Until it was dissolved in 1902 following the Anglo-Boer War with Great Britain, the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) produced a rich array of coins and banknotes. Perhaps the most appealing of the coins were the gold pieces, consisting of the een pond (one pound) and half pond issues of 1892-1900. These coins have become favorites with collectors.
The ZAR encompassed a region known as the Transvaal. Dissatisfied with British rule of the Cape Colony, the Boers (Dutch Afrikaners) embarked on what became known as the Great Trek of 1835-43, re-establishing themselves in the interior of the country. There they created the ZAR in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854. This migration is commemorated with the image of a Voortrekker wagon, which appears on many South African coins including the one-pound and half-pound pieces of 1892-1900.
The economy of the ZAR was primarily agricultural until the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold during the 1880s prompted a flood of prospectors and speculative investment. Despite a series of boom and bust cycles, the general trend was toward increasing prosperity. So much wealth required a central banking system, and De Nationale Bank der Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek was opened by the Republic’s President Paul Kruger in 1891. The bank prospered, and the passage of a Mint Act that same year provided for a coinage of gold, silver and bronze modeled after that of Great Britain. The State Mint and National Bank shared a structure on Church Square in Pretoria.
Included in the new coinage were two gold pieces. The one-pound and half-pound coins were similar in values and specifications to the English sovereign and half sovereign, respectively. Because the ZAR did not have a monarch, these particular titles were not used. Instead, the coins were referred to by their value alone, and they possessed unlimited legal tender status within the ZAR. Though this status was not recognized elsewhere, the intrinsic value of these coins permitted them to circulate freely in other parts of South Africa.
President Kruger’s portrait appeared on each coin’s obverse, with the country’s name in Afrikans inscribed in an arc around the periphery. The reverse of the pound and half pound coins displayed the arms of the ZAR, with the coin’s value and the date of coinage arranged in an arc above. The Dutch motto Eeedragt Maakt Magt (Union makes strength) is incorporated into the arms.
Facing an upcoming election and wanting the new coins in circulation to enhance his prestige, President Kruger didn’t wait for the Pretoria Mint to be completed. Instead, he contracted to have the first issue of new ZAR coins (dated 1892) struck at the Imperial German Mint in Berlin. This proved a mistake, as the dies were cut with two glaring mistakes that insulted the populace and proved quite embarrassing to Kruger and the National Bank. Designer Otto Schultz, following a common practice, placed his initials ‘OS’ at the truncation of Kruger’s bust. Unfortunately, os is the Afrikans word for ‘ox,’ and new dies had to be hastily prepared omitting the initials. Even more egregious was the incorrect depiction of the Voortrekker wagon in which so many families had come to their new home. This kind of vehicle traditionally had a single hitching shaft protruding from its front, and its rear wheels were much larger than the front ones. Schultz instead depicted it with a double shaft and wheels of equal size throughout. 10,000 half-pound coins were struck and 16,000 of the one-pound pieces. In addition, some 20-25 proofs of the half-pound were produced, while just 12-15 one-pound proofs were coined. These proofs were included in presentation sets and were probably distributed to figures who played some role in the creation of the Mint and its coinage.
Reacting quickly, Kruger had the embarrassing error coins withdrawn and replaced with another issue of the same date but with the errors corrected. As people do with any coins which they believe will become rare, they hoarded the initialed, double-shafted coins in large numbers. This effectively ended their circulation, but it also made them more available to collectors of today than they might otherwise be.
Both varieties of the pound and half pound were coined, but the number produced is unrecorded. The single-shaft variety is much more rare in each instance; in the case of the half pound, it’s unique. Also unknown is the quantity of half-pound coins struck in 1893, and this issue is quite scarce. Some 62,000 one-pound pieces were issued for 1893, and this coin is not nearly as rare as its little brother.
The half-pound coins of the Kruger type were struck regularly from 1894 through 1897. Their mintages ranged from a low of 39,000 in 1894 to a high of 135,000 the following year. None are especially rare, yet they command respectable premiums in Mint State and the higher circulated grades. All are quite popular with collectors.
The one-pound issues parallel the progression of the half-pound coins, with mintages ranging from a low of 62,000 in 1893 to a high of 788,000 for 1900. None of these issues is particularly scarce, but the ones dated 1893 through 1896 command higher premiums than the later dates. All are quite valued by collectors in Mint State and the higher circulated grades.
The only date lacking for the one-pound series from 1892 through 1900 is 1899. The Mint did not produce coins from January 1, 1898 through September 30, 1899. It was reopened at that time to strike pound coins needed for the war against Great Britain, which had broken out over continued Boer frustration with British policies. The dies dated 1899 were intercepted by the British en route to the Mint, so there was no option but to use ones dated 1898. A normal output (137,000) of one-pound coins was produced, but some 130 pieces were then counterstamped below Kruger’s bust with the numerals ‘99′ to correctly identify their year of manufacture. Why so few were counterstamped and why the Mint bothered to do this at all is still unclear; perhaps these pieces were reserved for assaying purposes. They’re very rare today, and dangerous counterfeits exist. A unique example is stamped with a single numeral ‘9′ in the same location.
The final issue of pound coins was produced in the early months of 1900 from dies bearing that date (these managed to get through from Berlin). Before Pretoria fell to the British on June 5, the ZAR’s capital was temporarily relocated to Middelburg, and all of the gold and silver stored in Pretoria was carried away to safety. Wartime conditions prevented further coinage of the regular Kruger type of pound and half pound, and this series ended in 1900.
Half pond or half pound:
Diameter: 19 millimeters
Weight: 3.994 grams
Composition: .916 gold, .084 copper
Net Weight: .1176 ounce pure gold
Een pond or one pound:
Diameter: 22 millimeters
Weight: 7.988 grams
Composition: .916 gold, .084 copper
Net Weight: .2353 ounce pure gold