Country of England.

Each of these rulers issued tokens or coinage, pieces that fascinate even today.

The distinctive one-year type offered, with a badger and the date Sept. 24, 1841, on the obverse and Arabic script on the reverse, was based on the keping coinage of Singapore. The piece is from the first issue of money or a money substitute issued by the Brookes for their private country.

“This piece, and imported Straits [Settlement] and other coinage, sufficed as local money until the regular coinage commenced in 1863,” according to the catalog. “Almost all known pieces are well worn or damaged.”

Graded Extremely Fine 45 Brown by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., this token carries an estimate of £7,000 to £8,000 (about $10,303 to $11,775 U.S.).

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