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The Sammy Marks Tickey and its Myths

Pierre H. Nortje (October 2023)


The Sammy Marks Tickey (3 pence) is a legendary South African gold coin that commands very high prices when specimens are sometimes offered for sale. Since numismatists became aware of the coin many years ago, it was always shrouded by myths and legends – as one would expect from a world-famous coin. For example, as late as 2008, the Afrikaans daily newspaper Die Burger, reported that a Sammy Marks Tickey was sold for R1.4 million and stated that the reason for this is that only seven of these coins (compared to the actual number of over 200) were minted!


This coin was struck towards the end of the 1800s at the request of Sammy Marks at the Pretoria Mint of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. Samuel Marks was born in Russia in 1844 and immigrated to the Cape Colony in 1869 to become a very wealthy industrialist and financier. In 1881 he moved to Pretoria where he became a close friend and confidant of President Paul Kruger (12). As a token of respect and friendship, he commissioned the statue of Kruger on Church Square in Pretoria, which was sculpted by Anton van Wouw and cast in bronze in Europe (22). It carried a price tag of £10,000, almost R40 million at current value.

It is said (5) that President Kruger granted Marks permission to use the Mint’s facilities for a day in appreciation of services rendered to the Republic. One source (1) speculates that Kruger and Marks made a deal – if Marks could use the Mint’s facilities for a day, he would donate a pair of stone lions to grace the house entrance to Kruger‘s home. In truth, the pair of lions was a birthday gift from mining magnate Barney Barnato on the President’s 71st birthday on the 10th of October 1896 (21).


Apparently, 215 Tickeys (3-pence pieces usually struck in silver) were struck in 22-carat gold using the dies intended for the normal silver issues for the year 1898. However, no silver ZAR coins were struck after 1897. These original 1898 Tickey dies are according to several sources, including Brian Hern (6), kept in the SA Mint Museum in Centurion, Pretoria. The author contacted the Mint via e-mail in this regard, but no response has been received.


One source (3) states that only 214 (not 215) were struck whilst another (1) maintains that additional Tickeys were struck by the mint, but not delivered to Marks.


As far back as 1934, J.T. Becklake, the last Deputy Mint Master of the Royal Mint in Pretoria, wrote (2) that an official document states that the gold threepenny pieces were minted on the verbal authority of the State Secretary (Francis William Reitz), but that such authority was withdrawn shortly after. However meanwhile, the pieces had already been minted. It is not clear to which “official document” Becklake was referring, but if this was indeed the case, President Kruger had seemingly nothing to do with the permission initially granted to Marks. In his book The Coinage and Counterfeits of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, Eli Levine states that it was Kruger who gave the verbal authority, but we believe that Becklake was better placed to name Reitz as the one who gave the initial thumbs up.

Marks and Reitz actually knew each other personally. Here Marks is seen (fifth from the right) with President Kruger and Reitz, who was then still the President of the Orange Free State, on the occasion of the joining of the Transvaal and Free State by railway, 21 May 1892 (22).


Sources differ as to the reason that Marks commissioned the coins to be struck; some (3) say that they were initially intended to make a coin-girdle for his wife, Bertha, but when they realized how heavy and unpractical it would be, the idea was dropped and the coins were given away to friends as gifts. Other sources (5) say it was a bracelet. It is interesting to know that in Berta’s will (she died in 1934) mention is made of a bracelet set with five of these coins (12).


Another source (16) is of the opinion that the coins were from the outset intended as gifts to be handed out to high-ranking officials and close friends of the family. It is reported (14) that when a large dinner party was held at the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg, each guest received one of these gold Tickeys. The occasion, if true, could not have happened before 1906, because that was the year the hotel opened its doors (15).

Picture left: Sammy Marks. Centre picture: The Marks family during a visit to England in 1903. Picture right. The old Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg. Bertha Marks actually died in the hotel while staying there on 28 October 1934 (23).


A third opinion was that all the coins were locked up in a safe on Marks’s farm Zwartkoppies and only after his death in 1920, were specimens given away by his wife to relatives and friends as well as people in their employ. One such person was James Potts who was the carpenter cum handyman at Zwartkoppies Hall. He and his wife and 5 children lived in a cottage on the farm and one of his sons was named Sammy after Sammy Marks. When Marks died, all the Potts family members received Sammy Marks Tickeys as gifts (3).


In an article in the popular Afrikaans magazine Die Huisgenoot of 2 June 1933 (10), Jacob de Villiers Roos (he held some important state positions during his lifetime including the Secretary of Justice for the Transvaal and was also the Auditor-General of the Union of South Africa) wrote one of the first articles, of which we are aware, on South African coins and it mentions the Marks Tickey. It states that Marks received permission from President Kruger to strike £10 worth of Tickeys in gold (40 coins) to make a bracelet for his wife, which was never made. Marks gave some of the coins away during his lifetime, as did Bertha after Marks died. The article further states that an example sold in London for £30, an amount of over R200 000 today. It is not clear why Roos wrote that 10 pounds of gold equal 40 Tickeys as according to our calculations it should be just over 30 coins (the 22ct gold tickey weighs 2.61 grams compared to the normal silver tickey which weighs 1.41 grams). Either way, Roos could not have been in possession of all the correct facts and figures as 60 of these Tickeys had already been certified by NGC and PCGS, the leading coin grading companies in America (19).


Interestingly enough, after Roos died in 1940, he bequeathed his extensive library and private documents to the University of Pretoria, which included a vast sub-collection of numismatic material and newspaper cuttings. One such cutting (13) is from an unknown Afrikaans newspaper, pen marked B (probably indicating Die Burger newspaper) 5/11/28. It is entitled Kruger-tikkies (sic). Because it makes for interesting reading we publish both the article and translation here.

“The other day in London a gold Kruger threepence piece was sold for £20. Were there ever such coin pieces? We have never heard of it. The Mint in Pretoria informed us that officially such coins were never struck. A Year or three ago some fake gold threepence pieces were struck from the Kruger period only to make money from them. Probably one of these Tickeys was sold at this unheard-of price and the man who struck them then reported it to the newspapers to advertise his stock of fake curios”.


Own note: We believe that there is a good chance that these pieces were actually not fakes, as the first fakes (replicas) were only reported in the second half of the 1900s. Some sources (14) say the fakes were struck in Italy and mention is also made of a Johannesburg jeweller who started to market them in 1960. At least 8 different varieties of replicas are known.


Another possibility as to why Marks conceived the idea of striking the coins is that he was actually a coin collector himself. Amongst his personal papers, in the possession of the University of Cape Town, is a list of his collection of Greek, Roman and foreign coins (24).


Hence, up till today, we are still unsure why the gold tickeys were struck. Likewise, we are unsure when they were struck. Because the coin carries the date 1898, many people believed that it indicated its date of manufacture, but as we will see, this is most probably untrue. The only two other Kruger coins that are dated 1898 are the Penny and the Gold Pond. But some numismatists are very sceptical that these issues were indeed struck in that year; the reason being that the Pretoria Mint was actually closed from 1 January 1898 to 30 September 1899 due to a lack of profitability (9). It was only opened again on 1 October 1899 (less than two weeks later the war with England broke out). So, it is conceivable that the Pennies and Ponde dated 1898 were actually struck in late 1899.

And the Sammy Marks Tickey? Could Marks have been given permission to use the Mint’s facilities during the period in which it was officially closed, meaning that it was indeed struck in the year indicated on the coin? On the other hand, is there a possibility that the Sammy Marks Tickeys could have been struck after the war as one of the first mentions thereof (of which we are aware) was the article mentioned above in the popular Afrikaans magazine Die Huisgenoot in the edition of 2 June 1933 (the short newspaper article of 5 November 1928 does not make the connection with Sammy Marks)


The answer in both cases is no.


The 12th report of the Transvaal Chamber of Mines for the Years 1900 and 1901 contains a reconsolidation of the gold that passed through the Mint during the war (the period covered is October 1899 to June 1900) (17). The report mentions 0.562 kg of gold that was used to strike 3d pieces. This could only have been the Sammy Marks Tickeys. The weight shows that the number of gold Tickeys struck was indeed 215. However, the report shows something else that is quite revealing: - 799 grams of gold was used for the “99” overstruck ponde indicating that exactly 100 were struck and not 130, which is the quantity that all South African catalogues have mentioned since Alec Kaplan’s first catalogue of 1950 (7).



A few final observations: The Sammy Marks Tickey is not unique as a gold ZAR 3 pence. An 1894 date also exists and is well-recorded. In his book, The Rarest of the Rare. Unique and Very Rare Gold Coins of the Zuid- Afrikaansche Republiek, the author (11) wrote a chapter on this coin showing that it is even more shrouded in mystery than the Sammy Marks Tickey and much scarcer, as it is believed that only two, perhaps three, of these coins exist.



New Discovery - 1896 Gold Tickey


Source: Thomas van der Spuy


Since the book’s publication in 2022, recent astonishing news reached the author - an even scarcer gold Kruger Tickey was discovered recently and certified by the Numismatic Guaranty Company. It is dated 1896 and begs for further investigation as practically nothing about it is known.


Acknowledgements


The author wishes to thank Professor Francois Malan of the University of Pretoria and Derick Rabe, a Cape numismatist, for their valuable inputs and suggestions. Also his friend, Bruckner de Villiers as his English tutor. Bruckner’s great-uncle, P.R. de Villiers, was Acting Treasurer-General of the ZAR during the Boer War and co-signed the emergency Pietersburg government notes in 1901.


Sources:

1. Becklake, J.T., From Real to Rand, Central News Agencies, LTD, 1965.

2. Becklake, J.T., Notes on the Coinage of the South African Republic, Reprinted from the Numismatic Chronicle, 5th series Vol XIV, 1934. Revised and reprinted 1961.

3. De Nummis, Journal of the National Numismatic Society of South Africa, Journal number 5, 2002. Article by J.C. Vlok entitled Famous Marks Tickey in the News again, first published in the Pretoria News on 1 June 1965, reproduced by permission of the editor.

4. Engelbrecht, C.L., Money in South Africa, Tafelberg Publishers Ltd, Cape Town, 1987.

5. Esterhuysen, M., Ons Gelderfenis, National Cultural History and Open-Air Museum, Pretoria,1980.

6. Hern, B., Hern’s Handbook on South African Coins & Patterns, self-published by the author, 2023/4.

7. Kaplan A., Catalogue of the Coins of South Africa, published by the author, 1950.

8. Levine, E., The Coinage and Counterfeits of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, Purnell & Sons, 1974.

9. Malan, F., Kruger’s Gold. The history of the Transvaal gold during and after the Boer War. Self-published by the author, 2019.

10. Malan, F., A Review of South African Numismatic Research and Literature for the period 1900-2014, unpublished.

11. Nortje, P.H., The Rarest of the Rare. Unique and Very Rare Gold Coins of the Zuid- Afrikaansche Republiek. New Voices Publishing, 2022.

12. Mendelsohn, R., Sammy Marks: The 'Uncrowned King of the Transvaal.' David Philip, Cape Town and Ohio University Press, 1991.

13. Roos Repository held by the University of Pretoria (JVROOS/29/6, Newspaper cutting, ‘Veld Pounds and Gold “Tickeys”, unknown date).

14. The Association of South African Numismatic Societies, Journal No. 2 (undated). Article by Dr. Robert Morris entitled The Sammy Marks Golden Tickey and its Replicas.


Internet Sources:


15. Artefacts .co.za, Carlton Hotel – First details.

16. Coinweek, September 28, 2012, World Coins: The 1898 Sammy Marks Tickey

17. Transvaal Chamber of Mines, Twelve Report for the Years 1900 and 1901.

18. Mendelsohn, R., The Gilded Cage, Bertha Marks at Zwartkoppies.

19. Population reports of NGC and PCGS.

20. Repository.up.ac.za, The 1898 Sammy Marks Tickey

21. Tshwanetourist.wordpress.com, Nr 60 Church Street

22. Wikipedia, Sammy Marks as well as The Statue of Paul Kruger.

23. Wikitree, Bertha (Guttmann) Marks (abt. 1863 - 1934).

24. University of Cape Town Libraries: Special Collections (Manuscripts and Archives).


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Guest
Oct 23, 2023

Amazing read. Thank you Pierre

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