Whenever I am stuck on something I turn to one of a number of books on Brunei that I have in my collection. The one that caught my eye today is entitled "Brunei and Nusantara: History in Coinage" written by William L.S. Barrett published in 1988 by the Brunei History Center and printed by Percetakan Seasons Sdn Bhd. This book was published in conjunction with the official opening of the Brunei History Centre as well as an exhibition on the history of Coinage of Brunei and Nusantara.
The book is interesting and to use to words in the foreword 'sheds light on the history and administration of the Sultans of Brunei during the late 17th and 18th centuries.' The coins in the book served to validate the Brunei Tarsilah such as the rightful correct lineage of the Sultans throughout the ages. Some of the earliest identifiable coins are those that belong to Sultan Nasaruddin who ruled from 1690 to 1710 and there are other coin which have been issue either prior to, or later than some of the more positively identified coinage. Those who doubted the existence of Brunei only has to look at the older coins and the coins really demonstrated the capability of the Brunei economy at that time. We don't really know the exact time when Brunei issued its own coins. Some of the earliest unidentifiable coins are said to be about a few hundred years earlier than some of the more identifiable ones.
These earliest coins called 'pitis' is unique to Brunei and the designs were "unlike any other in the world", you can't get anymore unique than that. The concepts and design must have been conceived locally and with little outside influence. Mind you, in those years, there were other coins already circulating in Brunei earlier such as the copper coins from China since time immemorial, the Islamic gold coins of the Sultanate of Samudra Pasai (1297) and Acheh (1524); Malacca (1445 to 1510), Portuguese and Spainsih coin (circa 1500) and other Arabian, Persian and Indian.
However the interesting thing was that another form of currency used in Brunei was that of miniature cannons, the 'bedil damit'. They were highly prized and are used for exchange for gifts and settlement of debts. Given their size, it was very unlikely that they were used for day to day trading. Another form of 'money' was plain strips of iron called 'duit besi' and in 1840 an inch of this was valued at one cent and one hundred would equal to one silver dollar. But again given the weight, their use may not be as widespread. However a number of coins issued by the various Sultans throughout the ages are used widely throughout the ages. The designs are very interesting, some traceable to a particular Sultan and some are indeteriminate. The more modern coinage was minted during Sultan Hashim (1885-1906) before the modern notes and coins of today. All in all, the book is a very interesting book to read.
All these years, I have been trying to get another copy of this book to give away as gifts but so far I have failed miserably. However, something better has come up, you don't need the book - you can see the coins and all the money that Brunei has ever issued for yourself, in real life and in real time.
Now fast becoming one of the really hidden treasures of Brunei, it is located at the Ministry of Finance building complex and was officially opened by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince in mid January. It is the gallery of the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board which now has the biggest and only exhibit of the coins and notes of Brunei Darussalam through the ages including the pitis and the miniature canons. It is open during office hours and is free of charge to visitors. So, what are you waiting for?