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Coin Shortages on Curacao and the Creation of Traders’ Banknotes

Throughout most of the 19th century, the Dutch island of Curacao, located just off the coast of Venezuela, had serious coin shortages. Specie was scarce and only in the early 1890s did the governor suggest importing Dutch coins to the island; even these would quickly disappear from circulation. Small-change banknotes and a variety of other coins from countries around the world did little to alleviate the problem. The situation was made worse by gambling, which kept the remaining limited number of coins out of circulation. This caused continued problems for local community members who were unable to facilitate even the most basic of transactions. Even though a local newspaper report in 1891 stated there were no complaints about coin shortages this seemed to have been short-lived at best. When Venezuela restricted the repatriation its silver coins later that year, whatever coins were in circulation quickly disappeared, on their way back to Venezuela to beat the deadline.

By 1893 local trading companies had enough of the problem and decided to issue their own small-change notes. The first company to do so was S.E.L. Maduro & Sons, which became the most prolific issuer of these notes. Its first issue was printed locally by Neuman, one-sided on low quality paper of various colors. These were readily accepted in commerce. Soon thereafter Maduro and several other firms ordered banknotes from the Hamilton Banknote Company in New York, which entered circulation shortly thereafter, replacing the locally printed issue. Over the following years, eight firms (including some firms from nearby Aruba and Bonaire) would issue these traders’ notes.

Despite the issuance (and ready acceptance) of these traders’ notes, complaints about coin shortages continued. The government had introduced its own small-change notes that were not exchangeable in silver, but the amount was small and insufficient. In 1895, a separate coinage just for Curacao was suggested, but it was 1901 before a new coinage law was enacted which saw the first coins produced specifically for Curacao. Until then traders’ notes continued to circulate and were readily accepted by the local population.

The Landhuis Collection of Curacao offered at the Spring 2024 Maastricht Auction features numerous examples of these extremely rare traders’ notes, including a 50 centen from the first issue of Maduro which is possibly unique in private hands (lot 50288). Also offered are three of the four denominations of the second Maduro series, printed by the Hamilton Banknote Company (lots 50289, 50290 and 50291). Other firms represented are Wed. Willem P. Maal (a 1 gulden, lot 50292) and Meyer & Araujo (a 25 centen, lot 50293). These six notes in the Landhuis Collection represent one of the most advanced groups of these traders’ notes to come to the market in recent memory. For an example of one of the government notes issued to help with the coin shortage, see lot 50229, a 25 centen 1892.

For more information about consigning to Stack’s Bowers Galleries please contact Dennis Hengeveld at dennis@stacksbowers.com.

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