World Coins

Freed slaves in Sierra Leone order their own coins

A Proof presentation example of the 1791 Sierra Leone 100-cent coin — one of 40 examples known — realized the equivalent of $24,130 U.S. at auction Dec. 8 in London.

Images courtesy of Morton & Eden.

The African nation of Sierra Leone in the late 18th century became a haven for freed slaves from the British Empire, runaway slaves from the United States, and Africans discharged from the British armed forces. 

After disease and warfare wiped out the early settlers, the Sierra Leone Company took control of the country, and eventually transferred the lands to the United Kingdom in 1807.

Before the company ceded control, it commissioned a series of coins to be struck by Matthew Boulton and James Watt’s Soho Mint in Birmingham, England.

One piece in that series was the silver 100-cent or dollar coin. A Proof presentation example of the “1791” 100-cent coin — one of 40 struck between 1793 and 1799 — highlighted Morton & Eden’s Dec. 7 and 8 auction in London. The coin realized­ £18,000 ($24,130 U.S.), including the 20 percent buyer’s fee, during the Dec. 8 portion of the auction.

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The coin was among a small selection of pieces once owned by abolitionist Granville Sharp, and is part of a larger collection from the Archbishop Sharp family collection sold by Morton & Eden.

Designs in the series are similar, showing a crouching lion on the obverse of the coin.

The reverse shows an inter-racial handshake, with one hand unshaded to represent the white man, and one hand shaded to represent the black man.

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Boulton’s appreciation for the design manifest itself in a series of presentation pieces he struck, with various mintage figures for different denominations.

The example sold by Morton & Eden is among those rare pieces.

The auction house classified the coin as “choice mint state, lightly toned, very rare.”

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