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Zimbabwe's coinage and its development in 2001

    Around late February 2000, in my continuous search for news on African coins, I came across a site with information for visitors to Zimbabwe. The section of particular interest, of course, was about money in Zimbabwe. Unlike other sites with the same kind of information on Zimbabwe, this certain page stated that the highest coin denomination in Zimbabwe was 5 Dollars. I had not heard anything, at that time, of any such coins, Zimbabwe's highest circulating coin denomination being 2 Dollars as far as I was aware. I knew that if these coins existed then they would be a new coin type for the world's numismatists to collect and perhaps they would be bi-metallic coins. However, I had previously experienced inaccuracies with tourist info about money in other African countries, in fact I have seen some definite errors replicated from one site to another. So I had to check out these facts. With a bit of luck I found someone who would be able to confirm whether or not the Zimbabwean 5 Dollar coins really existed. This was someone resident in Zimbabwe. He confirmed that 5 Dollar coins did not exist in Zimbabwe and as at that time (which was early March 2001) none had been announced, though need for such coins was quite apparent. Inflation in Zimbabwe over the years has vastly reduced the buying power of the circulation coins. Over the last 20 years the cost of a typical newspaper has increased from 10 Cents to 20 Dollars.

    Three or four months later I came across new information on Zimbabwe's coins. Reported in the "Zimbabwe Independent" newspaper of 22nd of June 2001 were some plans of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. These were namely (i) to introduce a 500 Dollar note (ii) to replace the 5 Dollar notes with coins and (iii) to get the construction of a new mint in Bulawayo complete by July 2001 and to get the new plant into full production by the following month. This report also mentioned how up until that time all of Zimbabwe's circulation coins were made by the British Royal Mint and how the importation by Zimbabwe of coin blanks, instead of struck coins, would make a saving of around 30 to 40 percent.

    By 12th August I found a report in the "Zimbabwe Independent" from 9th August about the opening of the mint in Bulawayo, this stated that "The striking of coins should commence in the last quarter of 2001." The report also stated that a coin to replace the 5 Dollar notes would be introduced by the end of August 2001.

    So now I knew that, some time in the following 2 or 3 weeks, reports of the issuance of this new coin would be appearing in the (on-line) African press. I kept an eye on the various sites that would perhaps be the first to have this news e.g. Zimbabwe based banks and newspapers.

Zimbabwe bi-metallic 5 Dollars 2001
Zimbabwe's bi-metallic 5 Dollar coin of 2001. (Image from Liu Jian)

    Then, towards the end of August, I received a message out of the blue, from the Zimbabwe resident who in March had confirmed to me that at that time there hadn't even been an announcement about a 5 Dollar coin - which at the time was quite true. He gave me an update on the 5 Dollar coin situation. He confirmed that the coin really would be issued on 31st August 2001. He also mentioned that it would be a ringed bi-metallic and its release would be closely followed by coins of 10, 20, 50 Cents, 1 and 2 Dollar coins in new alloys. This was all very interesting news to me. A report from Zimbabwe’s “Financial Gazette” that I found a few weeks later confirmed the plan for an alloy change for the coins 10 Cents through 2 Dollars. This report noted that the new versions of these coins will be “thicker and shinier”, to me this rather suggests that the previous alloys of Copper-Nickel and Nickel-Brass will be replaced with Nickel-plated-Steel and Brass-plates-Steel respectively.

    Furthermore, if one new piece is not enough, maybe when the Bulawayo Mint starts making the 5 Dollar coins someone might be able to find a difference between the pieces of one mint and those of the other. Likewise perhaps for the smaller denominations, we'll just have to wait and see.

    By the start of October 2001 the new bi-metallic 5 Dollar coins started appearing on the numismatic market. These must be the ones that were first issued at the end of August 2001. These pieces must have been made by the British Royal Mint if the new mint in Bulawayo is only due to be producing coins by the last quarter of 2001. I wonder if a change of mint might show in the coins in some very subtle way ? We shall wait and see.

The reverse designs on Zimbabwe's coins are....

    1 Cent  -  Garland of leaves of the flame lily, the national flower.
    5 Cents  -  Hare.
    10 Cents  -  Baobabs tree.
    20 Cents  -  Birchenough Bridge, Sabi River.
    50 Cents  -  Rising sun, symbolic of independence.
    1 Dollar  -  Zimbabwe ruins.
    2 Dollars  -  Pangolin.
    5 Dollars  -  Rhino.

    The common obverse is the Zimbabwe soapstone bird, based on a totem found at the Zimbabwe ruins and now in the National Museum. This design and all six reverses of the initial series (1 Cent through 1 Dollar) were designed by Jeff Huntly (see  http://www.communitychest.org.za/Fish%20Eagle.htm  for a bit more info on this artist). I have yet to find out who designed the 2 Dollar coins’s reverse as introduced in 1997.

    The 1 Cent coin is no longer produced as they were costing nearly 50 Cents each to make. The 5 Cents is more or less obsolete. Importation of both of these denominations ceased in 1999 and as mentioned earlier, there will not be new version of the 1 and 5 Cents coins. When the new versions of the other coins do appear then likely the older versions (namely the Copper-Nickel pieces) will soon disappear, already an engineering firm buys up old 50 Cent coins, drills holes in them and sells/uses them as washers for nuts & bolts. This is far cheaper than pressing washers from plate metal.

Zimbabwe 10 Cents 2001
Zimbabwe 10 Cents 2001.

    The latest thing to happen in the story of the Zimbabwean coinage is that in August 2002 a regular trading contact of mine had got hold of a set of 10, 20, 50 Cents and 1 and 2 Dollars in plated-Steels - all pieces being dated 2001. I believe I had previously seen the 2001 dated 2 Dollars coins on eBay prior to this but none of the others. I got hold of set of the new coins in November 2002.

NOTE : The background image for this page is the Soapstone Bird design as seen on the obverse of every Zimbabwean circulation coin.

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Last updated March 2003