top of page
  • wcnumsoc

The ZAR Coinage of 1892

Part 1: Some anomalies regarding the issues

Pierre H. Nortje (December 2023)


In 1874, the first coin for the Z.A.R. was struck in England by Messrs Heaton & Sons of the Birmingham Mint, with the punches supplied by Mr. L.C. Wyon. This was the so-called Burgerspond of which 837 coins were struck.

For the following 18 years, no other coinage intended for circulation was struck for the Z.A.R. until 1892, when first in Berlin and then at the Pretoria Mint a series of coins was produced being the following:

  • The penny dated 1892, 1893, 1894 and 1898 in bronze.

  • The threepence, sixpence, shilling, two-shillings and half-crown (dated 1892 to 1897) in silver.

  • The crown (only dated 1892) in silver.

  • The half pond (1892 to 1897) and pond (1892 to 1900) in gold.

The crown (5 shillings) and pond of 1892 appear in two varieties. The ox wagon on the reverse of the coins reflects either a single or double shaft, as well as differences in the sizes of the back and front wagon wheels.

Number of coins minted

The ZAR-coinage mintage figures, supplied by generations of South African coin catalogues, are based on those published by J.T. Becklake, the last Deputy Master of the Royal Mint and the first Director of the South African Mint in Pretoria. (Two other sources are known, but Becklake’s figures are considered the most reliable).

Becklake did not publish the actual mintage figures themselves, but only the total value of each denomination’s mintage. For example, the value of the half ponde minted in 1892 was £5 075, so it can be deduced that double that number of coins, i.e. 10 150, was struck.

Referring to the first year of issues of the ZAR (1892), Becklake states that all the gold ponde and half ponde, as well as the pennies, were struck in Berlin. Regarding the silver coinage, his figures reveal that all the 5-shillings pieces, half-crowns, sixpences and threepences were also struck in Berlin, along with 36.78% of the 2-shillings, and 61.94% of the shillings.

Becklake (1965:26) continues “...operations at the Pretoria Mint had commenced, and a small quantity of coin was issued in that year (1892) correcting the unfortunate errors of the earlier issue. By 1893 the Pretoria Mint was in full production… The Pretoria Mint will be seen, coined only florins and shillings in 1892, the year of its inception...”

The “unfortunate errors” he is referring to are certainly the double/single shaft and wagon wheel-size errors that the German engraver, Otto Schultz, made by confusing the Boer ox wagon with the European wagon. This brings us to our first anomaly: - the florin (2 shillings) and shilling of 1892 did not have the “unfortunate errors”. The errors occurred only on the 5-shillings, half pond and pond.

In 1905, Dr. Hugo Hammerich of the Berlin Mint wrote Die Deutchen Reichsmunzen and provided the mintage figures of the 1892 coins for the “Republic Transvaal”. On page 83 of his book, he provides the actual number of ZAR for each denomination in the first year 1892 (One notes that the ponde were struck in 1891 with 1892 dies). Dr. Hammerich then reports that the dies were made by the medalist Otto Schultz and described in detail the errors that occurred on the ponde, half ponde and 5-shillings. When the Berlin Mint was informed of this, the dies for the other denominations were immediately changed accordingly, so “only small numbers of these coins (5/-, ½ and Pond) came into circulation”.

Dr. Hammerich then says that all the dies of the new coins issued in Pretoria from 1 August 1892 were supplied by the Berlin Mint. The date is questionable, as in his book The South African Mints published in 1939, Prof. E.H.D. Arndt notes that the Mint only became operational in November 1892. He gives his source as the Manager of the National Bank, Pretoria, on 26/2/1910 in response to a verbal request by the Treasury (T. 86/7.)

Issuance of the coins

We do not know when the first coins were received by the National Bank in Pretoria from the Berlin Mint and circulated. It is worth mentioning that De Volkstem, a bi-weekly newspaper at that time, reported on 12 March 1892 that Paul Kruger, during his Presidential election campaign, was asked why his effigy was depicted on the new ponde. For it to have been reported in the newspaper, the actual question was probably asked in say the first week of that month. Did the question emanate from someone who actually saw the coins or did he only read about it in a newspaper?

We initially believed the latter, but a week later, the same newspaper reported that when the question was asked if the coins would be withdrawn because a double-shafted wagon was depicted on the coins, Danie Wolmarans, a prominent politician and confidant of the President, replied that the coins have not been recalled. The question was raised at Wakkerstroom, a town well over 300 kilometres from Pretoria, so at that stage the coins must have already been in circulation in the “platteland” for at least a fortnight, hence determining that their initial issuance was in February 1892.

For this author, it is almost inconceivable to think that coins minted in, say January 1892, in Berlin were already circulating the next month in the Transvaal, unless it was only the ponde that was referred to (we know that ponde were indeed struck the previous year in 1891).

Of significance is that the ceremony at which the cornerstone of the new National Bank Building and the Mint in Pretoria was laid occurred on 6 July 1892. Pretoriana No.72, Dec. 1975 reports that a leaden casket containing some documents, newspapers, a £1 banknote, a gold £1 and £½ and a silver 5-shilling, was concealed behind the cornerstone. In President Kruger’s speech during the ceremony, he referred to the coins by saying “… die muntstukke van hierdie Republiek wat tot hede uitgegee is” (…the coins of this Republic issued to date). From this statement, we can surmise that the other Z.A.R. denominations from the penny up to the half-crown, were not yet available in the Republic.

According to Becklake the cornerstone was later incorporated into the General Post Office building. (Author’s note: It would be interesting to know what happened to the lead casket and its contents when the cornerstone was removed from its original position).

We speculate that only the ponde were released to the general public early in 1892 with the ½ ponde and 5/- following suit later, but not later than early July of that year. The other six denominations must have been circulated later that year, while the “corrected” versions of the 5/- and £1 could only have been circulated the following year (1893) as they were struck in Pretoria.

Striking of the first coins in Pretoria

Although there are negligible differences in Dr. Hammerich and Prof Arndt’s figures, we know that approximately 49 500 shillings and 34 900 2-shillings were struck in Pretoria bearing the 1892 date. All the other 1892 issues were struck in Berlin. We are reminded of Becklake’s previously mentioned statement: “The Pretoria Mint it will be seen, coined only florins and shillings in 1892, the year of its inception...”

This brings us to another anomaly: Although Arndt said that the Mint was brought into operation in November 1892, the building, as we will see, was then still under construction and only opened in April the next year. Bastiaan Willem Begeer who was the first assayer at the State Mint wrote in 1898 that “The Mint commenced operations at the beginning of 1893 …” In the following picture, Begeer is seen standing next to the President on the occasion of the official opening of the National Bank and Mint building in April 1893.

After the bank first opened its doors in April 1891, it was temporarily housed in the Kimberley Hotel, also situated on Church Square, until the new facility was completed in 1893. The National Bank and the Mint were annexed, the builder being J.J. Kirkness and the architects Frank Emley & Scott. According to Freda Green (Pretoria Historia, May 2022: 22), “the Mint was situated behind the National Bank, and access to it was through the northern door of the bank and then through a beautiful wrought iron door”.

In February 1893, it was reported in De Volkstem that the building works were nearing completion and that in May the building was festively inaugurated the previous month. In 1975, Dr. H. M. Rex (Pretoriana, 1975: 222) wrote, Op 28 November 1893 is die muntinrigting formeel aan die Regering oorhandig maar, kragtens 'n bepaling van die konsessie, onmiddellik weer aan die bank verhuur”. (On 28 November 1893 the Mint was formally handed over to the Government but, under a provision of the concession, immediately leased back to the bank.) Under the terms of the concession, the state bank was responsible for erecting and operating the Mint, but after one year, it would become the property of the government, which would in turn lease it back to the bank. When the lease expired, the government would pay the bank the cost of the Mint.

Strictly speaking, if the one year expired on 28 November 1893, the Mint must have become operational on 28 November 1892 (before the building was completed).

If coins were indeed struck in November and December of 1892, where did this take place? We know the bank and mint were temporarily housed in the Kimberley Hotel. Could the minting have taken place there? We do not believe so, as the entire production process involving all the machinery and equipment could hardly have been performed temporarily at another location. Possibly, a portion of the new building where the Mint was to be situated was indeed completed by November 1892, enabling production while the balance of the Bank complex was still under construction.

Pretoria Mint before 1900. Source: Black and White Budget Vol III, WJP Monckton, London, September 22nd 1900.

The Heritage Portal (January 22, 2019) reports “Friederich Munscheid from the German Imperial Mint in Berlin was engaged by Dr. Knappe to set up the Mint in Pretoria. Munscheid arrived in Pretoria at the end of 1891 after travelling for 3 months by ship to the Cape, followed by a train journey to Bloemfontein and from there by ox-wagon to Pretoria – this all with three rather large and heavy minting presses made by Berlin-based Ludwig Loewe & Co. The Mint reached full production during 1893”.

When the presses arrived in Pretoria at the end of 1891, the new Bank & Mint building was not built yet, so they must have been stored elsewhere. We believe that they were only put into use when they were permanently installed at the Mint, but whether this was indeed in November 1892, we do not know. Even more confusing is Dr. Hammerich’s statement that the minting process started on 1 August of that year. As far back as the year 1900, an article was published in the Numismatic Chronicle (3rd series, XX, 1900) regarding the coinage of the ZAR. As a footnote, the editor stated that the Pretoria Mint has been in active operation since 1892 and that all the denominations were struck in that year in Pretoria. His source is given as information supplied by the H.M. Colonial Office to the British Museum and added that the actual numbers minted were not known.

Numismatists like Shaw (1956: 21) and Esterhuysen (1980:35) maintain that production only commenced in 1893. In an article entitled British Coins and Tokens of South and Central Africa in Numista Vol. 1 No. 5 of August 1945 (published in Pittsburgh, USA), the author writes that the Pretoria Mint was not opened until 1893, when the first coins struck were distributed to a group of German sailors who arrived from Delagoa Bay. Although the author did not provide any sources for this information, by a stroke of luck, we found the source when City Coins (Cape Town) donated a large library to the Western Cape Numismatic Society recently. In Spink & Son’s Monthly Numismatic Circular Vol XXIII of 1915 (page 182), an article from the Johannesburg newspaper, The Transvaal Leader of 3 September 1914, is reprinted entitled Coins of the Transvaal – The History of the Mint. It says that the Mint opened in 1893 and that the first coins struck were distributed to a group of German sailors who arrived from Delagoa Bay. The source for the article is given as Mr. W.H. de Ville of the Pretoria Municipal Tramways Department.

The scarcity of the issues

When we consider the mintage figures for the year 1892 and thereafter, the figures do not match up with the actual scarcity of some of the denominations. This means that some coins bearing a certain date were struck in another year, either the year before, the following one, or both. (We have already noted that Becklake did not publish the actual mintage figures themselves, but only the total value of each denomination’s mintage per year. This means that if say £6 873 worth of shillings was struck in 1893, a total of 137 460 1/- pieces were struck that year, but NOT that they were all dated 1893: the total could include shillings struck in that year with dies of say either 1892 or 1894, or both).

As an example, the penny mintage figures quoted by all South African coin catalogues are shown as 1892 (27 862), 1893 (54 781), and 1894 (10 769). If this is correct, it would mean that the 1893 date is much more common than the other dates, with the 1894 date being particularly scarce. However, we know that this cannot be correct, as the following schedule will show when considering the census figures of NGC and PCGS.


Numbers minted (% of total in brackets)

Numbers certified by NGC and PCGS combined (% of total in brackets)*


27862 (30%)

1479 (62%)


54781 (59%)

267 (11%)


10762 (11%)

644 (27%)


93405 (100%)

2390 (100%)

* Figures Taken from the 2022 Census Reports

These figures leave us with yet another anomaly - why are they so skewed? The answer is, as we have previously stated, that the dates on the coins do not correspond to the year of their striking. For the figures to make sense, the actual numbers that were struck must have been the following (our comments in italic font).


Numbers minted according to their value

Numbers presumed to carry the date of that year deducted from the NGC & PCGS census reports


27 682

57 911

27 862 minted in 1892

30 049 minted in 1893


54 781

30 049 dated 1892

10 275 dated 1893

14 457 dated 1894

10 275


10 762

25 219

10 762 minted in 1894

14 457 minted in 1893


93 405

93 405

We raise the question as to why the Mint started to use 1894 dies in 1893 when they clearly had the capacity to strike more 1893 dates. This could have been explained if the dies for the pennies of 1893 got damaged and the 1894 dies were already available, BUT the anomaly is also noticeable when viewing the other denominations. We are convinced that the half-crown coins of 1895 (as we shall show in a planned follow-up paper) were struck bearing the dates 1894, 1895 and 1896. We repeat: - Why did the Mint start striking half-crowns with 1896 dies in 1895 if they had the capacity to continue striking 1895 dates? We simply do not know.

Returning to the question as to when the mint became operational (1892 or 1893), the answer may lie in the so-called Glück auf Transvaal medal. The obverse of this German medal shows a winged Fortuna with the words "Glück auf Transvaal" (Good luck to the Transvaal) while the reverse reads "Erste Prägung auf den Munz-machinen 1892 ” (first impression [or stamping] by the coin machine 1892).

In Part 2 of this paper, we will take a closer look at this medal and also the very rare ZAR proof coins of 1892.

Part 2 to follow...

311 views0 comments


bottom of page