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The Mysterious 1889 Silver Pattern Half-Crown of the Cape of Good Hope

Pierre H. Nortje (November 2023)


The pattern pennies of the Cape of Good Hope of 1889 are well-recorded. In Hern’s Handbook on the Coins & Patterns of South Africa, eight varieties are catalogued that were struck in two basic designs showing minor differences. The one shows the head of Queen Victoria on the obverse while the reverse shows the coat-of-arms of the Cape Colony with the words “Cape of Good Hope” and the date 1889.

 

The second shows the same reverse but the obverse reads “1 Penny” with a Laurel wreath encircling it. 


These penny patterns were all struck in non-precious metals being bronze, aluminium, tin and nickel-plated bronze. The only silver (and non-penny denomination) Cape of Good Hope pattern recorded is described by Hern (C1) as a 2/6 (half-crown) with a diameter of 30.16mm with an unknown mass & thickness. Hern estimates that approximately 5 exist and catalogues them at R190 000 in extremely fine and R250 000 in uncirculated condition.

The Cape of Good Hope patterns were stuck in late Victorian times by the family firm of Ludwig Christian Lauer of Nuremberg, Germany who also made patterns for the Orange Free State, Transvaal and Griqua Town on commission of another German firm, Otto Nolte & Co. Some sources says that Lauer only made the dies and the coins were actually struck by Otto Nolte & Co. Unfortunately, during the Second World War, the archives of the Lauer firm was totally destroyed in 1944, so detailed information on this matter is probably lost forever.

As far back as 1934, J.T. Becklake, the last Deputy Master of the Royal Mint and first Director of the South African Mint in Pretoria mentioned the silver piece but he was unsure if it was a pattern for a penny or a half-crown. He said that an example resides in the Royle Baldwin collection. In his Real to Rand (1965:10). Becklake seems to have made up his mind that it was a half-crown. In his book, he refers to an article by S. Gordon entitled Catalogue of South African Patterns in Africana Notes and News of June 1960 (Vol.14, No. 2 page 49) where the coin is numbered 39 and a picture of it is shown.

Becklake also published a picture of the coin in his 1934 booklet, but the picture is unfortunately not very clear. The following picture is from Gordon’s article of 1960.


Hern (2023/24:414) also catalogues a silver pattern of the Orange Free State (No. O13) and questions if it is a penny or half-crown. This is strange as the coin is pictured and clearly carries the “1 Penny” denomination on the obverse. Gordon catalogues the same coin (No.34) as indeed a penny.

C.L. Engelbrecht in his Money in South Africa (1987:41) also refers to the silver Cape of Good Hope half-crown.

In his MTB’s South African Graded Coins (2017: 40) Dr. Morgan Carrol provides more details saying the pattern (catalogued as CGH06) has a diameter of 30.16mm (as Hern’s does) but also provides additional information by saying that its thickness is 1.98 mm and has a mass of 14.68 grams with a smooth edge. He estimates only 2 coins are in existence and catalogues their value in both mint state and proof condition. However, he does not mention the word half-crown but catalogues it as a penny denomination. Noteworthy is that in terms of its diameter and mass compared to the other Cape of Good Hope pattern pennies, his figures show that the silver issue has the smallest diameter but weighs more than the other issues – almost 33.3% more than the second heaviest issue.   

We have written to Dr. Carrol regarding the information (e.g. thickness and mass of the coin) he provided but at the time of publishing this paper, we have not received any feedback yet.

However, we eventually located a specimen that resides in the collection of Nick Yiannakis (based in London) that we believe was the same coin that was originally in the Royale Baldwin collection. The coin is graded PF 61 by NGC and certified as a penny (not a half-crown).

 

Until we receive information to the contrary, we believe both NGC and Dr. Morgan Carroll to be correct in that the coin is indeed a penny denomination and that a Cape of Good Hope half-crown does not exist and is only erroneously recorded as such because of its silver content. We also believe this silver penny coin of the Cape of Good Hope to be very much unique (certainly in certified & graded form) and thus excessively rare.



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