The complete set of Strachan and Co tokens represent so much more than just "tokens".
Mark Andersen of the S A Coin Company a business which specialises in investments
in South African coins said in 2005:
I have one observation to make and that is the Strachan and Co tokens are tokens by definition and therefore cannot be considered coins.
The American Numismatic Association definition of a coin: Usually a piece of metal, marked with a device, issued by a governing authority and intended to be used as money.
To understand the contempt with which tokens are regularly seen by numismatists and people investing in coins one needs to first reflect on the degradation and misrepresentation of what is a "token coin". From a purely legalistic point of view token coins were outlawed in 1932 when most currencies of the world, including South Africa, went off the gold standard. By this time the shortage of circulating currency experienced in the remote parts of the earth had been overcome as the colonial powers entrenched themselves in their territorial conquests.
Look at the coinage in your pocket today today - it is made out of metals like nickel which have no value. They are, just like the Strachan and Co coins issued over 100 years ago in brass, nothing more than token coins - tokens of value. They have no real value in themselves yet high prices are paid blindly by coin collectors for rare pieces even if they are new releases without any rich history. True numismatists would never do this - they seek pieces with fascinating history... reflected with warmth when they hold the coin in their hand.
Today the term "token coin" is mistakenly and inappropriately attached to almost anything including paper discount coupons, bread and milk tokens, advertising gimmicks and the like issued before and after 1932. Quite simply put the definition of a coin is a metal disk - if it is not a metal disk it is not a coin. Furthermore any token of value issued in the form of a metal disk after 1932 (other than official coins in your pocket) cannot legally be token coins because they have been outlawed. Before 1932 many of the better known token coins were often accepted as part of loose change and exchanged, like coins, at the relevant trading store (trade or barter token coinss).
With that basic understanding in mind we need to now turn our attention to token coins issued before 1932 and, more importantly, before 1900 when there was a genuine shortage of currency in remote areas of Australia, South Africa and other countries. Today token coins from Australia issued in the 1800s attract very high prices - often higher than their "currency" counterparts. The important role of these pieces in numismatic history has at last been recognised!
These are the true currency token coins which played a major role in the financial evolution of many remote regions. There are many types of token coins including the most valuable, currency tokens.
The term "currency tokens" (like today's coinage) which we identified for the first two sets of Strachan and Co coins has now been adopted by the Internet's on-line encyclopaedia "Wikipedia" - see this link. The reasoning is straight forward, these first two sets of Strachan and Co trade tokens were issued with the complete sanction and support of a governing authority, namely the Griquas. One of the company's partners, Charles Brisley, was the Secretary to Griqua Government and the other, Donald Strachan, was appointed a Magistrate by the Griquas and commanded the regions private army, the Abalandalosi.
The first set of Strachan and Co, the "S&Co" was issued in 1874 making it South Africa's first widely circulating indigenous currency regardless of the fact that the coins had been issued by a company and were not struck in silver. Despite this fact the coins were accepted as currency across an area the size of Ireland and by a largely indigenous population of several hundred thousand inhabitants. Even the Standard Bank at Ixopo is documented as accepting and handing out these S&Co coins as currency in light of the shortage of coin of the crown in the 1870s and 1880s. In effect the regional bank in East Griqualand during the 1800s was the Strachan and Co trading store chain.
There are two demonstrable examples of how widely the Strachan and Co currency token coins were circulated and accepted. The first is the recent find of 500 S&Co tokens attributed to a Griqua collection of 2/- donations made in 1912 to support Le Fleur (see this link) and the second is the collection of about thirty S&Co tokens sold to Scott Balson in 2005 by Tom Mullins (who was the Magistrate in East Griqualand in the 1940s). Mullins collected these tokens when they were used to make payment for fines by the indigenous people. Even the Magistrates Court in Kokstad accepted the S&Co in payment before 1932. (More on Tom Mullins at this link ).
Interestingly the S&Co tokens were always guaranteed by goods to that face value in the wealthy Strachan and Co trading store chain spread across the region. Paradoxically the coinage we use today (post 1932) is legally nothing more than token coins or "tokens of value" as defined in this definition of a post 1932 US coin: A piece of metal intended for use as currency, issued at a nominal or face value normally far in excess of its commodity value; United States clad coins and subsidiary coins of base alloys are in effect token coins. Yes, as I said before, the post-1932 money in your pocket is nothing more than token coins as the value of coinage today is at the whim of speculative currency traders on Wall Street and has very little intrinsic metal value. No wonder they had to outlaw company "trade tokens" at this time to prevent confusion!
The parody is that there was no law in place in East Griqualand under the Griqua Government that said that a business could not issue coins or act as a bank. The first two sets of Strachan and Co coins, were issued with the support of the Griqua Government, and are bona-fide currency coins in the true meaning of the word.
The number of trading companies that followed the successful application of the Strachan and Co trade tokens in subsequent years speaks for itself.
The first two sets of Strachan and Co coins are as argued above, by legal and technical definition, not tokens but bona-fide circulating currency coins. There is an accepted numismatic precedent of a business issuing bona-fide coinage namely Clunies Ross in the Cocos Keeling Islands in the early 1900s.
Regardless of this fact we remain conservative in our definition of the first two sets of Strachan and Co and refer to them as currency token coins - no different to the money in your pocket today - but certainly bearing a far richer history.