by Jay Turner
Emergency issues are often prized coins in numismatics. Generally, these coins are made in times of desperation and withdrawn quickly after they are issued. One very intriguing emergency issue was made for a country that no longer exists, the New Hebrides 1982 coins.
New Hebrides is a small chain of Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, south of the Solomon Islands and north of New Caledonia. New Hebrides got its name from Captain James Cook, who first visited the Islands on his voyage in 1774. The group of islands became a colony of Great Britain and France when both countries declared the territory theirs and jointly ruled the New Hebrides together starting in 1887. The coinage for New Hebrides began in 1966 with coins issued by France and struck at the Paris Mint. These coins followed the French Franc denominations.
In 1980, New Hebrides gained its independence and changed its name to Vanuatu. During the independence movement, the island of Espiritu Santo tried for independence from the New Hebrides. Still, soldiers from Papua New Guinea retook the island for Vanuatu during what is now called the Coconut War. Despite all of the political issues, Vanuatu implemented its own monetary policy and, in 1981, issued their coins with the denomination of Vatu taking the place of Francs. The Vatu was on par with the then-circulating New Hebrides Franc. Despite the country no longer existing and a new money unit being implemented, France struck New Hebrides coins for 1982 as emergency issues. The coinage was never really released into circulation and Vanuatu demonetized the New Hebrides Francs in 1983.
The 1982 New Hebrides emergency issues are problematic coins as they have been recorded in all denominations in different catalogs. The 1982 Franc and 5 Franc coins were minted, but most were melted; however, examples of both denominations exist today. Some have cataloged the 2 Francs coin, but it is unconfirmed if it was actually struck or if all examples were melted. The 1982 10 and 20 Francs have been listed in some catalogs but likely in error with none confirmed as struck or surviving. Collectors and numismatists debate their placement as a coin of New Hebrides, as stated on the coin, or of Vanuatu – the country they were minted for since New Hebrides no longer existed in 1982. Currently, PCGS has certified only three examples of the 1982 Franc and none from other denominations.
For collectors of unusual coins and emergency issues, this is an interesting piece from an often-neglected area of the world. Yet, the coin is highly valued by collectors of French colonial issues. Only time will tell if examples of the unknown denominations will surface.