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South Africa’s First Paper Money Issuances

Pierre H Nortje (September 2023)

After war broke out between England and France in 1781, the Cape, as an ally of the Netherlands supporting the French, virtually ran out of hard currency. This shortage led to the issuance of paper notes the following year in order to prevent a currency shortage crisis.

In his 'A History of Banking and Currency in South Africa,' published in 1928, E.H.D. Arndt provides a detailed description of the issuance of these first notes. In May 1782, Cape Governor Joachim van Plettenberg ordered the issuing of money printed on parchment with the following values: Stiver denominations of 12, 24, and 36, and Rixdollar notes in multiples of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, and 60. Unfortunately, the Cape continued to face currency shortages, and this initial supply of parchment notes soon ran out. Consequently, the Governor ordered the issuance of further notes on plain paper. Arndt notes that in June notes of 2-Stivers had been issued (we will revisit this 2-Stuivers issue).

By August of that year, Rixdollars amounting to Rds.159,607.6.4 were issued. From 1 September 1782 to 31 August 1783, an additional Rds. 554,747 were issued, and from 1 September 1783 to 31 August 1784 another Rds. 210,865.2 were issued, bringing the total to Rds. 925,219.4 issued between May 1782 and August 1784. This amount roughly equaled £185,043.

In his book 'Money in South Africa' (1987), C. L. Engelbrecht mentioned that the notes were stamped and signed by hand. He also noted that the 2nd and 3rd issues from September 1782 to August 1784 were of a slightly different design. An earlier writer on the subject, Gerard van Loon, in his book 'Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Historie-penningen,' Volume 3, published in 1863, mentioned that in 1782, 6-Stiver notes were also issued together with the other denominations mentioned above.

The total number of notes issued between 1782 and 1784, must have run into hundreds of thousands of notes to equal the value of Rds. 925 219.4 but strangely, none of them seem to have survived. As far as the author knows, no pictures of these notes (with one exception), even from contemporary records, have ever been published.

Later issues, however, are known to exist. In her book A History of Currency in South Africa (1956), E. M. Shaw shows pictures of some examples, including 6 Stuivers of 1791 and 24 Stuivers of 1795 shown on the right.

Gerard van Loon, already mentioned above, states in his book published in 1863 that a picture plate exists with an accompanying description, showing that as far back as 1714, notes were issued for the Cape.

Van Loon shows pictures, highlighted here in yellow, of the two notes of 1714 (that we will discuss in detail in our next section) and also shows the only known picture (as far as we know) of one of the Van Plettenberg issues, the 2 Stuiver note that we have mentioned above.

The note is at the bottom left of the plate shown on the right and was sanctioned by the Governor’s resolution of 25 June 1782. It is signed by Olof Godlieb de Wet, William Ferdinand van Rheede van Oudtshoorn and Pieter Diederick Boonacker.

Van Loon says that these three men kept monthly records of the number of notes issued at the Cape.

The two issues of 1714 carry the stamp of the V(ereenigde) O(ost-Indiche) C(ompagnie) with a C(aap or Cabo) and the date above the monogram, with their denominations of 6 Stuyv(ers) and 12 Stuyv(ers) alongside it. The surnames Hacker, Le Sueur and Cruywagen appears below the stamp.

Van Loon gives his source as Recherches sur le commerce: Ou, Idées rélatives aux intérêts des différens peuples de l'Europe, Volume 2, Part 2. (Research on Commerce: Or, Ideas Relating to the Interests of the Different Peoples of Europe). This book was written by a Dutchman, Cornelis van der Oudermeulen in 1784. The picture on the right is taken from this book.

The title above translates to Paper Money used at the Cape in 1782 and 1783, but it does not necessarily refer to the two notes pictured here but to the part in the book where the van Plettenberg issues of 1782 and 1783 are described.

There are some points of interest regarding the two 1714 notes depicted

When one looks at the VOC monogram with the C (apparently for Caap or Cabo) above, it looks much the same as the obverse of a 1 Stuiver of Ceylon from 1783. Could the notes actually have been issued for Ceylon and not the Cape? Dutch Ceylon existed from 1640 until 1796, so date-wise it is quite possible.

According to official records, the VOC’s Sri Lanka’s first series of banknotes was issued on the 10th of May, 1785.

The notes had values equivalent to 50, 100, 500 and 1000 Pathaga and carried the signatures of three government officials.

The example on the right also shows the VOC monogram with the C at the top.

The question that must now be asked is, who are the individuals whose surnames Hacker, Le Sueur and Cruywagen appear on the 1714 notes? This might give us a clue to the question if the notes were issued for Ceylon or the Cape of Good Hope. If one looks closely at the two notes it becomes evident that the names were written by the same hand and are therefore not signatures. Van Loon actually identifies one of them with a footnote naming Mr. Jac. Joh. le Sueur from the source De Navorcher XII bl. 207.

Our research shows all three of these surnames are closely connected to the Cape of Good Hope as government officials. However, the period in which these surnames appear is not in the early 1700s but during the 1770s and 1780s when Van Plettenberg was the Cape Governor. During this period, the names of Olof Godlieb de Wet, William Ferdinand van Rheede van Oudtshoorn and Pieter Diederick Boonacker, who signed the 1782 2-Stuiver note, also featured prominently.

Jacobus Johannes le Sueur (1734-1807), was Landdrost of Stellenbosch and Drakenstein and later served as Cashier and Cellar master for the Cape government. His father “Dominee” Francois le Sueur came to the Cape in 1729 where his son was born a few years later. The surname Le Sueur was not established in the Cape in 1714.

Le Sueur actually succeeded the second name on the 1714 notes, (Pieter) Hacker as the Cape Cellar master. Hacker was born in 1718 and came to the Cape in the 1730s. In later life, he was appointed as Secunde (second in command) of the Cape in 1777.

The third name was Gerhardus Hendrik Cruywagen (or Cruijwagen) (1738–1788) who was overseer of the Company’s magazine and the slave lodge.

Regarding the signees of the 2- Stuiver note: We are sure that they are the following:-

William Ferdinand van Rheede van Oudtshoorn (1755-1822) was in service of the Cape Government and appointed as a member of the Political Council in 1788. His father, Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, was appointed Governor of the Cape Colony in 1772 to succeed the deceased Governor Ryk Tulbagh, but died at sea on his way to the Cape Colony to take up his post.

Pieter Diederik Boonacker (1735-1795), arrived at the Cape in 1771 and was appointed as Landdrost of Swellendam from 1776 to 1777 and held further positions at the Cape after that.

Olof Godlieb de Wet (1739–1811) started his working career in the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) in 1757. Over the years he remained with the DEIC, starting as an assistant, then bookkeeper in 1768, office manager (1772), buyer (1775) and a member of the Council of Justice in 1778. He continued work as a store manager in 1782 and auctions manager in 1785.

As we have seen regarding the surnames appearing on the 6 and 12 Stuiver notes dated 1714, none of them had even been born at that time. They all became high-ranking officials in service of the Cape Government during the last quarter of that century. So why did their names, which were written by the same person, appear on the notes , unlike the 1782 2-Stuiver issues where those involved left their personal signatures?

We believed that there could be two explanations for this

Firstly, 1714 was a fantasy date that appeared on the notes (any date could have been chosen) and was forwarded to a committee for comments regarding their appearance, size and material used to manufacture them. They were thus “pattern notes” forwarded to Hacker, Le Sueur and Cruywagen who were probably members of this committee formed in the early 1780s.


Secondly, the notes were indeed issued in 1714, of which unsigned specimens were kept by the Cape Government. In the early 1780s when the Government decided to again issue notes, they were sent to the three persons in question for the same reasons as stated above.

We eventually found the answer to all our many questions

The two items were not currency notes at all but were actually pieces of paper showing tax stamps used by the VOC in the Dutch colonies.

See the picture below from the Dutch Belasting & Douane Museum.

More examples from the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fiscale Filatelie are shown below.

Therefore, our research contradicts Van Loon's reference to the 1714 issues as a currency, and (still) confirms that the so-called Van Plettenberg notes of 1782-1784 are the first currency issued for South Africa, with those issued in parchment to the value of 159 607.6.4 Rixdollars between May and August 1782 being the very first issues. Of these none, as far as we are aware, still survives today.


An extract from the resolution of 1782 by the Governor and the political committee regarding the first note issues, mentions the following (as we understand it as the old Dutch is very difficult to read):-

"The 4 denominations of Stivers and 16 denominations of Rixdollars must be stamped with the same stamps that were used previously by Pieter Hacker, Jacobus Johannes le Sueur and Gerhardus Hendrik Cruijwagen and signed by them with the denominations added."

In our view, these stamps are the tax stamps mentioned above. That is why examples of the stamps with the three names are shown in the two 1714 “notes”.

The old stamps were thus used, but signed by the three officials in 1782. We speculate that if a certain denomination stamp, say the 60 Rixdollar did not exist, then another stamp (say for the 24 Rixdollar) was used and the denomination corrected to “60”. We will remember that the example shown previously of a 6 Stuivers of 1791 shows a typical tax stamp with three signatures. So although none of these first Plettenberg issues survived, we now have a pretty good idea of how they must have looked.

Copy of the Extract.

Western Cape Numismatic Society - October 2023

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