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Colombia 1921 Leprosarium / Leper Colony 2 Centavos

Price: $29.95 $9.95
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Very few have ever heard of, much less had the chance to own, an actual leper colony coin!

Sold out at the Mint!Here's 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 and sociocultural aspects are even more interesting still.

The obverse and reverse of the 1921 Leprosarium 2 Centavos from ColombiaA Most Unusual Coin
There 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, so it would 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 established.

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 of 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 anyone 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
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
Here 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.


Country Colombia
Year of Issue 1921
Face Value 2 Centavos
Weight 3.00 g
Diameter 18.90 mm
Finish Circulated
Composition Copper-Nickel
Edge Plain

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