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South African Coins

History of South African Coins

South Africa’s early history is a chaotic and splintered story, a theme echoed in the numismatics of the country. Throughout the nineteenth century the region now considered South Africa consisted of numerous colonies and independent nations. For the most part, Europeans living in the area used the currency of their native country, be they Dutch, French, German, or British. Only a handful of attempts at minting coins in South Africa were made before the 1890’s. Some popular issues for collectors have come from Griquatown, the Cape Colony, and the Orange Free State.

What Was the First Coin in Colonial South Africa?

The first local currency minted in South Africa came from Griquatown (Griekwastad in Afrikaans). These coins began in 1815 bearing the symbol of the London Missionary Society and the legend “Griqua Town”. At first, four denominations were created, the 5 and 10 Pence in silver and the ½ and ¼ Pence in copper. All coins minted in this British colony were tokens.

Search the Heritage Auctions archives to find the value of rare Colonial South African coins to answer these questions:

Cape Colony Coin Values

The principal British territory in the southern region of Africa was the Cape Colony. Taken from the Dutch in 1795, the colony officially recognized the pound sterling, and began to replace Dutch currency in circulation with British currency. The Cape Colony did mint a small number of coins, mostly pennies, bearing the legend “Cape of Good Hope”. Many of the coins minted in this colony were Pattern issues. However, the colony did not mint a wide range of denominations and so largely depended on British coins for day-to-day business.

Orange Free State Coin Values

Resenting the many social and economic changes imposed by the invading Brits, Dutch farmers who had inhabited Cape Colony before 1795 began to migrate northward in what became known as the “Great Trek”. These farmers created two new independent countries, the first of which was the Orange Free State. The country was officially granted independence in 1854, and the first numismatic issues bear the date 1887. The Orange Free State series produced a number of patterns. Most of their coins featured either an orange tree or the shield of the Free State on the obverse, and the denomination on the reverse.

The price range for Orange Free State Pattern Pennies sold at auction is $1,000 - $15,000. The metal, the year, and the condition determine the value. Coins is excellent condition can sell for over $10,000. In 2019 Heritage Auctions sold a rare Orange Free State Republic silver Proof Pattern Penny for over $14,000. The coin was dated 1888, and graded PR62 by NGC, KMX-Pn7a. Issued by L.C. Lauer and struck by Messrs. Otto Nolte and Co. of Berlin. A very scarce issue, this was the first example located in silver.

ZAR Coin Value Guide

To the north of the Orange Free State, Dutch migrants also created the South African Republic (the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek or ZAR in Dutch, also sometimes referred to as the Republic of Transvaal). Formed in 1852, this country produced little to speak of from a numismatic standpoint until gold was discovered within its borders. Then in 1874, President Thomas Burgers sent some gold from the Johannesburg mines to London to be minted into pound-sized coins, called ponds. However, the Volksraad (South African Parliament) never allowed these coins to circulate. They resented the fact that the President had failed to consult them before authorizing the coins and objected to the design which bore the President’s likeness. The 1874 Burgers ponds were sold as memorabilia, and the ZAR produced no new coinage until 1892.

In 1892 President Paul Kruger began a coin series with his image on one side of the coins and the ZAR coat of arms on the other. This time, however, there was less backlash against using a sitting President’s bust on the country’s currency. With nine different denominations, these coins were the first series made in South Africa that truly provided enough flexibility to be suitable for everyday use. Kruger’s coinage ended in 1898 as the Second Boer War began to tax the resources of the ZAR. In 1902, as the war came to a close, the ZAR minted the famously crude yet beautiful “Veld” ponds to pay their soldiers. These ponds were the last type created under the ZAR government before it became enveloped by the Union of South Africa. As a result of the war, interest in South African items rose considerably among British numismatists in the early twentieth century. Therefore, scarce types such as the Burgers ponds (which had been nearly forgotten) and Veld ponds (of which it has always been difficult to find a nice example since they were struck on a battlefield to pay soldiers) saw a huge increase in attention and value.

Union of South Africa Coin Values

The result of the Boer Wars was the creation of the Union of South Africa, formed from Cape Colony, Griqua Land, the Orange Free State, and the ZAR. The Union officially adopted the South Africa pound as its currency in 1910. Except for a brief period, the South African pound was essentially tied to the British pound, and so for the first few years of the Union British currency circulated widely. In 1923 a Royal Mint was established in Pretoria and began minting coins in the British colonial tradition, with the likeness of King George V on the obverse. The design of the coins also included a taste of the country’s multinational flavor, as the reverse legends contained both English and Afrikaans inscriptions.

Resistance to British influence over South African politics gained momentum throughout the early twentieth century, and in 1924 the National Party, which was dominated by Afrikaners, was elected into the majority position. From the beginning of the Union, segregation had been institutionalized in the Constitution and laws of the country. As Britain pressured South Africa to revoke its apartheid rules, many South Africans eventually became fed up with their status as a British Dominion. In a 1960 referendum of white voters, the Union of South Africa left the Commonwealth and became the current-day Republic of South Africa.

Republic of South Africa Modern Coins

Upon achieving independence, the Republic created a new currency: the Rand. The first Rand coins recognized the country’s deep Dutch roots by portraying Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch explorer who founded the Cape Town colony. In 1967, needing a convenient method to export gold, the South African Mint began producing Krugerrands, bullion coins named for the former President. Featuring Kruger’s bust on the obverse and a springbok on the reverse, these coins have become quite famous among collectors. Other popular collector’s coins produced by the South African Mint include the Natura series. These gold Proof coins feature a handful of different animals native to Africa each year. Recently, the Mint has also created the Protea series honoring the memory and achievements of President Nelson Mandela.

For more information on South African coins (including catalog values), consult Brian Hern’s Handbook on South African Coins and Patterns.

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