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The Mystery of the 1892 ZAR single shaft ½ pond - Part 2

The coin got lost in the post!

In a previous post, we published a copy of an article that appeared in De Nummis magazine in 1957 about the unique 1892 Z.A.R. Kruger gold half pound. Below is an extract from the book "The Rarest of the Rare" by PH Nortje, mapping out the strange events that unfolded thereafter, making for fascinating reading.

The Mystery gets Bizarre!

Pierre. H Nortje


In July 2021 I published a small booklet titled “The Menne Single Shaft Paul Kruger Half Pond of 1892 – The story of a mysterious and unique gold coin”.

This booklet tells the story of the unique historic gold Paul Kruger Half Pond coin which was sold at auction in Johannesburg in 1977 for a then world record price for a South African coin. What made this coin particularly special and unique was the fact that it shows a single shaft ox wagon on the reverse – this coin being the only such example ever recorded.

The coin was put on auction after the owner, William (Bill) Menne who had inherited the coin from his father in 1935, was viciously murdered on his farm in the then Northern Transvaal. The auctioneer was Sotheby Parke Bernet and the coin was sold on Wednesday 20th April 1977.

In 2009, thirty-two years later, the Afrikaans daily newspaper, Die Burger published an article relating to events surrounding this coin which had by then become widely known as the Menne Half Pond. Martiens van Bart based his article on a discussion he had with the late Stephan Weltz, the renowned auctioneer and specialist in South African art and antiques. Martiens Van Bart was well known and through the years had been awarded numerous prizes and medals for his writings, especially for those of a conservation and cultural nature i.e. the Gold Medal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation, the Silver Medal of the VOC Foundation and the Cape Times Centenary Award.

According to Weltz, and as told to Van Bart, the successful bidder at the 1977 auction was a recognized and well-known South African coin dealer based in Durban. As was the custom in those days the coin was dispatched by post but mysteriously it did not reach its destination. Today, after more than 44 years, the coin is still lost. Fortunately, the precaution had been taken to insure the parcel and Bill Menne’s widow Rosemary, received the full auction price.

Recent Events

Following the publication of my 40-page booklet I donated copies to various friends and collectors, including the two Numismatic Societies in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Word soon reached me that a member of the Pietermaritzburg society, Professor Michael Laidlaw, was informed by Carl du Preez, the President of the Natal society based in Durban, that the Menne Half Pond had in fact never been lost in the post but that it actually received in good order by the Durban coin dealer mentioned by Stephen Welz. It would seem as if the full story of the missing Half Pond is even more mysterious!

Du Preez recalled, as far as he could remember, that the coin was actually later lost “in the sea somewhere between Australia and England”. This information rather stunned me and I decided to investigate this somewhat bizarre turn of events.

Keogh Coins and the Menne Half Pond

Carl du Preez is the current owner of Keogh Coins the well-known numismatic firm based in Durban, a company which was started in the early 1970s by the late John Keogh. It was his company which bought the Menne Single Shaft Half Pond at the Sotheby Parke Bernet auction in April 1977. Du Preez actually started working at Keogh Coins at the beginning of that year and remembers the coin well and has colour pictures of it hanging in his office up to this day. Clem van Niekerk is another person who worked with them at that time and he also remembers this very special and unique coin.

Apparently four months later, in August 1977, Keogh Coins included the Half Pond in their second fixed price list of that year with a price tag of R36 000. Beautiful colour photographs of both the obverse and reverse of this unique coin set out on a red satin background were printed on the front and back pages of their fixed price sales catalogue.

To promote the sale John Keogh also included a short summary of the history and events surrounding the coin in the catalogue. However, as subsequent events turned out, the asking price of R36 000 ($41 500) was evidently too steep, and the coin did not sell. (The coin had been bought for the amount of R24 000 only four months earlier, an amount which was then a world record price for any South African coin, but considerably less than its earlier April auction pre-sale estimate of R30 000 – R40 000, an amount which equates to well over a million Rand today.)

In the introduction to his August 1977 28-page fixed price list, John Keogh also proudly reported that Keogh Coins “are now the South African distributors for Spink & Son, London”, the world’s oldest coin dealers who were first established in 1666.

According to Carl du Preez, the current owner of Keogh Coins, it was actually Spink & Son who bought the Menne Half Pond at the Sotheby Parke Bernet auction in Johannesburg. Keogh Coins merely facilitated the transaction as their South African agent. Du Preez has informed me that John Keogh was a good friend of one of the directors of Spink, the well-known Douglas Liddell who visited their premises in Durban on more than one occasion. (Liddell died in 2003 and Keogh later emigrated to Dallas, Texas in 1984.)

The Coin Gets Lost

According to Du Preez, after the unsuccessful sale of the Menne Half Pond in Durban, the coin was sent to Spink in London who presumably intended to market the Half Pond themselves. Spink subsequently exhibited this now famous and unique coin at a coin

convention in Australia. The apparent loss of the coin occurred soon afterwards. While the coin was being returned by ship to England it was stolen by a passenger who was subsequently caught and apprehended. Sadly, however, for South African numismatists the suspected thief tossed the coin overboard in order to get rid of the evidence.

Questions, Questions and More Questions

According to all the information we now have, especially the information and pictures provided in the Keogh price list of August 1977, we now know that the Menne Half Pond could not have been lost in the post when it was sent by Sotheby Parke Bernet Auctioneers in Johannesburg to Keogh Coins in Durban after their auction on 20 April 1977.

The question now arises. Why did Martiens van Bart, who wrote the article in the Afrikaans daily Die Burger in 2009, after his discussion with the late Stephan Weltz, state that the Half Pond was lost in the post? At the time both Martiens and Stephan were highly respected persons in their fields, and one must therefore conclude that the facts and the dates had become confused after the long interval of 32 years

Perhaps Martiens had been told that the coin was lost en route in the post, but he could not exactly remember the details?

John Keogh and Stephan Weltz (in his day one of South Africa’s top art experts and auctioneers) surely knew each other personally, as an internet source states that “John Keogh, is not only an internationally recognized coin and banknote specialist, but also one of South Africa’s most respected experts in investment quality art and old South African masters’ art. With his strong links to the international art world, John has exposed some new and exciting international artists to the South African market …”

What Weltz may have been told by Keogh personally, was that the Menne Half Pond was indeed lost in the post, but perhaps not between Johannesburg and Durban, but at a later stage between say Durban and another destination.

Could the coin have been posted to Spink & Son in London and got lost? Or was it lost while en route from England to Australia or vice versa?

Is it possible that the coin which was stolen and thrown overboard the ship was actually another coin (possibly also a ZAR Half Pond) but through the years, as memories fade, stories often tend to become confused and it is true that the Menne Half Pond was indeed lost in the post? (Obviously after the August sale in 1977 in Durban).

There are clearly more questions which I now need to answer. Was the coin actually ever sent to Spink & Son in London and how was it transported? Was this unique and rather special coin of the ZAR series actually later exhibited in Australia?

And lastly, and most importantly, have Spink retained any of their records of this coin and its subsequent loss to the numismatic world? Hopefully, if they were indeed the rightful owners of this very important coin, they have retained some records in their archives. If the story is true Spink presumably lodged an insurance claim at some stage.

Perhaps Spink sold the coin and it was then lost in the post. Perhaps it was never lost at all!

Having published my booklet this is a mystery I now needed to solve.

Part 3 to follow …

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