an interesting coin that's seldom seen, much less in the nice condition
(and bargain price) we
have here - the Colombia Leprosarium 2 Centavos of 1921. The
two cents denomination is interesting in its own right, but the medical
sociocultural aspects are even more interesting still.
A Most Unusual Coin
were three leper colonies in Colombia - Agua de Dios, Cano de Lord, and
Contratacion. This coinage was issued specifically for use in the
leprosaria, out of fear of contagion should the patients use regular
circulating coins. For sanitary reasons, the money would be washed
and scrubbed on a regular basis, sometimes as often as weekly,
become worn much more quickly than regular circulating coinage. The
examples we offer here are of a much higher grade than is usually
encountered for this issue.
The word inside the cross in the center of the obverse, "Lazareto",
means "leprosarium" in Spanish. All three of Colombia's leper
colonies closed in the 1950s, after successful antibiotic treatments
for the leprosy bacteria were discovered and the patients were
discharged. Only a small percentage of the coins from those colonies
survived the redemption period.
A Dread Disease
In previous times leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) was thought
to be extremely contagious, and there was no known treatment for what
was considered a dread disease. As a result, leprosaria (leper
hospitals, sometimes also called leprosaries) and leper colonies were
Perhaps the most famous leper colony is the Kalaupapa Settlement, on
the island of Moloka'i in Hawaii. This leprosarium was made
famous by Fr. Damien, the so-called "Leper Priest", who was beatified
by Pope John Paul II in 1995 and is now titled Blessed Damien
Molokai. His canonization is expected late in 2008 and he will receive
the title of Saint Damien of Moloka'i.
Interestingly, Fr. Damien's leper colony still exists, in a fashion.
The quarantine policy at Kalaupapa was lifted in 1969. However, many of
the resident patients chose to remain, and the state of Hawaii promised
they can stay there for the rest of their lives. No new patients, or
other permanent residents, are admitted. Visitors are only permitted as
part of officially sanctioned tours. State law prohibits
under the age of 16 from visiting or living there. With a population of
147 as of the 2000 census, Kalaupapa County is the second smallest of
any within the United States.
A Note on Leprosy
was long believed to be an extremely contagious disease. Historically,
lepers are often depicted as ringing bells and yelling out "Unclean!
Unclean!" upon arriving at a new town, as much to request charity as
for fear of spreading disease. They were shunned and ostracized, but as
much for their sometimes hideous appearance as for the actual
communicability of the disease. Modern science has since determined
that 95% of
people have a natural immunity to the bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae
that causes leprosy! You can not catch leprosy from one of these coins.
History in Your Hand - A
Note on Leprosarium Coinage
is a rare opportunity to own (at a bargain price) a piece of both
medical and South American history, minted over 85 years ago! When the
leprosaria (leper colonies) in Colombia closed over fifty years ago,
the patients redeemed their leprosarium coinage for regular Colombian
circulating coinage, for use outside the leper colonies. As a result,
relatively very few of these survived in any
condition, much less as nice as we offer here. Each coin will will
grade a very nice fine to very fine.
Click here for more great coins
& medals of historical interest!
The word LAZARETO ("Leprosarium") inside a stylized cross, surrounded
by the legend REPUBLICA DE COLOMBIA and the date, 1921.
The denomination, 2 CENTAVOS, inside a floral wreath.