A Closer Look at the Coins of The Gambia

Gambia 2 Shillings 1966

The Gambian 1966 2 Shillings (scaled to 200dpi)

The Gambia, one of the smaller nations in West Africa, gained independence in 1965. The following year the country introduced its own coinage. The first series of Gambian coins were a pre-decimal series comprising 1 Penny, 3 Pence, 6 Pence, 1 Shilling, 2 Shillings, oddly 4 Shillings and surprisingly 8 Shillings. All were dated 1966, except the 8 Shillings, issued later on and dated 1970. All types have the Arnold Machin portrait of Elizabeth II, with country name “THE GAMBIA” and date on the obverse. The 1966 coins feature a set of realistic designs by Michael Rizzello who also put forward designs for the 8 Shillings coin. However, the design finally used for this type was one that had been provided by Spink & Son. They were the distributors for the 8 Shillings outside of The Gambia. From Penny to 8 Shillings these designs are a sailing vessel, a Double-spurred Francolin, some Peanuts, an Oil Palm, an African Domestic Ox, a Slender-snouted Crocodile and a bathing Hippopotamus respectively. This artwork, with the exception of that on the 8 Shillings type, was to see further use on all of the Gambian decimal circulation coins, though not in quite the same order. On this series, the designs include the denomination numeral in western numerals and the denomination name in English. Further to this there are Arabic inscriptions for the full denomination in both Wolof and Mandinka languages on just the 4 Shillings and the 8 Shillings. Much of Gambia’s population comprises Wolof people and Mandinka people.

Gambia 4 Shillings 1966

The Gambian 1966 4 Shillings (scaled to 200dpi)

The Arabic script on the 4 Shillings coins says “dalasi” and “dérém”, these words are each derived from the word “Dirham”. According to a section of the website of the Central Bank of The Gambia (, by 1880, silver coins, mainly French 5 Franc types, were in general use in the country. Further, the replacement of those various coins with British coins began in 1892. At that time the official exchange rate of French Francs to British Shillings was 5 Francs to a penny or two short of 4 Shillings. So it would seem that around this time the local names for 5 Francs (i.e. “dalasi” in the Mandinka language and “dérém” in the Wolof language) were adopted in The Gambia as names for an amount of 4 Shillings. Wolof people in neighbouring Senegal continue to use the word “dérém” as a name for an amount of 5 Francs of their own currency.

 Gambia 8 Shillings 1970

The Gambian 1970 8 Shillings (scaled to 200dpi)

The Arabic script on the 8 Shillings coins says "dalasi fula" (Mandinka) and "dérém nyaar" (Wolof). Note the addition of a word for “two” in each case as compared to the 4 Shillings type. The natural next highest denomination from 1 Dalasi/Dérém chosen for a special issue coin was 2 Dalasi/Dérém and that brought about this rare occurrence of a coin of eight Shillings. The last time a coin of this value had been issued was in Scotland, and those coins were only issued for a short while during 1581. My source for that info was page 141 of the June 1970 issue of “Coin Monthly”, which was detailing the then new issue of the Gambian 8 Shillings. That same source also said of the new coin that: - “It is also the first coin with a hippopotamus since the time of Philip I who, in 248 A.D., to commemorate 1,000 years of Rome, commanded a special circus of wild animals which were represented on the coins of that year.”

Gambia 25 Bututs 1971

The Gambian 1971 25 Bututs (scaled to 200dpi)

The Gambia became a republic in 1970. The following year the country moved to a decimal currency system. The first decimal coins were dated 1971 and were introduced on 1st July 1971. The “Dalasi” had been chosen as the new unit of account, and it remained equivalent to four Shillings of the country’s pre-decimal system. This was in contrast to other Commonwealth countries that ceased to have their Pound at decimalisation – it seems that they all adopted a new currency unit equal to ten of their pre-decimal Shillings. For example in Rhodesia, Australia and New Zealand this unit was a Dollar; in Malawi and Zambia a Kwacha; in South Africa a Rand and in Nigeria a Naira. For the decimal system, the Dalasi was divided into 100 Bututs. “Butut” is from the Wolof word “butuut” which means “something small”.

The Gambia’s first decimal series comprised 6 denominations: 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 Bututs and 1 Dalasi. The obverse of each of these coins features the portrait of the then president Dawda Jawara, the country title “REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA” and the date. The reverses for this series all include wildlife designs as previously used for the pre-decimal coins. On each type the reverse also includes the denomination numeral in western numerals and the denomination name in both English and in Arabic script. The word “butuut” is included in Arabic script on the 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 Bututs coins. The word “dérém” (Wolof language for “Dalasi”) in Arabic script is included on the 1 Dalasi coin, just as it had appeared on the 4 Shillings coins. Some 1 Butut coins were made with the Arabic script replaced by the motto “FOOD FOR MANKIND”. Some of those particular 1 Butut coins were dated 1985. The only later first series decimal coins were the 1 Dalasi coins with date 1987. Those 1 Dalasi coins were not large and round like those dated 1971 but were smaller and had seven rounded sides, the new size and shape for the 1 Dalasi was to be used again on the 1998 series.

Gambia 1 Dalasi 1998

The Gambian 1998 1 Dalasi
(scaled to 200dpi)

The Gambia’s most recent coins, the 1998 dated series, are effectively their second series of decimal coins. The obverse of each coin features the Gambian coat of arms, the country title “REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA” and the date. These coins are otherwise as per the first series coins, although the 1998 coins of 1, 5 and 10 Bututs are made of plated Steel. This was the first use of such materials for Gambian coinage.

In September 2005, the 1998 series of coins got a mention in a low profile news story in both the U.K. and The Gambia. A retired sales director from the British Royal Mint stood trial for conspiracy because he had allegedly received a large payment from an employee of the Central Bank of The Gambia. One report on the trial mentioned that the alleged conspiracy to defraud the Royal Mint occurred during the period 1996 to 2001 and involved a contract for the minting of 40 million coins. I can only deduce that this must relate to the 6 type series of 1998 dated Gambian coins. Another report made mention of The Birmingham Mint. Presumably that mint had been involved as a sub-contractor for the British Royal Mint. The defendant in the case was cleared. However, at the time, even the thought of something like this getting to court was quite interesting.

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The above is most of the article I had in the December 2007 issue of "Coin News" (Tokens Publishing UK). Since that time Gambian coins of 50 Bututs and 1 Dalasi have been issued dated 2008 - the designs for these are unchanged from 1998, but the newer coins are made from Nickel-plated-Steel as opposed to Copper-Nickel as previously used. Added at May-2013.