To stand and look at a coin that was in circulation in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ brings on a sense of awe. It might be unlikely, but not impossible, that a denarius in front of me had been handled by Matthew the tax collector, or Simon Peter, or Judas who was in charge of the group finances. Some were almost certainly used by people who had heard living accounts of the great events that took place in those days.
These were one of the first displays to catch my eye in the ABSA Museum. A number of coins on view originated in the Roman Republic between 187 BC and 29 BC, together with coins from the Roman Empire dating between 29 BC and 423 AD. It was very useful to be able to place them on the list of Emperors that was included. I waited as the large vault door and gate were unlocked and swung heavily open disclosing the extensive coin collection relating to South Africa. Included were Dutch coins used in the Cape from 1607, the Imperial guineas last minted in 1813, and the groat – worth 4d, and used for fares on the horse drawn buses in Britain from 1836. As I moved around, looking at the cabinets that filled the room, the history of South Africa seemed to unfold in front of me – everyday coins, gold coins, medallions, proof sets, patterns and misstrikes, crowns from 1947 to 1964, commemorative coins, Kruger Rands, gold ingots, and gold coins from China and Japan with holes in the middle. I was fascinated.
Outside again the journey back through time went even further. There was the Chinese Spade Money, which is probably the oldest form of coin known to man. Also from China were Knife Money and Bamboo money. From Siam there was ‘Pig Mouth’ Money – so called because of the shape – God Bells from Lakimpur, and Wife Buying Money from Zimbabwe, to name just a few. Surprisingly, the earliest form of common currency was the Cowrie shell, which was used in the trade world that stretched from China and the Pacific to India, Africa and America. In its early days two cowrie shells were sufficient to purchase a wife in Uganda, whereas by 1911 2000 were needed to buy a cow.
In addition to coinage and a colourful display of banknotes, both modern and old, there was a delightful collection of hundreds of money boxes from around the world. Some were obviously intended for display as well as to encourage saving. Old telephones and typewriters, some of which must surely have come from the Ark, revealed something of our technical development. Upstairs small offices and areas had been constructed and furnished to recall the institutions that had played an important role in the country before being absorbed into the ABSA group. There were reminders of the United Building Society, Allied, Volkskas and others, as well as pictures of the people who had served them. It was all very well presented and a wonderful record of both history and progress.
The museum is very easy to locate and reach, particularly travelling up Fox Street, which is a one-way street, from the East. Just before the street runs into the ABSA building it is on the right-hand side. There is not much on the Website, but the museum is worth a visit, and children would probably find some of it interesting.
For further information follow the links alongside.