The Countermarked Coinage of the British Virgin Islands

January 2, 2012

British Virgin Islands 1801 Half Dollar with TORTOLA Countermark

The British Virgin Islands (BVI), also known as the Virgin Islands are a group of more than 50 islands found in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico. The BVI are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom and the major islands of the territory include Tortola, Jost van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda. First sighted by Europeans in 1493 the BVI were captured from the Dutch in 1672 and were administered by the English until 1967, either independently via a local governor or as part of the British Leeward Islands or St. Kitts and Nevis. The islands became independent in 1967 and have been self-governing ever since. However as a British Overseas Territory the UK is still responsible for the defence of the BVI.

As with most British Colonies (including Australia) in the 18th and 19th centuries a key problem with local commerce was maintaining an adequate supply of coinage for local trade. The BVI was no different, with coinage continually being removed from the colony as traders brought in much needed goods and chattels. Being close to the Spanish colonies of the New World the trade coin of choice was the Spanish colonial 8 reale (or Spanish dollar), and cutting the coins to provide small change was prevalent. In 1798 the 8 reale was valued at -/8/3 in the BVI (about 60% above the normally accepted face value) but this did not stop the coin being removed from the colony.

The Coinage Act of 1801

As an attempted solution to this the local administration of the BVI passed an act in 1801 to create a local currency by mutilating or countermarking commonly traded coins found in the colony. The Act allowed for the local currency to trade until 1802 anticipating that that a sufficient supply of British sterling would be available by then. However this did not eventuate and an amendment was made to extend this to 1805. Denominations included in the act were:

  • Cut half dollar countermarked with Tortola - valued at -/4/1/1
  • Cut quarter dollar countermarked with Tortola - valued at -/2/-/-
  • Cut eight dollar countermarked with Tortola - valued at -/1/-/-
  • A Bitt - cut half pistareen (2 reales) countermarked with Tortola - valued at -/-/9/-
  • Half Bitt - cut quarter pistareen (2 reales) no countermark - valued at -/-/4/1
  • "Black Dog" - French 2 Sous countermarked with T - valued at -/-/1/1

The Second Coinage 1805-1824

The year 1805 came and went and still there was no supply of British sterling coinage and the local government was running out of currency to run the colony. To remedy this the colonial administrators commissioned a second countermarked coinage that was made periodically from 1805 through to 1824. These later issues are characterized by much cruder countermarks and a mis-spelling of Tortola to TIRTILA. It is interesting to note that it was not until 1892 that there was sufficient sterling in the BVI for the countermarked coinage of the islands to finally be de-monetized.

Multiple Countermarked Coins

An unusual aspect of the Act passed in 1801 was that there was no minimum weight specified for any of the cut coins. Because of this the BVI happily made use of the cut and countermarked coinage of other colonial islands in the Caribbean by simply stamping them with their own marks. These multiple countermarked coins are more commonly found with the countermarks of the second and cruder coinage period of 1805-1824.

Posted by mnemtsas at January 2, 2012 10:49 AM
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