From sunken ships to auction
By Debbie Ransome,reporting from London
Jamaica is known for many things - Bob Marley, reggae, Usain Bolt and even its bobsleigh team.
But it's never been known for its coin collections.
An auction house in London is hoping that this is about to change.
Before you say "pieces of eight" and do your best pirate imitations, bear in mind that these pieces will be raising thousands of pounds in London, come April.
The collection is a vast one – the coins, tokens and medals cover three centuries of Jamaican history.
From the 1600s to the 1960s
They start with the 17th Century salvaging of a hoard of Spanish silver through to a medal awarded to a Jamaican journalist in the 1960s.
So how did the collection come together?
Jamaican Raymond Brandon started like many children – a stamp collector who went after Commonwealth stamps and coins in his early childhood.
By the time he’d finished, he was rooting out maps, old prints, old photographs... and more coins.
By his death in 2002, Raymond Brandon was the President of the Jamaica Historical Society and a member of the Caribbean collectors’ group ERIK.
The collection will be on display and up for auction on 3 April in London.
Auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb told Caribbean Intelligence© that they do not just expect the stereotypical rich buyers and collectors. Items start at £50.
The collector’s bug can hit anyone.
Mr Brandon himself started with a stamp collection but, in later years, took part in the search of a dry river bed in Jamaica’s original capital, Spanish Town, as well as scouring the world’s auction houses and salerooms.
Dix Noonan Webb, which specialises in coins, tokens and commemorative medals, describes Raymond Brandon as a “one-off”.
The items are believed to form the largest Jamaican collection to be offered at auction. It includes 3,000 pieces, all with a Jamaican theme.
A Kingston Church of Scotland communion token is expected to be sold at between £100 and £150, while a Kingston and Liguanea Water Works brass half token is likely to go for £400 to £600.
But, before you start combing through your grandparents’ old stuff, bear in mind that such findings are rare.
“It is quite unusual to come across such collections,” the head of the coins department at Dix Noonan Webb, Christopher Webb, told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“Caribbean artifacts are not auctioned all that often.
“From September 2010 onwards, Dix Noonan Webb sold the amazing collection of West Indian coins built up by the late Edward Roehrs in three auctions.”
One of the rare pieces and likely to appeal to the Pirates of the Caribbean lover in all of us is a silver medal struck in 1687, to commemorate the recovery of a fortune in silver that had gone down with the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion.
The ship sank in the Silver Banks Passage between what are today the Turks & Caicos Islands and the Dominican Republic.
When the sunken silver, worth £300,000, was recovered in the 17th Century, King James II knighted the head of the expedition, William Phipps, and had a silver medal struck to mark the occasion.
The auctioneers expect this medal to fetch between £1,200 and £1,500 in April.
The collection also includes a large number of anti-slavery medals, including one to mark the 1840 Anti-Slavery Convention held in London.
There’s also a copper medal produced in 1838 to celebrate the Abolition of Negro Apprenticeships in Jamaica. It depicts the head of William Knibb, a missionary schoolmaster in Jamaica, who helped to promote the Baptist missionary growth in Jamaica until his death in 1845.
For those of you not paying attention to your Caribbean history, the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt led by Sam Sharpe and the growing pressure on slavery led to the colonial planters blaming the Baptist churches as a base for the slaves’ rebellion.
William Knibb’s church in Falmouth was one of the churches burned down.
When slave leaders asked Knibbs to return to England to plead their case, he toured and held meetings back home attacking slavery.
After the 1834 abolition of slavery, Knibbs wrote: “I shall never forget the three years of struggle, and the incessant anxiety upon my spirit as I passed through the length and breadth of the country detailing the slaves' wrongs.”
The medal bearing his head is expected to sell for £400-£600.
What buyers want
The items do not just depict Jamaica’s more ancient history, but also more modern times.
The collection includes a 1965 gold Institute of Jamaica Musgrave medal awarded to Theodore Sealy, a former editor of the Jamaica Gleaner, for cultural leadership.
In April, the auctioneers expect bidders to exemplify the same sort of dedication that drove Raymond Brandon.
“The collectors who form the bulk of buyers at such sales are usually interested in rarity and quality,” Christopher Webb told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“It is definitely not just an interest for the rich.
“Lots can be as little as £50 or may cost the successful bidder £50,000 or even more. Collectors are driven by passion.”