The most acceptable coin in the world for over 200 years, was the Spanish dollar. It was also known as a ‘piece of 8’ because of the symbol /8/ which it bore. Worth 8 reales it contained 0.8 troy ounces of fine silver. First minted about 1497, it had become the first world currency by the late 18th century, and was legal tender in the USA until 1857. The dollar sign $ is a variant of the symbol /8/.
In 1892 South Africa manufactured its first coins. They were minted on an1891 German press ordered by President Kruger. The State Mint was operated by the newly formed National Bank of the ZAR in premises built on a corner of Church Square. Between the years 1892 and 1900 the press produced 8 million coins. Known as ‘Oom Paul’ it is still functional, and is the only remaining press of its kind in the world.
The Mint closed when the British forces occupied Pretoria in 1900. General Smuts organised and oversaw the removal of all the gold from the mint the day before. Thus began the myth of the Kruger millions. The Boers used the stock of 1 pound gold blanks, known as ‘Naked Pounds,’ for the payment of State expenses.
The Boers then attempted to establish a mint in an abandoned gold mine in Pilgrims Rest. Hand-made dies and an improvised fly press were used to strike 1 pound pieces. These were of practically pure gold, with an intrinsic value of 22 shillings. The ‘Veldpond’, has become a very precious historical treasure. It’s designer, and the man responsible for it being pressed and issued, was a P.J. Kloppers who was given the title ‘Chief of the State Mint in the Field.’ His memory was that 986 such coins were issued.
In 1923 a branch of the Royal Mint was set up in Pretoria, on the corners of Visagie and Bosman Streets. The equipment was imported from Britain, and the master dies produced in the Royal Mint by a man named Kruger Gray. The first gold pound was struck on 3 October 1923 by Prince Arthur of Connaught. The last was issued in 1932 when South Africa went off the Gold Standard. It was only in 1952 that the minting of 1 pound and half pound coins resumed.
A continuing increase in the demand for coins saw the re-building of the Mint in Visagie Street in 1978, and then a transfer to its present premises in Centurian in October 1992. It is now believed to be one of the most modern facilities in the world.
And finally – the sparrows. During the Anglo – Boer War [1899-1902], a group of women in the Bethulie concentration camp adopted as a motto for survival a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew:
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father [10:29]
As a result of the women’s vowed endeavour, the sparrows were portrayed on the South African coin of the lowest denomination – starting with the farthing.
Although the Mint itself is not open to the general public, a visit to Coin World, at the Mint, is well worth the trip. It includes a museum display of South African coins and medallions, snippets of history, and a centre for purchasing gold jewellery and coins at ‘bargain prices.’ There is a good restaurant.
Hours: Monday: 13h00 till 16h30; Tuesday to Friday: 09h00 till 16h30; Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays: 09h00 till 15h00
Cost: Entrance is free
For further information follow the links alongside.