The British Empire still had colonial roots in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, a time many African countries were seeking and gaining independence from their colonizers. The collective colony known as British West Africa Territories would eventually create the independent countries of the Republic of the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria. However, before gaining independence Nigeria became the Federation of Nigeria and had its own circulating coinage. Still under the rule of the British crown, in 1959 the Federation of Nigeria coinage was issued with the monarch Queen Elizabeth II in title and effigy gracing the obverse of the coins.
Several denominations were produced, including the halfpenny, penny, threepence, sixpence, one shilling, and two shilling. The halfpenny and penny were struck in bronze with a plain edge and are holed. These coins recycled the designs of British West African coinage featuring a crown and the legend “QUEEN ELIZABETH THE SECOND” on the obverse and a pentacle or Solomon’s seal on the reverse. The halfpenny and penny issues would both be issued only with the 1959 date.
The other denominations for the series, including the threepence, sixpence, shilling, and two-shillings, all feature new reverse designs unique for the Federation of Nigeria coinage and depict the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. The threepence struck in nickel-brass features a dodecagonal (12-sided) planchet. The reverse design depicts a cotton plant, with cotton being a major agricultural export for Nigeria. The sixpence, shilling and two-shillings were all struck in copper-nickel. The sixpence coin showcases another major export, the cacao plant with cacao bean pods.
The shilling and two-shilling coins both have security edges, a feature unique to these two denominations. The shilling depicts the Arecaceae, or palm. The two-shillings illustrates the peanut plant. All these denominations were only issued in 1959, with the exception of the shilling, which had a date run of three years – 1959, 1961, and 1962.
For the series, two different proof set issues were produced by the Royal Mint in Great Britain. The first set was issued in 1959 inside of a red case. This set often features coins with deep cameo effect. The second set was restruck by the mint between 1966 and 1970 to satisfy demand and comes in a blue or purple packaging. These restrikes are often fully deeply mirrored proofs and are glistening gems!
The set is of relative ease to complete with a little searching. Halfpenny and penny coins were put away in bulk by collectors and dealers and fresh original gem pieces surface often. The rest of the denominations are not as easily found as the bronze issues; uncirculated pieces can be found but true gems are, at the moment, sparse. Pristine red proof sets are also scarce, as many coins were initially handled. Yet gem blue and purple boxed proof sets can be found with some patience.
Two PCGS Set Registry Sets exist for this series and include the Nigeria Complete Set (British Protectorate), Circulation Strike (1959-1962) and Nigeria Complete Set (British Protectorate), Proof (1959). Both sets lend exciting challenges for intrepid collectors.