Jamaica’s currency has gone through many changes throughout the country’s history from the time of the Spanish occupation to the English take-over, and now as a sovereign nation. Our currency continues to evolve today with the recent introduction of the $5000 note, popularly called “the Shearer.”
Today, Jamaican Echoes takes a pictorial tour of Jamaica’s evolving currency throughout the years, specifically looking at the evolution of the coins that circulated in Jamaica from the time of the Spanish occupation to the British occupation to 1962.
Units of Exchange between the Tainos and Columbus
Columbus and the Spaniards traded with the Jamaican Tainos using goods such as glass beads, trinkets, scissors and mirrors as the units of exchange to barter for other goods.
Currencies During the Spanish Occupation
With the official beginning of Spanish occupation of Jamaica around 1509, the unit of exchange were copper coins called maravedís, which were struck specifically for circulation in Hispaniola and eventually came to Jamaica.
Currencies During the British Occupation
Spanish Dollar or Pieces of Eight
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the main coin circulated in Jamaica was the Spanish dollar, a silver coin that was worth eight reales. Hence it’s common name of “pieces of eight”. These were minted in Spain and Spanish territories such as Mexico and Peru.
Spanish gold coins were also in circulation at this time, the most popular of which was the doubloon.
There were also gold and silver coins from France (pistole and ecu) and Portugal (moidore and johannes) in circulation.
In attempts to introduce a single form of currency throughout Jamaica and the rest of the British Caribbean colonies, the British colonial government introduced the anchor coin in the early 19th century. This was a small silver coin designed with an anchor on one side.
This coin was rejected throughout the island, especially by the merchants who preferred the pieces of eight.
The British Colonial government tried once again 1825 to regularise the coins in Jamaica by sending out a coin made from copper and silver but this was also rejected, most especially by the newly freed enslaved people who thought it disrespectful to offer copper coins as collection in church; only silver or gold coins were worthy of the collection plate. But there was a shortage of lower denomination silver coins and the former enslaved population could not afford higher denomination coins. So what did the colonial government try next?
The Silver Three Pence or “Tropence” and the Penny Half Penny or “Quattie”
The colonial government introduced in 1834 the silver three pence, which Jamaicans called the “tropence,” and the penny half penny or ha’penny. The ha’penny became known as a ‘quartile’ or quarter real, but was popularly referred to as the “quattie.” Because of the collection plate need that the quattie filled for the black population it also had the popular name of “Christian quattie.”
In further attempts to regularise the Jamaican currency, the British Government passed an act in 1839 that, as of December 31, 1840, the currency of Britain should be that of Jamaica. These were the lower denomination copper coins – the farthing, half penny, penny ha’penny and the penny – as well as the higher denomination silver coins – three pence, six pence, shilling, florin half crown and crown.
The First Jamaican Coins
As the colonial government faced continued rejection of the copper and bronze coins by the majority black population who were now wage earners after Emancipation in 1838, a suitable metal had to be found for coins of values smaller than penny ha’penny. Cupro-nickel was found a suitable metal, especially as it was close to silver and more acceptable by the majority black population. By an Order in Council and proclamation of November 11, 1869, and by local laws, the penny and half-penny made of cupro-nickel were authorized to be struck for use in Jamaica.
These are considered to be the first truly Jamaican coins (or made-for-Jamaica coins) as they were struck with the Jamaican coat of arms on the reverse with an image of a British monarch on the obverse.
This was extended in 1880 to the farthing.
Alterations to these coins were made when British monarchs changed.
An updated version of the Coat of Arms was used in 1964 following Jamaica’s independence in 1962.
So we end here for now: post-1962 and the use of Jamaica’s coat of arms on coins specifically made for Jamaica.
When next we meet we will continue our tour of Jamaica’s currency history looking at the introduction of bank notes and the post-1962 notes and coins that identified Jamaica as a sovereign nation.
Until next time…