Your Guide to Identifying African Coins

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Your Guide to Identifying African Coins

The history of the African continent is a turbulent one, with colonisations, wars and famine altering its path throughout modern history. This has led to the continents’ individual currencies variety in their design, shape and denomination. This can make them hard to identify, especially for amateurs.

If interested in African coins, knowing exactly what sort of coin is a genuine African model is important to grasp. Visiting online auction website eBay is a clever way to evaluate all the different types of coin next to each other from numerous African countries and make an acquisition if necessary.

Coin Collections

  • Collecting coins has been a popular pastime for many people for a number of years ever since the process of legally minting coins became the standard way of constructed legal tender. Rarer coins, such as special limited editions, are highly sought after by collectors and can make some extremely valuable.
  • Some collectors like to assemble and orchestrate their assortment of coins in tune with a certain theme, be it a historical period or exact denomination. They also may like to only concentrate on coins from a certain geographical area, in this case Africa.
  • Some collectors may like to pinpoint a certain country too within Africa and concentrate on collecting as many coins as possible from this place. Due to the possible limitless nature of all the possible coins on the market, directing focus on one particular area can make beginning and finishing a collection more achievable.

Common Coin Terms

When coming to research coins and their history, certain terms may be used in item details and certain descriptions. The table below provides a quick run-through of some of these:


Coin Term




The side of the coin commonly referred to as ‘heads.’


The side of the coin commonly referred to as ‘tails.’


The outer edge of the coin.


The design of the coin, e.g. the Queen’s head.


Coins that have been polished with special dyes.

Current African Coins

Below is a table highlighting some of the current African currencies that you may come across when coming to find a certain coin, although more research may be required into the smaller nations of the continent:




Algerian Dinar






Central African Franc


Egyptian Pound


Ethiopian Birr


Ghanaian Cedi


Guinean Franc


Kenyan Shilling

Ivory Coast

West African Franc


Libyan Dinar


West African Franc


Moroccan Dirham


Nigerian Naira


Rwandan Franc


West African Franc


Somali Shilling

South Africa

South African Rand


Sudanese Pound


Tunisian Dinar


Ugandan Shilling

Colonial Africa

  • Remember that at some point in their existence, nearly every African nation has been colonised at some point by European rulers. This has added another level for coin collectors attracted to the region, especially those with an interest in history and the history of Empire in particular. Certain colonial coins may depict an era in their history which can be of importance to some researchers.
  • For example, South Africa was colonised by Dutch and British settlers for centuries before its eventual independence from 1961. During this time, different denominations and currencies were used in tune with the period South Africa was going through; from the Dutch guilders to the British pound through to the current rand.
  • When coming to identify African coins then try and look for the era in which it was made, something that should be printed on the coin itself. Then, do some research into what period this falls to in that particular nation’s history. Many colonial countries took up the mother country’s currency such as the Democratic Republic of Congo who adopted the Belgian Franc and still use it to this day.

Advice on How to Determine Coins

Below is some general advice that can help when coming to identify certain African coins.

  • The most efficient way to identify coins is by examining the markings that have been printed on the obverse and reverse sides of them. Use a magnifying glass if some of these markings are unclear. Also, for some much older coins the markings on them are likely to have become dirty or worn out. Seek advice on how to efficiently clean the coin so it can be identified easier.
  • The characteristics of an African coin should tell you where and when it was produced; look out for the following aspects:
    • Country of origin
    • Date
    • Denomination
    • Design
    • Which metal it is made from
    • Language used
    • Weight
    • Size
    • Colour
    • Magnetism
  • Naturally, a lot of these markings will be in a different language. Be ready to have a translation guide near before coming to determine the coin’s authenticity and value. Also remember that the country of origin will be printed in the language of the nation it is representing, for example ‘Cherifien’ denotes to a Moroccan coin, whilst ‘Cote D’Ivoire’ will have been printed on coins from the Ivory Coast.
  • Another way is to check the material that the coin has been made out of. Some modern coins, such as the South African Rand are made from a bi-metallic material which can be easy to examine. However, older African coins can be more difficult to investigate. One good tip is to find out the material of the coin and research if that particular metal was being used for coin-making around that period of time in that particular country. If a coin is attracted to a magnet, then it is likely to have been made from steel, although some steel coins are plated with copper.
  • Check the dates of the coin and see if the details of them coincide with the period of history or ruler the country was under. For example, Ethiopia was ruled by the Emperor Haile Sellasie between 1930 and 1974 so coins from this era should have a depiction of him imprinted on them. If the date isn’t clear immediately or printed in a foreign language, then try and estimate a rough date by using clues that may have been printed elsewhere such as a monarch’s head.
  • Some computer technology can be used to really examine a coin close up – taking a picture and zooming in using computer technology is a smart way of seeking out any fakes that can’t replicate exactly the original design.
  • If this isn’t available however, look into books and catalogues that can be used to match coins up with their intended counterpart. Some of these catalogues specialise in a particular period of time so be sure to select the correct books relevant to the coin or coins in question. The main source comes from the ‘Standard Catalogue of World Coins’ which is known as the Krause Catalogues.
  • The internet also has lists, pictures and advice on how to identify a coin. The Krause Catalogues have moved into the digital era too, which can help with the speed of identifying a certain coin. However, as there are countless amounts of coins that have been produced across the African continent over time, not everyone will have been incorporated over to the relevant websites. Using both the internet and books can help in this respect.

Where to Buy African Coins From?

  • The most resourceful place to shop around for African coins is the internet and eBay in particular. This is the platform that many sellers choose to list their coins on and therefore the easiest place to review the extensive list of them in one place. It is also possible to navigate around the listings on the site to distinguish between coins from a certain country or period.
  • To use eBay most efficiently, then using the keyword search will bring up all the relevant results. For example typing in something like “Nelson Mandela coin” will bring up items with this in its title. To enhance a search this it is also possible to check the ‘Include Description’ box which will also bring up items that have this term in the item’s description.
  • To browse the most suitable results then look in the ‘Coins’ section in the ‘Collectables’ category. Now, it by typing in a general term such as “Africa” or a more specific one such as “Egypt” will bring up appropriate listings.
  • To narrow the results down manually, then use the menu bar on the left hand side of the page. In the ‘Coins’ section then select the ‘World’ link and then ‘Africa’ under the Region of Origin category. Now, the specific country of origin can be selected along with other preferences such as the buying format and location of the item.
  • Remember to read the description of the coin as closely as possible before committing to buy. It is always possible to ask the seller a question if unsure about any of the details. Check out the seller’s eBay history aswell to prove they are a trustworthy seller.


  • It is important to research into African coins as much as possible by checking to coin itself first-hand and matching it with relevant catalogues which can help authenticate it.
  • Use eBay to seal a purchase but remember to stay safe on the site and be in tune with the websites Safety Centre before committing to buy. 
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