Palembang Coins

One of the oldest cities in Indonesia, Palembang is located by the Musi River.

In 1619 the Dutch East India company established a trading post there to capitalize on the Spice Trade. Until 1821, when the dutch assumed control of Palembang, the coins issued were from the local Sultanate.

The walled city of Palembang with its three fortresses in 1682.

Tension mounted between the Dutch and the locals, peaked in 1657 when a Dutch ship was attacked in Palembang. The Dutch East India company launched a punitive expedition in 1659 which burned the city to the ground.

Antique Print of the Naval Battle near Palembang (Sumatra) by J.A. Lütz (c.1823)

Coinage of Palembang is a somewhat overlooked area of coin collecting. However there are many issues and variations to keep a collector busy. They are rarely seen in coin shows or in collections. For example, this lot had an estimate of $2000 and sold for $8500.

A group of 3 of the most common, graded VF, realized $213 in CNG’s 10/12 auction; a 6-piece group of common types, brought $299, Teutoburger 2/14.

Starting in the 1400’s were cast from locally mined tin alloyed with lead. They appear uniface (that is the imprint only appears on one side) and are in Arabic script. The castings were on “trees” similar to how Chinese coins were cast. In fact there are many similarities to Chinese coins and it may be the original coin makers were influenced by Chinese travelers in the area.

The coins are broken off the “trees” and it is common they retain a nub from the stem. Some coins are well made. Others can be rough. Some can have a smooth surface, some a rough textured surface. There are also privately made coins (made with the permission of the Sultan) and unofficial coins which, if discovered, would cost the creator their hands.

The coins are known as “pitis” or “tin pitis”. Varieties with holes at the center are called “pitis teboh” and ones without a hole are called “pitis bountou”. Again, like Chinese cash coins it is likely they were carried on strings and the unholed ones in boxes.

These coins are crude and there are errors including missing dates, backwards dates and such. Also coins can come round or octagonal. Since they are a soft metal (tin) they are easily bent and can be straightened. Additionally Number 6 is a copper coin but quite rare. Coins tend to be small.

The dates on the coins follow the Islamic calendar which begins in 622 AD with Mohammad’s Hijra (AH – After Hijra). The names of rulers do not appear on the coins but can be inferred by the dates on the coins. Coins are generally ordered by dates of Sultanate and range from 1749 to 1804. To calculate dates using the western calendar subtract 3% from the AH date and add 622. Rarity ratings are R1 for common to R10 for rare.

It’s also helpful to be able to read Arabic Numerals so here’s a handy, dandy chart:

The zero appears on these coins as a small “O” rather than a dot; and the 6 can be written like a Western “7” (or reversed Arabic 2). Diameters given in millimeters (“mm”). Catalog numbers are Robinson numbers (Rob). The main integer denotes major type followed by a decimal number denoting variation.

Kajang boats were widely used for transportation in Musi River during colonial times.

These uncommon coins are rarely seen and this particular group was found a long time ago by divers in the Musi River. Examples below:

Undated (Believed to be AH1163 = 1750)
“Alamat bilad Palembang”

Rob 4.0, R1

Muhammad Bahudin AH1193 = 1779
“Sultan fi beled Palambang sanat 1193”

Rob 5.0, R2

Rob 5.11, R8
Date: 1193

Rob 5.2, R1
Distinctive crude surface with central casting button.

Rob 5.5, R1

Rob 5.8, R4

“Al-sultan fi beed Palembang sanat 1200”

Rob 7, R2
Typical shallow relief for this issue