The fantasy of moving to a tropical paradise away from the madding crowd is
one harbored by many, especially when lottery jackpots swell to sums
large enough to purchase a small island.
Scottish sea captain John Clunies-Ross and his descendants lived on
the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, claiming the land for more than 15
decades, before yielding possession to Australia in 1978. During its
century and a half of ownership, the family issued a small number of
coins (also variably called tokens or token coins), a set of which is
offered for sale by A.H. Baldwin & Sons in Hong Kong on April 7.
The islands’ names derive from the area’s coconut palms and the East
India Company’s Capt. William Keeling, who sighted the islands in
1609. The islands are northwest of Australia, halfway between
Australia and Sri Lanka.
Connect with Coin World:
Clunies-Ross came to the islands in 1827, not because the area was a
paradise retreat, but for the possibility of conducting commerce,
using the two atolls (Home Island and West Island) as a place to store
spices for the British trade. His plan to store East Indian Company
spices for times of shortage (a sort of arbitrage and futures plan) failed.
That venture proved unsuccessful, but others succeeded and
Clunies-Ross, his family, and many workers remained.
The coral group became a British protectorate in 1856 and was
attached to the colony of Ceylon in 1878. Queen Victoria granted the
islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family in 1886, four years
after administrative control was passed to a different British colony,
the Straits Settlements.
The colony became part of Singapore in 1903 and remained thus until
November of 1955, when it was placed under Australian control.
Clunies-Ross descendants claimed title to the islands until 1978,
when John Cecil Clunies-Ross sold the islands (under threat of
expropriation) to Australia.
Shortly after ascending the throne, Queen Elizabeth II and her
husband, Prince Philip, visited the islands in 1954, meeting with John
Cecil, then ruling as the fifth “King of the Cocos Islands.”
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands’ limited numismatic legacy includes a
set of token coins in 1913 and another in 1968. Fantasy pieces were
issued at later dates.
The Baldwin auction features a set of seven 1913 token coins,
ranging from 5 cents to 5 rupees (100 cents equals 1 rupee). Other
denominations in the set are the 10-, 25- and 50-cent pieces and 1-
and 2-rupee pieces.
The token coins were created in various shapes specific to the
different denominations, including round, square, octagonal and ovoid,
in a manmade imitation ivory called “plastic ivory” in the Standard
Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000, or “ivorine” in the auction description.
Each of the 1913 coins is serial numbered but none of the numbers in
the set for sale by Baldwin’s matches any of the others.
The set is contained in a custom made solid wood fitted case. All of
the pieces are graded Extremely Fine, according to the auction house,
and the set has an estimate of $2,000 to $2,500.