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by Michael Francis, François Painchaud, and Sylvie Morin
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See also: Tables A1, A2, and Notes to the Tables
Full Review (PDF, 450 kb)
David Bergeron, Curator, Currency Museum
The casting of coins originated in China in the seventh century BC. Moulds made of clay and other materials were used to cast bronze coins in the shape of small spades and knives. By the eighth century BC, most Western countries had begun to mint coins using engraved dies, but China and neighbouring countries in the Far East did not adopt the practice until the late nineteenth century. Some countries that had been minting coins for hundreds of years resorted to casting in order to mass produce low-denomination coins for small change. One such country was Morocco.
Alawid Sultan Sulayman (17921822) introduced cast bronze coins called fals (singular falus) to make up for the shortage of silver coins in Morocco. Coins were cast in various weights and dimensions that followed a fixed conversion scale; for example, 24 fals equalled one silver dirham, the basic unit of currency. Over time, as Moroccan currency was devalued by inflation, the size of the coins decreased.
Moulds had two parts: one side bore the star of Sulayman, and the other carried the issue date in Arabic numbers, based on the Hejira (Muslim) calendar. The two sides were attached, and the molten metal was poured into the spout at the top. After the liquid metal flowed into the recessed areas, it was left to cool. The cast was then separated from the mould, and the individual coins were broken off. The mould pictured on the cover is made of bronze and is about the size of an adult's hand.
Dating this mould presents a challenge, since the half containing the date is missing. Fortunately, other clues help to narrow the approximate date of manufacture. A typical falus issued under Sulayman measured 22.5 mm. The diameter of the coins made from this mould measures approximately 16.5 mm, consistent with the size of a falus issued during the reign of Sultan Abd ar-Rahman (182259).
Some believe that Sulayman adopted the great seal of King Solomon for the star design on the Moroccan falus to counter the Muslim belief that, compared with gold coins, base metal coins were vile and repugnant. This seal, which in ancient and medieval mythology was believed to possess great magical power, consisted of two animal pelts fastened with a rivet in the middle. The four points represented the four natural elements of fire, water, air, and earth, and the raised centre, the omniscient eye of God. What better symbol to place on base metal coins to encourage their circulation?
This bronze mould from Morocco is part of the National Currency Collection, Bank of Canada.
Photography by Gord Carter, Ottawa