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The Mystery of the 1892 ZAR single shaft ½ pond - Part 3

The Spink Factor

In previous posts, we looked at the possibility of the actual existence and genuineness of the1892 ZAR Menné single shaft gold Half Pond coin.

Why did this unique coin only turn up after a period of nearly 65 years? Mr W Menné explained he inherited a collection of coins from his father in 1935. A memo dated 9 January 1905 accompanied the coins, listing the collection which amongst others consisted of all the denominations and years of issue from 1892 to 1902. However, the 1892 half pond, although part of the collection, was not included in the memo list. Menne returned the coin for safekeeping for a further 21 years seemingly not realising the uniqueness of the coin.

The considerable wear of the coin has also raised questions, considering it was kept in a vault for so many years. Despite a shortage of currency during the early 1900’s, authorities proposed in 1908 to abolish the “Kruger” coins as legal tender. Managing the subsequent protests and confusion in the Transvaal, Orange Free State and the Cape, instructions were issued to all banks imposing surcharges to accept the currency at par value. As a result, ZAR currency remains legal tender until today! Gold coins as a currency were popular in South Africa and remained in general circulation for many years until the advent of the Gold Premium after World War 1. This caused gold coins to be worth more in bullion than their face value and encouraged the melting down of the coins by speculators. The logical conclusion drawn was that the half pond circulated during the period leading up to the big smelt and Menne's father added the coin to the collection after 1905.

The original dies and punches up to Number 430 used by the ZAR Mint survived and can be found in various museums around the world. However, the dies for the Menne half pond coin have never been found in either South Africa or Germany. A credible explanation was put forward that it could have been a once-off rectified specimen coin, manufactured in Germany and sent to Pretoria for approval by the Berlin Mint after the double shaft debacle. The Berlin Mint sustained damages during World War 2 and many items were lost during that period.

Then followed the bizarre sequence of events after the 1977 auction sale of the coin, where it either got lost in the post or was stolen and tossed overboard by a thief on an unknown sea voyage between Australia and England after being exhibited at a coin show in Australia.

Recently an 1892 half pond single shaft coin was graded by the Numismatic Grading Company in the USA as an Extremely Fine 40 specimen and offered for sale. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a double shaft coin with an erroneous grading by NGC. - (Photo above: Source PH Nortje)

And that is where you might think it ends, but the Menné Half Pond had other ideas.

Credit for the following information and excerpts from the book "The Rarest of the Rare" is owed to author PH Nortje. It reads like a numismatic detective story:

“Inquiries to Spink

On 31 August 2021, Professor Michael Laidlaw from Pietermaritzburg introduced me via E-Mail to Nik von Uexkull, an employee of Spink in London. I wrote to Nik and asked him to please assist me.

"Is it possible, for someone in your administration department to check if your company lodged a large insurance claim for a very expensive South African gold coin lost in transit (The so-called single shaft "Menne" Half Pond of 1892) in the second half of 1977 or the following year 1978)? Or do you perhaps have any information at all regarding this coin? The coin was bought by the Durban based Keogh Coins who had been appointed by Spink as one of their overseas distributors in that same year (1977) and was then advertised for resale later in that year. (Douglas Liddell, one of your directors at the time, was good friends with John Keogh of said company, and visited South Africa on a fairly regular basis).

The coin was not sold and was most probably returned to Spink in London and could have been lost in transit then, or later when it was apparently sent to Australia for a coin exposition, possibly the Petersham Stamp Coin & Banknote Fair held in Sydney where one of Spink's other overseas subsidiaries, Noble Numismatics, had an office."

Nik von Uexkull undertook to make inquiries but several follow-up attempts by me to obtain a response proved fruitless. Spink and Son were either not able or willing to help me or my requests ended up in the wrong department. (Can it be that they have information on the matter but for some reason do not wish to share it - Ed)

Enters John Keogh

However, on 9 September 2021, my phone rang and I almost jumped out of my skin — on the other side of the line was John Keogh, the numismatic dealer who bought the Menne Half Pond at the Sotheby Parke Bernet auction in Johannesburg on Wednesday 20th April 1977. Someone had mentioned to him that I was searching for information about the coin and he contacted me. He told me that he had just been discharged from hospital but would gladly help me. After immigrating to Texas in the USA in the 1980s he later went to live and work in the Netherlands and then returned to South Africa. He now lives in Bloemfontein and is still involved in Numismatics.

Now here is the story that John told me...

He said that he was accompanied by Douglas Liddell of Spink & Son at the Sotheby Parke Bernet auction in 1977, and immediately after the auction, Liddell offered him a R2000 profit on the sale price which he accepted. (The coin therefore was not bought by Spink but by John Keogh who then sold it to Spink on the same day). Keogh and Liddell then had photographs taken of the coin and Liddell returned to London taking the coin with him. A week or so later Douglas Liddell phoned Keogh telling him “John, I lost the coin”, and John presumed that the coin had been lost during his flight from Johannesburg to London but did not ask for specific details.

I asked John Keogh that if the Menne Half Pond was indeed lost soon after the sale, presumably by Liddell on his flight back to London in April 1977, how was it possible that the coin was advertised by Keogh Coins four months later in August that year being featured on the front page of their fixed price list?. Keogh responded by saying it was just for promotion purposes — the coin was indeed lost at that stage... "We had taken pics and I had said I was going to list the coin anyway for promotion purposes ..." (I did not ask him what would have happened if someone bought the coin at the asking price of R36 000)”

Credit: P.H. Nortje

Elias Levine, an expert in ZAR coins and counterfeits, cites Dr Hugo Hammerich, Deputy Mint Director of the Berlin Mint during the 1892 ZAR double shaft mintages. In his 1905 publication 'Die Deutschen Reichsmünzen,' Hammerich confirmed that the 1892 half pond die was included in a list of master dies “for all subsequent minting in Pretoria.” The die was preserved at that time (1905) within the Berlin Mint. The list also follows Dr Hammerich’s account of the correction of the double shaft errors. As only one of each of the 1892 Pond, Half Pond and Crown dies are listed, it must be assumed that these refer to the single shaft varieties, including the Half Pond. Although no record of 1892 single shaft Half Pond dies received by Pretoria exists, they were most likely to have been produced by the Berlin Mint. Levine is of the opinion that on the “balance of probabilities the coin would seem to be real”, but he would need to see the coin himself before committing.

If the coin did make it to London it must have been examined by European coin experts, as they would only have seen photographs of the coin before, but this has never been confirmed. JP Roux, a former South African Mint Master, numismatic expert, and author, who examined the actual coin believed it to be genuine.

In conclusion, it appears the coin was never lost in the post or tossed overboard somewhere on the open seas. It just got lost. Is it possible that the 1892 Single Shaft Menne half pond has once again been placed in a vault for safekeeping, waiting patiently to reveal its true pedigree? Only time will tell.


DE NUMMIS, Journal of the Transvaal Numismatic Society, Number 2 1956-1957

Engelbrecht C.L.: Money in South Africa

Levine E.: The Coinage and Counterfeits of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek

Nortje P.H.: The Rarest of the Rare - Unique and very Rare Gold Coins of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek

Rosenthal E.: From Barter to Barclays

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It would be nice to see on which plain mr. Liddell was traveling from Johannesburg to London. Maybe that plain still exist in one if the plain-graveyards in the desserts of the USA. A good investigation of his seat and the area around might gave us an answer on this “lost” coin.

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