From the Grading Room
Posted on 5/22/2012
An incredible story of bravery, resilience and war tactics surround one of the most interesting notes we have ever laid our eyes on: the South African 1900 1/- Shilling note from the Boer War. It is not complicated printing techniques, stunning vignettes, glitzy holograms or hi-tech plastics that draw my attention, it is the story.
The siege of Mafeking (1899-1900) in South Africa during the British occupation was a 217 day battle between the Boers and British troops over a vital link in the supply chain for incoming British troops. In the end the massively outnumbered British (nearly 8:1) were victorious earning them a decisive victory using a combination of cunning, deception and bravery.
The British troops being outnumbered and undersupplied faked barbed wire, masked their insufficient numbers by using make-shift search lights made from tin cans and even set up dummy landmines around the 6 mile perimeter of the city. They repelled numerous Boer advances using century-old cannons and a cadet corps of boys ages 12-15.
Colonel Baden-Powell is best known as the man who founded the Boy Scout Movement in 1908 but, in military terms, it was his earlier defense of the small town of Mafeking for 217 days from October 1899 to May 1900 that reveals his ingenuity in times of duress. The Boers laid siege to Mafeking on 12th October 1899 - the day after hostilities with the British broke out.
But as we know, you still need money during a siege as basic commerce cannot stop. Citizens still need essentials, and being cutoff for almost a year would definitely mean rationing. So, British commander Robert-Baden Powell decided to issue 1, 2, 3 & 10/- Shilling as well as £1 notes.
During the siege and constant pounding from Boer guns, these notes were printed in an underground bunker on standard writing paper using a woodcut plate and a smash from a croquet mallet to press them. Unbelievably, these notes were backed by the British Army, whose paymaster was depositing checks into the Mafeking branch of the Standard Bank of South Africa as they were being released into circulation. The bank manager cosigned each note issued by the British. Just over £5,000 total were printed and not many survived. Of those that survived, most were never redeemed - being kept as souvenirs - leaving a hefty bank account and raising questions regarding faulty accounting.
When holding one of these notes you are also touching something that someone over a century ago had held during one of the most famous and decisive battles of the British occupation of Africa. Not only would one of these notes make for an incredible conversation piece to add to your collection, but they are a historical artifact. These small pieces of paper played an enormous role in shaping history and are a reminder of bravery, sacrifice and honor.