World Coins: The Coinage of the White Rajahs of Sarawak: Part 3

Posted by Jay Turner, NGC Grader on 12/8/2011

Jay Turner continues his discussion of the coinage of Sarawak in the last of a multi-part series.

When Rajah Charles Johnson Brooke died in 1917, succession passed to his son Charles Vyner Brooke who became the third and final White Rajah of Sarawak. Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke would face many challenges during his reign, but he would also leave a lasting mark on both the history and coinage of Sarawak.

Charles Vyner Brooke was born in England, the son of Rajah Charles Johnson Brooke and eventually relocated to Sarawak after his education in England. When he arrived in Sarawak, he entered public service as a personal assistant to his father. Charles moved through the ranks of Sarawak government serving as a district officer, President of the Law Courts and Vice-President of the Supreme and General Councils. He entered the British Army and served during World War I as a member of the anti-aircraft defense.

After his father’s death in 1918, Charles Vyner Brooke became Rajah of Sarawak. Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke took over Sarawak during an economic boom that was driven by the rubber and oil industries. Because of these prosperous economic conditions he was able to modernize the country’s public service institutions and penal code, which was based on the British-India system. Charles Vyner gained popularity with a hands-off approach to government and a tolerance for indigenous traditions, with the exception of headhunting (he also banned Christian Missionaries). As Rajah, he limited his own power and signed a new constitution in exchange for £200,000 in 1941.

Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke and his family were in Sydney, Australia when Japan invaded Sarawak in 1941. He was forced to remain in Australia for the duration of the war as Japan held Sarawak until 1945. Charles Vyner Brooke was finally able to return to Sarawak on April 15, 1946, where he resumed the title of Rajah. Sarawak had been ravaged by war and needed the finances to accomplish major reconstruction. Charles, now 72 and with a healthy pension offer from the British Government, ceded Sarawak to the British Government on July 1,1946, as a crown colony. This event marked the end of the “White Rajah” dynasty.

The coinage of Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke continued the tradition set by his father and his father’s uncle. The coins feature his portrait and the title “C.V. Brooke Rajah” so as not to be confused with the coinage of his father. The first series of coins issued by Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke was in 1920. These included a 5 cent struck in .500 fine silver, a 10 cent composed of .800 fine silver and a 20 cent composed of .800 fine silver, all dated 1920.

Sarawak 1920 Cent
Click image to enlarge.

Due to the scarcity of silver after the war, copper-nickel issues were authorized in 1921. These issues include a 1920 cent coin, 1920 and 1927 5 cent coins, and 1920, 1927 and 1934 10 cent coins. Silver continued to be used in the production of 20 and 50 cent pieces in 1927, but at a .500 fine standard.

Sarawak 1927 20 Cent
Click image to enlarge.

Sarawak 1927 50 Cent
Click image to enlarge.

A new bronze cent was introduced in 1927 and pieces were dated 1927, 1929, 1930, 1937 and 1941. The Royal Mint’s annual report notes the striking of a 1942-dated piece at the Birmingham Mint; however, no pieces are known to exist.

Sarawak 1941 Cent
Click image to enlarge.

With the Japanese occupation of Sarawak, any silver coinage seized was melted. This included pieces issued under Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke. The Silver 1920-H 5 cents, 10 cents and 20 cents, as well as the 1927-H 20 cents and 50 cents, had a low survival rate, and thus are especially scarce in high grade today.

Besides the silver, another numismatic casualty of World War II was the 1941-H bronze cent. It is believed that the ship transporting the mintage of these coins to Sarawak for use in commerce was sunk by the Japanese during World War II. Thus, it is a very scarce coin today.

While the coinage of Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke is easier to collect than that of his predecessors due to the survival rate of the base metal coins, the scarcity of some issues hinders most numismatists from obtaining a complete collection. The White Rajahs of Sarawak ruled for just over one hundred years before Charles Vyner Brooke handed control of Sarawak to the British Crown. In 1952, the Board of Commissioners of Currency Malaya and British Borneo came into being. In 1953 coins featuring Queen Elizabeth under Malay and North Borneo were issued and the old coinage withdrawn from circulation in Sarawak. Today Sarawak uses the coinage of Malaysia, as it is a state within that nation. Numismatics gives history life by providing a moment in time, frozen in metal. For one hundred years, the legacy of Sarawak was reflected in the portraits of the White Rajahs that ruled it.