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Fibre “Teaching Coins” of the Union of South Africa

Pierre H. Nortje (May 2024)

George V Fibre Coin Set


From 1843 onwards, so-called “teaching coins” were issued to, or used by, schools in England to help children learn £.s.d. (pounds, shillings and pence) and to generally assist in learning to count money. The coins were made in various metals - to match the currency - until the late 1800's. Then cardboard was used and these resembled the coins actually in use. This carried on until the late 1900's. (The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 6, February 6, 2011, Article 25).

12 Pence make 1 Shilling school money

A “12 pence make 1 Shilling” piece made by S. G. Onions in 1843. The coin features young Prince Albert, who later became King Edward VII (1901-1910). Source: Worthpoint

According to an unpublished paper in February 2012 by Ken Bezuidenhout, a numismatist from Gauteng, cardboard school teaching coins of King Edward VII (1902) were used as training aids in British schools and commonwealth countries, reputedly also including South Africa, in the early 1900s.

The following pictures are from the Sudbury Hall Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire, which shows a “scholars box” of British cardboard coins from the first half of the 1900s.

Scolar's box of English cardboard coins

It is debatable whether these issues should be called “coins” or “tokens” as they were not used for trade purposes but as teaching aids. The word “model” would probably be the preferred term, but in this paper, we will use the words “coins” and “tokens” interchangeably.

The issues of the Union of South Africa

One of the first articles on our local tokens that we know of, was published in the South African Numismatic Society’s Magazine for 1947. Entitled, The Token Coinage of South Africa, it was written by J.L. Knobel, a well-known token collector of the period. The fibre series of the Union is not mentioned.

In 1966, E.J. Maynard compiled a 237-page publication entitled Tokens of Southern Africa – a catalogue based on the collection in the Africana Museum. Again, as in Knobel’s article, the fibre tokens are omitted.


One of the first times that the fibre series was mentioned in numismatic literature, was in Tokens of Southern Africa and their History (1978) by Dr. G.D. Theron. He however only mentions the series in a single sentence … “Before decimilisation (sic) in 1961, pressed fibre pieces were struck similar to real coins that circulated, and used in schools to teach children how to handle money”.


In his book Money in South Africa (1987:106) C.L. Engelbrecht writes that school (or fibre) money was “minted” from various types of sturdy cardboard as a teaching aid to schools. He records that it is also said that money was so scarce during the Depression years that it was indeed necessary to make this school money available since many pupils simply did not know what money looked like.

He continues “The coins were struck between 1930 and 1939 and bear the head of George V and George VI. The denominations from a half-crown to a farthing with official mint dies. The 10/- piece and the pound were merely gold-coloured disks with value indicated and marked ‘model’. How many were minted is not known, It is curious that, similar to real coins, this fibre money also has the same scarce years”.


(This last remark by Engelbrecht, as we will later see in this paper, is only partly true, as although the 1931 set is unrecorded, the 1939 sixpence and shilling, which is extremely rare as actual coins, are not that scarce in the fibre series).

The following pictures show a set in its original box as issued to schools. The lid reads Models of South African Coins / Modelle van Suid Afrikaanse Muntstukke with the number of coins per box being as follows: -

South African Fibre Coin box set
Fibre Coin box set lid

Farthing     12

Half Penny 12

Penny         24

Three Pence  20

Sixpence        20

Shilling           20

Half Crown      10

Ten Shillings   10

Pound              10

Source: Prof. Francois Malan

The box also reads Cape Province Requisite Stores / Magasyn van Skoolbenodigdhede Kaap Provinsie. If one looks closely at the lid of the box, in the lower left-hand corner the word “Dyneco” is printed.


In the Government Gazette of 22 June 1934, the Minister of the Interior authorized some printing companies to use abbreviations as imprints in lieu of or in addition to their full names and addresses. One of the companies listed is S.I. Dyne & Company with their address given as situated on the corner of Kerk and Mooi Streets, Johannesburg. Their abbreviation “Dyneco” was authorized by the Minister. We know that this company did business with the South African Mint. According to the Government Gazette for 29 June 1951, Dyneco’s tender was accepted to supply them with 160,000 cardboard boxes.


We can thus deduce that the box for the fibre coins was only manufactured after 22 June 1934. If one looks at the information visible on some of the wrapping paper that was used for the different denominations, it is clear that the paper was provided by the Schools Department and not the Mint. The date “Junie 1935” is also visible on one of the wrappings.


A question that arises is if these sets were provided to all four Union school departments or only the Cape Province. At this stage, we only have conclusive proof that they were issued for use in Cape schools. Actually, the two pictures of the box are the only “hard” evidence we have (as far as the author could find) linking the fibre tokens to being issued for teaching aids at schools.  When they were first (?) mentioned in numismatic literature by Dr. G.D. Theron in 1978, his source for them being used in schools, is not named.


A second question is the following: We know that S.I. Dyne & Company was both a printer and manufacturer & supplier of cardboard boxes. According to a German magazine Die Chemische Industrie issued on 15 April 1939, S.I. Dyne & Company of Johannesburg was also manufacturers of chemical products for printers and bookbinders. We know that the fibre coins were made from a type of hardened carton (not plastic) – were they perhaps the suppliers of the fibre used for manufacturing the coins in addition to them supplying their packaging boxes to the South African Mint?  


In their book MTB South Africa Tokens by Dr. Morgan Carroll and Allyn Jacobs (2021:411 & 413), beautiful pictures of both a George V set (1935) and a George VI set (1937) are shown. The 10 shillings (10/-) and pound (20/-) are shown with the George V set on the left. The reason for this is probably that by the mid-1930s (actually even earlier), the Sovereign (20/-) and Half Sovereign (10/-) did not circulate anymore and there was no need to teach children about these two denominations during the reign of King George VI.

George V fibre school money of South Africa
George VI fibre school money of South Africa

Of interest is that the specifications (size and weight) of the tokens in the two sets differ. The sizes of the George VI tokens also differ from those given in Hern’s Handbook on South African Tokens (2009).

In the following column, the specifications are given with those of the George VI set being the average of those recorded by Carroll/Jacobs and Hern. The last mentioned does not give the specifications for the George V tokens and only the sizes (not weights) of the George VI tokens.

The Scarcity of the Tokens (1930 to 1939)

(For reasons we will discuss in the next section, we do not consider fibre tokens struck before 1930 and after 1939 as part of the series, at least not in terms of them being used as teaching aids in schools).

In Hern’s Handbook on South African Tokens (2009:230-232), he mentions that the George V pieces are rare and that he has never seen a 1931 piece.

The author did a small study on the series and consulted three sources being the following: -

  1. Pictures of these tokens found on the internet.

  2. Tokens in the collections of four prominent collectors of the series, Ken Bezuidenhout, Anthony Govender, Johan Gouws and Steve van Niekerk.

  3. Various sales lists of South African coin dealers from the 1970s up to the early 2000s.

In the following column, the tokens found via the internet are indicated by the word “Picture”. Those that were not found on the internet, but are in at least one of the four collections mentioned, are indicated by “Collection”. Initially, only one single coin was found that was not from the 2 previous sources, being a 1938 Farthing that we picked up being advertised as Item 244 in the Randburg Coin & Banknote Price List of October 2000. However, Steve van Niekerk later confirmed that he indeed had a specimen in his collection.

The following interesting facts are noted from the above schedule: -


George V Series:


  • For both the years 1931 and 1933, no tokens of any denomination could be tracked.

  • For 1932 we could track only one denomination (Shilling).

  • For 1934 we could track four denominations (Half Penny, Penny, Tickey & Sixpence).

  • Complete sets (all the denominations) were found for 1930 and 1935 with the 1936 set missing only one token being the Tickey.


George VI series:


  • From 1937 to 1939 we could track all the denominations.


Similar tokens, but presumably not from the school money series.


As we have mentioned earlier in this paper, C.L. Engelbrecht wrote in his book Money in South Africa (1987:106) that the school fibre money was issued from 1930 to 1939. However, other fibre pieces have been recorded, including a Half Penny and Tickey of 1940 and Pennies dated 1945 and 1946. Tokens struck in other non-metallic materials (e.g. plastic and carton) have also been recorded.


Here are a few examples:- 

Fibre, Pastic and Cardboard schools money South Africa

Three Pennies dated 1939 from the collection of Ken Bezuidenhout of Gauteng. The one on the left is a normal fibre issue, the one in the middle is plastic and the one on the right is cardboard. As a matter of interest, Dr. Froelich of Port Elizabeth was the owner of the world-famous “single 9” Kruger Pond. Steve van Niekerk also has a similar plastic Penny of 1939 in his collection.

1929 Plastic Penny South Africa

A Union 2-Shilling piece of 1929 struck in plastic from the collection of Johan Gouws of Gauteng. The following fibre tokens are also in his collection, being a Half Penny of 1940 and Pennies of 1945 and 1946.

Fibre Pennies and Half Penny South Africa

Hern also records seeing a Farthing (Quarter Penny) in a museum dated in the 1940s struck in plastic and in different colours.

Request for information

This short paper must be seen as a work in progress and readers are encouraged to send us any information that we could add – especially if fibre tokens of the 1930s exist of hereto unrecorded pieces in our schedule above. Because both Half Penny and Tickey are recorded dated 1940, we believe that there might be a small chance that a few sets may have been struck in that year, so if anyone has pieces dated 1940, we would be particularly interested in such information.


For the record, with the conversion to the metric system in 1961, a series of plastic tokens and paper notes were issued to schools as teaching aids, similar to the fibre series. (Hern numbers 610 & 922 and Carroll & Jacobs number MB1305). This metric series was made by Maskew Miller, a leading supplier of textbooks to South African schools. Sets were also issued in 1965 with the introduction of our 2nd decimal coinage, but we have very little information on these, and they are not recorded by Hern (2009) and Carroll & Jacobs (2021).

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