Impressions of Africa: money, medals and stamps

A Coins and Medals display

1 April 2010 – 6 February 2011
Room 69a
Admission free

In 2010, seventeen African nations celebrate fifty years of independence from colonial rule. This temporary exhibition at the British Museum will explore the images on African money, medals and stamps, looking at how during the past century it has been used to express national identity, political power and even in protest.

Money and stamps are powerful ways to get a message across, as people come into contact with them daily. The display will show how the images chosen on these miniature works of art offer insights into the cultures and history of Africa, as well as how they have been used in the fight for independence.

The exhibition will feature nine case studies, from throughout the 20th century: Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, French West Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe. These case studies will show how money and stamps reflect how a nation would like to see itself, and how that changes throughout the nation’s history.

Key objects include:

  • Stamp, South Africa, 1910. This stamp features a portrait of George V and was issued when the Union of South Africa was created at the end of the Anglo-Boer wars. It was the first to contain a portrait of a British Monarch, and was used to show the British control of the region.

  • 10 Shilling Coin, Ghana, 1958. Featuring a portrait of the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, replacing the previous portrait of the Queen, this object shows how money is an important tool for asserting independence and freedom and celebrating a new political identity. 'My Cabinet have decided, with my agreement, to put my head on the coinage…[Ghanaians have] got to be shown that they are now really independent. And they can only be shown by signs.' Kwame Nkrumah 1957

  • 50 naira note, Nigeria, 1991. This bank note shows four people from different ethnic groups wearing brightly coloured traditional hats, in peaceful coexistence. This image attempts to create a sense of unity among the more than 250 ethnic, religious and cultural groups in Nigeria, between some of whom there are continuing tensions and violence 

  • 2 rand coin, South Africa, 2004. Celebrating ten years of democracy and freedom from Apartheid, this coin depicts a stylised group of people under the new South African flag. This strong and powerful image contrasts with the Apartheid-era pass book displayed next to it.

  • 5 franc coin, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2005. This coin uses the imagery of a Katanga cross, a traditional copper currency that was used as a medium of exchange in that region for generations before the beginning of colonisation. It represents pride in the pre-colonial history of Central Africa, and the mineral wealth of the country.

  • Banknote Poster, Zimbabwe, 2009. Made of actual hyperinflationary banknotes stuck together, including single notes of denomination 10 billion dollars, it stamped with the phrase 'It is cheaper to print this on money than paper'.

2 rand coin

South African 2 rand coin commemorating the 10th anniversary of democratic elections.
South Africa, 2004.

Notes to Editors:

This display is a part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps. This is a year long celebration of stamps, stamp design and postal heritage. A range of exhibitions and events will be taking place across the UK:

Throughout 2010 the BM will stage a series of Africa-related events, activities and displays to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence. They include: 


For further information please contact Esme Wilson on 020 7323 8394 or

For public information please call 020 7323 8299 or go to