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U.S. Dollars in Liberia

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Cultures +7 Age Levels Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old), Post-Secondary, Adults

The Value of Money exhibition's new acquisition case is currently featuring a display on the use of U.S. Dollars in Liberia.  This Learning Lab makes this display available digitally. 

U.S. Dollars in Liberia 

From 1820 to 1904, about 16,000 people formerly enslaved in the United States sailed to West Africa and established the country now known as Liberia. The American Colonization Society, which sought to create a colony in Africa for formerly enslaved people, issued currency like this 1833 token and established a government led by white officials. 

In 1847 Liberian migrants declared independence from the American Colonization Society and issued their own coins as a symbol of nationhood. The coins were minted in England and circulated alongside indigenous currencies like the Kissi penny. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Liberian government struggled with debt, making it difficult for the Liberian dollar to maintain its value. As a result, merchants and then the government began to use the colonial currency of British West Africa instead. 

In 1943, with financial help from the U.S. government, the U.S. dollar replaced British West African shillings as the primary currency in circulation. The Liberian dollar continued to be in use as small change. Today Liberia is one of few nations with a dual currency system, as both American and Liberian dollars circulate alongside each other. In 2019 the National Numismatic Collection acquired contemporary Liberian banknotes to help tell this story. 

Suggested Reading:

Gardner, Leigh A. "The rise and fall of sterling in Liberia, 1847-1943." Economic History Review 67, no. 4 (2014): pp. 1089-1112. 

Rosenberg, Emily S. Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy 1900-1830. Chapel Hill: Duke University Press, 2007. 


 To see all of the West African currency objects in the National Numismatic Collection, click here.  Please feel free to reach out to Dr. Leigh Gardner or Dr. Ellen Feingold with questions or feedback.

This project was generously funded by the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fund at the London School of Economics. It was completed in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection.




1 Cent, Liberia, 1833

National Museum of American History

Kissi pennies

National Museum of African Art

1 Cent, Pattern, Liberia, 1866

National Museum of American History

1 Penny, British West Africa, 1936

National Museum of American History

100 Dollars, Liberia, 2011

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, Liberia, 2009

National Museum of American History

1 Dollar, United States, 2013

NMAH and London School of Economics