Zanzibar rupees

Discover how these banknotes became rare ... and expensive!

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What a funny name !

Zanzibar (1) is a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean located off the coast of Tanzania. This semi-autonomous territory is made up of three main islands (Unguja, Pemba and Mafia) and several other small islands. During the great explorations, Zanzibar first fell under the control of the Portuguese Empire, then in the 17th century, these islands came under the control of the Sultanate of Oman. Also known as the Spice Islands, Zanzibar is gradually becoming a major trading center in the region for the ivory and spice trade. In the mid-19th century, Zanzibar served as a transit point between Asia, the Middle East and Africa for a large slave market. At the end of the 19th century, the territory came under the control of the British Empire. On December 10, 1963, Zanzibar gained independence by becoming a constitutional monarchy governed by Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah. But the young ruler was overthrown a month later in a bloody revolution in which thousands of Arabs and Indians perished at the hands of local African revolutionaries. The Sultanate is then replaced by the People's Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. In April 1964, the republic merged with Tanganyika to create the present Republic of Tanzania.

Banknotes issued from 1908 to 1928

The 1908 issue

It was on January 1, 1908 that the first issue of banknotes denominated in rupees was put into circulation in Zanzibar. This issue comprises a series of 5 single-sided notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 rupees. Apart from their value, the denominations are identical to the front on which is depicted a dhow in moonlight on the left and fruit pickers and a ladder on the right.

The 1916 issue

A second issue was introduced on August 1, 1916. This issue included the five banknotes of 1908, but the latter were updated. Note that some banknotes are also dated September 1, 1916. The year 1916 is very rare. The vast majority of copies encountered are mostly dated 1908 or 1928. A 10 rupee Type 1916 was offered for sale by Stack's Bowers in August 2020 with a reserve price of $ 25,000 for an estimate between 40 000 and $ 60,000 (lot #30360) ... the auction house specifying in its description that it knows only one other copy dated 1916!


The 1920 issue

This third issue was introduced on September 1, 1920. The year 1920 should be considered as a separate year since the local authorities decided to add two new values comprising a 1 rupee Type 1920 and a 500 rupees Type 1920 printed with new colors but with an illustrated vignette almost identical to the values already known. The 500 rupees Type 1920 is Zanzibar's rarest banknote.

The 1928 issue

This fourth and last issue was introduced on February 1, 1928 with a circulation limited only to the values of 5, 10 and 20 rupees. These 1928 banknotes are also the ones you can hope to collect more easily.

PMG Population Report

Only 20 banknotes are graded in the PMG Population Report, all denominations and years combined, and are distributed as follows:

ReferenceDenominationTotal GradedYear
Pick # 11 rupee41920
Pick # 25 rupees51908-1928
Pick # 310 rupees61908-1928
Pick # 420 rupees41908-1928
Pick # 550 rupees01908-1920
Pick # 6100 rupees11908
Pick # 7500 rupees01920

Why these banknotes are rare?

The value of Zanzibar banknotes is linked to many factors: an issue duration limited to just 20 years and denominations printed in very small quantities. There will not remain today more than 500 copies known all denominations and years combined. Then, the table of graded copies in the PMG Population Report is quite eloquent. Add to this, the great disparity of collectors looking for their banknotes: collectors of African banknotes, collectors of banknotes denominated in rupees, collectors of banknotes from former British colonies, collectors who want a banknote from each country and finally the a few collectors who focus only on Zanzibar banknotes ...In 2011, at a sale organized by the Spink house in London, a set of 4 specimens of Zanzibar banknotes reached the price of £ 175,890 (approximately € 203,420). The collection consisted of values ​​of 5, 10, 20 and 100 rupees (2). So, while waiting to find the rare pearl that will illuminate your collection of world banknotes, you can wait by purchasing the specimen-essays of the 100 roupies Type 2017 or 500 roupies Type 2017 ... with the effigy of Freddy Mercury!


(1) The name of Zanzibar was given in the Middle Ages by Persian navigators who designated the coastal region of East Africa including the Zanzibar archipelago under the name of Zangibar or Zanğibar, meaning "the land of blacks" (from zang or zanğ, “blacks”, and bar, “land” or “country”) in Old Persian. It was the Portuguese who, during their wanderings around Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries, made the archipelago known under its current name. (Source: wikipedia).
(2) “The Zanzibar Government Banknotes: The Rarest of them all” by Navona numismatic, 2014.

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