ETHIOPIA (Page 1 of 3)

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Recent Coinage Developments in Ethiopia

A quick look in the "Standard Catalog of World Coins" (Krause Publications) shows that the latest circulation coins of Ethiopia are denominated 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 Cents, were perhaps all made in 1977 and are dated "1969". This date on the coins refers to the Ethiopian Calendar (E.C.) which is 7 years and 8 months behind ours. The dates on these pieces are in traditional Ethiopian numerals which are quite different to any numerals appearing on modern coinages of the rest of the world. However there is no need for a collector how to learn to read the numbers on the coins of this series as they always have this same date, even though they have been issued more or less continuously since 1969 E.C. (These coins, therefore, have what is known as a "frozen" date).

Any collector who did learn how to read all of the numerals, as used throughout the Ethiopian series of the last hundred years or so, will know more about these numerals than the average Ethiopian. These numerals have little other everyday use in Ethiopia except in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This is a little like how Great Britain (as a main example) still uses Latin words (or abbreviations of such words) e.g. "D.G. REG. F.D." on their general coinage issues. Few members of the general public here know much about the meanings of these "traditional" legends.

Ethiopia 50 Cents - new variety
The common obverse and the reverses of all five pieces of the 1969 E.C. dated series were
designed by an Australian named Stuart Devlin. The piece above is the 50 Cents.

These days even Ethiopia's 50 Cents coin is worth very little, in fact, around 6 U.S. Cents. New coins of all five denominations can still be found in change but are only much use to those with very little money. Due to their tiny value the 1 Cent coins are about the hardest of the five denominations to find in change - quite a contrast to the 1 Penny piece in Great Britain which is the smallest and about the most abundant denomination here.

Ethiopian coins are supplied into circulation by the National Bank of Ethiopia. It would rather seem that the original source used by the National Bank of Ethiopia for these coins was the British Royal Mint (Stuart Devlin having done work for them on several occasions). Furthermore, in addition to the British Royal Mint, the German published world coin catalogue "Weltmünzkatalog" (by Günter Schön, 20th Century issues edition of 1996/97, published by Battenberg) lists the mint in Berlin as another minter of these circulation coins. For now I can only assume that the British Royal Mint minted issues are identical to those minted in Berlin, I have nothing to suggest otherwise. From sources in Ethiopia I have been told that for a few years the coins were made in Ethiopia using British made blanks. I was told that coins of this series were made by "Ethiopia Mint", approximately from 1977 E.C. to 1985 E.C. "Ethiopia Mint" still exists to this day, it is part of and is located next to the National Bank of Ethiopia, in the capital Addis Ababa. The mint is still home to the presses that were delivered for its original setting up. Some other, earlier coinages were struck in Ethiopia, but even the most recent of those was in the earlier part of the twentieth century. I have no idea of what might remain of those earlier minting facilities.

The most recent development in the supply of coins to Ethiopia is that a new minter has apparently been used in the last year or so, as a source of Ethiopia’s five circulation coinage types. Evidence points to the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) as this new source. So what is this evidence ? Firstly, in June 2001, I read a new press release from the RCM where they listed Ethiopia as a client country of their’s. Some time later, in January 2002, a collector from Canada reported (via the internet newsgroup rec.collecting.coins) that he had seen bulk Ethiopian coins during a recent trip of his to the RCM’s production facility in Winnipeg. This evidence suggested to me that I ought to get hold of some newly issued coins direct from circulation in Ethiopia. This would enable me to check them for design changes either large or small. I managed to get a set of such coins in April 2002. I received one piece of each denomination plus a second piece of the 1 Cent type. This acquisition direct from Africa proved worthwhile.

Dates on newer and older varieties.
The date area as on older (upper) and newer (lower) coins of 5 Cents through 50 Cents.

Mane on newer and older varieties.
The lion’s mane behind the ear as on older (upper) and newer (lower).

Nyala's on newer and older varieties of 10 Cents.
The Nyala’s tail on the older (right) and the newer (far right) 10 Cent coins.

The general designs and the dates on these newer coins were the same as on older examples I had of types KM-43.1 through KM-47.1. However I could see slight design changes in these newer pieces. Comparing my newer and older examples I noticed variations in the reverses. These differences were mostly rather slight and difficult to describe, one main exception being with the Nyala on the 10 Cents where the newer variety has larger/bulging eyes, a different tail profile and a tail of one less strand than on the older pieces. As for the obverses, all of my older pieces are the same e.g. they have the exact same arrangement of hair tips around the date, below the lion’s chin and the same mane profile on the lion. The newer pieces include a slightly larger lion portrait, the hair tips versus date arrangement are different, the mane profile is different and there are a few lesser changes. The exact same obverse design is evident on all of my newer pieces (1 Cent through 50 Cents) except on my second new example of the 1 Cent piece, it features a third date/hairs arrangement and apparently the "old" mane profile (this different die is just a hint towards the use of yet another mint).

Note: The proof versions of the coins of this series (types KM-43.2 through KM-47.2) feature very slightly differently sized designs (sufficiently different for the SCWC to have given them separate sub-type numbers) and were made by the Franklin Mint (mintmark - stylised "F" over "M"). The dies used for these pieces are not an exact match for any of the other varieties. Issued in sets, these coins were made just for the worldwide collector market. I see no need to say anymore about these, especially since they do not exactly count as circulation sub-types.

See more at... Ethiopia - Page 2 of 3 and Ethiopia - Page 3 of 3

Tokens of Ethiopia

Also see... Lauri Palmu's site:- Ethiopian coins and medals

Back to AFRICA main page.

Started page with whole new article "Recent Coinage Developments in Ethiopia" at June 2003.

The article above was first published in the May 2003 edition of the Numismatics International Bulletin (pages 167-169, pages numbered through the year).