Or Col. Baden-Powell does his best
Colonel Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was a British Army officer who commanded troops stationed in the South African town of Mafeking (now Mahinkeng) during the Second Boer War, also known as the South African War. From October 1899 to May 1900, the town was surrounded by a force of Boer (Dutch South African) fighters. Soldiers, men, women and children would endure a 217-day siege with food rationing and regular risks to life and limb. Under martial law, the 5,500 Mafeking civilians were kept to a strict, semi-military agenda—no one was exempt. Even the children played a role, the boys carrying messages between officers in the town. The conditions were harsh and Mafeking was bombarded daily—except on Sundays. The Boers were strict observers of the Sabbath.
As in any siege, Mafeking quickly began to run short of most things, not the least of which was currency. People generally hang onto their coins during sieges (called hoarding). With so little cash in circulation, Baden-Powell had resorted to issuing emergency paper money in the new year. The notes were even legally supported. The local army paymaster, Captain H. Greener, wrote £5,228 in cheques to the Standard Bank of South Africa, backing every issue of notes. Once there was a return to civil law, this siege money could then be exchanged for cash at the Standard Bank, where funds would already be in place.
Five denominations of notes were printed by Townsend & Son in an underground space nicknamed “the Mafeking Mint.” The one-, two- and three-shilling notes were simply coupons for use in canteens that distributed rations of rough oat bread and horse meat.
Baden-Powell took a personal interest in the 10-shilling and one-pound notes. He drew the design of the one-pound note onto the head of a croquet mallet. A craftsman then carved the design into the wood. Dissatisfied with the results, Baden-Powell used the croquet mallet woodcut to print the 10-shilling notes and drew a far more detailed (and amazingly competent) image that was photographically reproduced for the one-pound notes.
The notes successfully circulated throughout the siege. But, afterward, a curious thing happened: almost nobody cashed them in. Edward Ross, Mafeking’s auctioneer, predicted, “I am sure they will be worth much more than face value as curios after the siege…” And so they were. Only a mere £638 worth were ever redeemed at the Standard Bank, leaving a whopping £4,590 on credit. In today’s money, that is nearly $800,000. This expensive loose end would dog Baden-Powell until it became an issue in the House of Commons. The Standard Bank eventually repaid the money to the army paymaster in 1910.
The upstanding and ever-resourceful Baden-Powell was praised for his imaginative tactics in holding off the enemy during the siege. Under his command, the people of Mafeking survived with only modest casualties until British soldiers arrived in the spring of 1900 to drive out the Boers. At home, Baden-Powell became a national hero for his actions, romanticized by an adoring press. However, it has since been debated whether he needed to hold out for so long or whether his defiant stand was even necessary. Military authorities of the day were not pleased that he had made no attempt to break out of Mafeking. Though he was a gifted and inspired leader, attack did not appear to be Baden-Powell’s forte. In a later battle, he again allowed himself to be besieged and the army quietly withdrew him from active service.
While in Africa, Baden-Powell wrote a training book on military reconnaissance and scouting (Aids to Scouting) that became a bestseller in Britain. In 1908 he wrote a similar book called Scouting for Boys that was said to be inspired by the role young boys played in the siege. In England, he organized big camping adventures to test his ideas of applying military scouting and woodcraft practices to youth training—and the Boy Scouts was born. Nearly simultaneously, Baden-Powell, his wife and his sister also launched the Girl Scouts. Baden-Powell’s theories of “good citizenship through woodcraft” spread around the world. The various editions of his book sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. And Baden-Powell became a legend.
After four months in our new digs the Collections Team is starting to settle in. But even though most of the boxes have been unpacked there is still a lot of work to do. In 2014 we will be collaborating with the Exhibitions Team on travelling exhibits and coming up with ideas for the new museum space.
Recently, from October 3 to 5th, collections staff were at the Toronto Coin Expo, held at the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street. The show boasts informative lectures, a large auction of coins, tokens and paper money as well as a showroom, called a bourse, where dealers greet clients and buy and sell material.
In one of my favourite cinematic moments, the 11 year-old chess prodigy, Josh Waitzkin, imagines sweeping the pieces off a chess board in order to help him think more clearly about an important game of chess. It is a championship game and he is on the brink of winning it all.
For the first time since they went into their cases in 1980, over 2000 coins, notes, beads and shells are coming back out. The Museum’s curatorial staff are busily pulling panels from cases, placing coins into specially prepared drawers and sliding notes into acid-free Mylar envelopes.
The doors were barely closed following Big Top Farewell event before Chief Curator Paul Berry and his team began emptying display cases that had been sealed shut since 1980. The biggest task involved removing more than 2500 bank notes from the room we knew as Gallery 8.
Another convention of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA) wrapped up in July. This year the convention was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was the first time in over thirty years that the RCNA Convention made a stop there.
Before the museum closed for renovations on 2 July, technicians began to remove the heavier artifacts in late May. First to go was the strong box. Built of ¼” thick welded steel plates, this trunk was used by the Bank of Upper Canada in Toronto between 1821 and 1866.
Most of us know the first part of Alexander Graham Bell’s take on opportunity: “When one door closes, another one opens…” What we often don’t recall is the second half of that quote, where he says: “…but we so often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
The Staff of the Currency Museum was saddened to learn of the passing of artist Alex Colville who died on 16 July at his home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He was 92. One of Canada’s most celebrated painters, Colville is not as well-known as a sculptor but if you look carefully through your pocket change you might just find an example of his work.
The roots of the Currency Museum go back to 1959 when the then Governor of the Bank of Canada, James Coyne, proposed the idea of establishing a currency collection that would reflect the colourful monetary history of Canada. By the time the go-ahead was given in 1963 by Coyne’s successor, Louis Rasminsky, the collection’s mandate had been expanded to include world monetary history, banking and production artifacts and a numismatic library.