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Tonga - The Friendly Isles

At the occasion of Elizabeth II’s coronation (June 2nd 1953), one of the carriages was carrying an extremely large lady, by title the Tongan Queen, Salote of Tonga. Her Majesty’s size was a traditional signal of her monarchy and power to her own subjects. It was only in her son’s last years that King Tupou IV piloted a fitness campaign for his subjects, dropping his own weight from thirty-three to twenty stones which showed great dedication even with the shock of his heart attack to spur him. Incidentally, he was the very first Tongan to gain Australian degrees (in Law and the Arts). The Law degree failed to deter him later from using the Tonga Treasury as his personal piggy bank from time to time; his position as a Methodist minister failed to deter him from raiding Treasury funds to create his own airline, a spectacular failure.

The Friendly Isles consist of one hundred and sixty nine islands, perhaps half a dozen more (depending on whether one considers a largish rock with some vegetation, et cetera, as an island or not) with a population of in excess of one hundred and five thousand. It is known as the “Friendly Isles” die to the warm reception Captain Cook received when he arrived there. There is some oil there and tourism is becoming important but the Tongan population is far from rich.

The land mass is about two hundred and seventy square miles but the true population is proving harder to count nowadays with many young folk working overseas, sending part of their earnings back to their family. This has greatly helped the economy but helped created unrest in Tonga, where many people aspire to live under a democratic system. Yet only fifty years earlier the whole economy was run for benefit of its monarch and members of his extended family.

Regarding their islands, there are three main groups, Vava’u, Ha’apai and Tongatupu from north to south, the first group favoured with volcanic landscapes, the second group (being all-but-one) coral islands and the third group is totally low coral-formed lands. The islands rejoice in some of the largest bats in the world, have an extremely colourful bird-life and a notably rich mixture of forest trees

The warm, damp Tongan climate does not suit collections of paper money so, without a significant home-base, prices are very cheap compared to New Zealand or Australian notes of similar rarity. There is always demand from Colonial and Commonwealth paper money collectors, of course. It will increase again when King Tupou V takes the throne on the 1st August 2008 with his own series of notes. History shows that the new issue could take some years to emerge….

The notes come in several series but all were printed by Thomas de la Rue; the first were issued by King Tupou II in 1921, being a five pound note which was a large amount of money at the time; it is not clear who would use it. Then the four shillings brown note in several small issues from 1935 to 1941 was produced, together with the ten shillings green note, the red one pound note from 1936 to 1939 and the blue five pound note of 1939 to 1941. Each note carried three signatures.

From 1941 onwards to 1966, the design was changed so that the denomination was spelt out each side of the central shield and the dates become more numerous until we reach December 1966. On this issue there were only two signatures for each note. By this time, (1965) Queen Salote III had died and her family were in mourning for a protracted period of some years as is their custom.

One interesting point is signalled because Queen Salote was female; if she had been male it would, perhaps not been noticed by western collectors. Salote III was called ‘Queen Salote the Third’ because she was the third ruler of this dynasty and not because any previous Queens had been called Salote; in fact she was the first female monarch. So, by this method, our own George the Sixth would have been followed by Elizabeth the Seventh and eventually Charles the Eighth and so on

King Tupou IV’s reign began late as he allowed their customary long mourning period in respect for his mother’s long reign; further, notes carrying his portrait did not come out until 1973, about eight years after his accession. From 1967 to 1973, the first notes showing Queen Salote III’s portrait were issued which brought a more modern style of note. It had a “fifties” shape as say a Brazilian note. The portrait of Queen Salote’s head and shoulders did not look excessively large but open and ‘friendly’ as appropriate to her nation. There were about nine to ten dates and another variation in signatures from three down to two (in 1973) as well as the normal change of signatories through time. Technically, they lie in Tupou IV’s reign; he would have actively controlled the country from just before his mother’s death onwards. So a collector who wishes to have all the notes during Tupou IV’s reign would wise buy from 1965 onwards, if he does his homework.

As the reverses of the Salote portrait notes were repeated on the Tupou IV notes under the auspices of the Government of Tonga and the notes came into circulation during his reign, I will deal with them all under his name.
The reverse of the ½ pa’anga carries an illustration of coconut workers in brown and pink and boasts about twenty different dates across both portraits. The 1 pa’anga shows a coral island with palm trees and bay, whilst the 2 pa’anga is illustrated with workers making tapa cloth. The 5 pa’anga sports the Ha’amonga stone gateway which dates perhaps from the tenth century and is reputed to help calculate the equinoxes. The 10 pa’anga features the Royal Palace on the face with purple and blue on the reverse. The ½ pa’anga is withdrawn about 1983, a victim of inflation.

A 20 pa’anga, sporting a picture of the Tonga Development Bank was added. It had about ten different issue dates from 1985 to 1989 after which it was quietly forgotten. It has a use for us if we wish to remember his birthday, however as the initial date of issue celebrated the King’s birthday, the 4th of July. Just five thousand pieces were printed.

The next note correctly is Kingdom of Tonga 20 pa’anga dated the first of July 1989 to commemorate the nascent National Reserve Bank which commences with the face of the 1974-89 issues but with the name of the National Reserve Bank in a circle on the reverse.

The ‘Kingdom of Tonga’ pair confusingly carry the future National Reserve Bank’s notes colours but the printers still have old stock of Government of Tonga style notes so the 1992 issue are in the old style with the issuer, ‘National Reserve Bank’ printed on the reverse only. These interim notes run from 1992 to 1995.

Then the basic design created originally for those Kingdom of Tonga Commemoratives is re-employed for the National Reserve design proper. These are very attractive notes featuring (from the lowest denomination) a river scene, women making Tapa cloth, the Ha’amonga gateway, the Royal Palace, the Tongan Development Bank and finally on the 50 pa’anga, a Coral Island. The quality of these notes is excellent!

View some notes from Tonga on the site here:

Kate Gibson

Last updated 27/04/2008