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1995 Commemorative Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to South Africa coin set.

Joel Potgieter (April 2024)

Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II


In 1961, under State President C.R. Swart, South Africa withdrew from the British Commonwealth and became a Republic. After the end of Apartheid, South Africa rejoined the British Commonwealth in 1994 under the newly elected President Nelson Mandela, and in support and recognition of this, Queen Elizabeth II visited South Africa the following year in 1995. This brief event has probably been forgotten by most, but numismatists will still remember it because of the coins that were minted because of it.


To commemorate the queen’s visit, the SA Mint struck a special set of coins. This set is one of the rarest and most unusual ever issued in South Africa. It is comprised of 7 coins/medallions, 4 of which were original coins minted about 40 years previously for the Union of South Africa. It is not known to me where the SA Mint found these coins, but they may have been bought from any coin dealer in South Africa, as they are common types and are readily available even today. Then there are 2 identical-looking large medallions (MTB second edition NE22 and NE24), one struck in silver and the other one in Cupro-nickel. Lastly, there is a Proof/proof-like gold sovereign with the SA mintmark. Of the first 4 coins - those struck for the Union of South Africa - 2 of them are silver coins, a 5 shillings and a 2.5 shillings. These 2 coins are always in a heavily cleaned condition. This was done before they were put in the set, possibly to make all the coins look the same. A first for any set issued by the SA Mint, their dates range from 1953 to 1958 in no particular order. The other Union coins are 2 copper coins (a 1/2 penny and a 1 penny) minted in 1960 and these are invariably in brilliant Uncirculated condition. All 4 have the portrait of QEII on the obverse. The two large medallions are in a proof condition, with the obverse identical in size and design to the one used by the SA Mint for the obverse of the 5 shillings coins from 1953 to 1959. It is possible that the SA Mint reused the original 5 shillings obverse dies to strike these medallions..

1995 Commemorative Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to South Africa coin set.

Image taken by the author.

1995 Commemorative Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to South Africa Medallions

The sovereign is the centrepiece of this set and is the most unusual coin included. The reverse features a somewhat crude representation of the iconic St George slaying the dragon, with the date (1995) below and the SA mintmark off to the right. The obverse, as with all the other pieces in the set, has the same portrait of QEII used on the Union coins from 1953 to 1960. In my opinion, this coin is artistically not up to the standard of coins produced by the SA Mint during the same period.

1995 Commemorative Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to South Africa Gold Sovereign Reverse
1995 Commemorative Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to South Africa Gold Sovereign Obverse

Several years ago, a well-known SA coin dealer reached out to the SA Mint for any information regarding the origin of these sets. Below is an extract from this dealer in response to a question on the numismatic section of the now-shut-down BidorBuy online forum:

"We wanted to find out more about this set, so we contacted the SA Mint. They knew nothing about the set but they did give us contact details of a number of the senior management that were working at the mint at that time. We managed to get hold of a woman who told us that she personally presented the queen with a 1995 commemorative set. She did say, however, that she only knew of one set in existence, the one presented to the queen. She also said that the SA Mint did receive special permission from the Royal Mint to mint this particular set."


According to the second edition of the MTB rare coins catalogue, only 30 of these sets were produced. However, according to another numismatist, his research indicated that only 26 sets were made.


I have not been able to find out where or when these sets were released. My guess is that they were not offered to general collectors but were either gifts to VIPs attending a special event or that they were only available at a certain event.


It has been debated among some coin collectors whether or not the gold sovereign should be considered a fantasy strike. Wikipedia defines a fantasy coin or banknote as follows:

“A fantasy issue is an unofficial issue that appears to be money (coin or paper note) but is privately made and is not legal tender nor intended for payment. It is also not considered counterfeit as it does not attempt to replicate actual currency. Fantasy (or novelty) issues can be made to honour a person or event, for advertising purposes, for humour, for artistic purposes, or to show how a note {or coin} might have looked had it been actually issued.”


The Numismatic Guaranty Company (formerly the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation) certifies these sovereigns as fantasy coins but does not state this on their holders. Please see the photos below. As of April 2024, only 2 of these coins have been graded by NGC.

1995 Commemorative Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to South Africa Gold Sovereign NGC graded

I personally don’t consider these sovereigns fantasy strikes for the following reasons:

  1. They were not privately minted (the SA Mint even got permission from the Royal Mint to strike these coins).

  2. They have the correct date and mintmark (This also eliminates the possibility of a restrike coin – which is a coin struck with official dies long after they were originally used).

  3. They have the right diameter, gold content and weight.

  4. Both the obverse and reverse designs were featured on huge numbers of sovereigns in the past (Many fantasy coins, such as the King Edward VIII crowns, show what a coin might have looked like).

Some of the arguments that this coin is a fantasy issue or at least not an official issue, are as follows (My counterarguments below in red):

1. The portrait design used for the obverse of this coin is the 1st portrait type designed by artist Mary Gillick, which was used on coins from 1953 until 1970. Because this coin was minted in 1995, it should have the 3rd portrait type designed by artist Raphael David Maklouf, which was used for the British sovereigns between 1985 and 1997.


The use of an older design type on a coin after a newer design has come out is nothing new. For example, this same obverse design (1st portrait type) was still being used on the British Maundy coinage up until 2022. Below is a photo of a 1995 dated Maundy 3 pence.

Maundy 1995 3 pence

2. There is no evidence that this coin is a legal tender issue, and therefore it can’t be considered a proper coin, only a medallion or fantasy token.


Permission was required and obtained from the Royal Mint to mint these coins. A similar thing happened in 2013 when an independent company was authorised to begin minting bullion sovereigns in India with an “I” mintmark. These coins are still legal tender in the UK, just the same as the standard sovereigns minted in Britain.

In conclusion, this unusual set is unique in our numismatic history in many ways and commemorates the second and final visit of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch to South Africa. The 7 coins within the set are a never-before-seen combination of modern medallions; of historic pieces minted decades before this set was released, and of one of the very rarest South African gold coins ever minted. If you are fortunate enough to have one of these sets, hang onto it as these sets are truly rare and will seldom come up for sale again.


Joel Potgieter, April 2024


One last thing…

These sets were not the only numismatic items made to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to South Africa in 1995. There was at least one other medallion made, as per the images below. I don’t have much information on these pieces, but they are not very expensive and make a nice addition to one of these sets.

Royal visit to South Africa Silver Medallion 1995
Royal visit to South Africa Silver Medallion 1995 reverse
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