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The ZAR Coinage of 1892 - Part 2

The rare proof issues and the Glück auf Transvaal medal


Pierre H. Nortje (December 2023)


The author was recently informed by Werner Lamprecht, a numismatist from Gauteng, that a few years ago, he purchased two complete ZAR proof sets of 1892 from an estate in the North West Province. All the coins were without question proofs and not boxed. The original owner bought both sets in Berlin in 1954 and each set was accompanied by the so-called "Glück auf Transvaal" (Good Luck to the Transvaal) penny-sized bronze medal. The “Good luck” apparently refers to the best wishes offered with the opening of the Pretoria Mint in 1892. Lamprecht speculates that there is a possibility that the original 1892 proof sets may each have had such a medal included. As we will see, 25 of these medals were originally produced, so if each proof set was accompanied by a medal, were 25 proof sets originally issued?

 

Let us first take a closer look at the medal.

 

The obverse of the 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 striking] by the coin machine 1892).

The first mention of this medal we could discover was from 1934, when Mr. J.T. Becklake, the last Deputy Mint Master of the Royal Mint in Pretoria, wrote “It is appropriate to refer in this paragraph to a medal to commemorate the opening of the Pretoria Mint in 1892. The two examples I have seen were struck in copper or bronze and the medals were doubtless produced in Germany and presented at the opening of the Mint, by the contractors, to various persons interested. An illustration of this interesting and artistic piece is given in Fig. 1.” 


In Vol. 5. No. 4 of the South African Numismatic Society Newsletter of September 1957, E.A. Hohmann wrote a short article entitled “The Glück auf Transvaal Medal, 1892.” (The two proof 1892 sets that we referred to earlier as well as the two medals were actually from Hohmann’s estate).

 

He says that Dr. Hugh Hammerich in his supplement 1 dated 1907 to his “Die Deutchen Reichsmünzen” writes on page 14 “To commemorate the opening of the Mint in Pretoria, to which the former Works Inspector of the Royal Prussian Mint, (Friederich) Muntscheid was appointed Director, 25 commemoratives pieces were struck in copper with the size and weight of the 1 penny pieces. They were struck in the (private) Berlin Mint of L. Ostermann, formerly G. Loos, from plates supplied by the Royal Mint in Berlin.

 

Hammerich says that the inscription on the obverse as well as the die of the reverse were the work of Otto Schultz to which Hohmann remarks that it was Schultz who also engraved all the dies of the Transvaal coinage and is best remembered for the “double shaft” error and the “O.S.” under the President Kruger’s bust on some of the first Berlin struck coins.

 

Hohmann then asks an important question. He says that because the medals were struck by the private Mint of L. Ostermann, and not the official German Mint, the question arises if the private mint was not perhaps the supplier of the mint presses that were purchased by the Pretoria Mint. 

 

According to our research, the SA Mint states that President Kruger ordered two mint presses from Ludwig Loew & Co. in Berlin to be used in the newly established mint in 1892. They were manufactured in 1891. Another source (Freda Green in Pretoria Historia May 2022) says that three presses were ordered, but confirms that the firm was indeed Ludwig Loewe & Co. of Berlin. The firm was later a major supplier of Mauser rifles to the ZAR. 

 

So, the question now remains, why did the private firm of L. Ostermann of Berlin strike the medals as they seemingly had no connection with the Pretoria Mint? The only answer that we can come up with, is that the official Berlin Mint outsourced their striking, for some reason, to Ostermann’s private Mint.

 

One last point of interest that Hohmann provides in his 1957 article is that two varieties exist of the medal showing small differences in the grouping of the leaves in the wreath and a different number of berries on the reverse. He asks “Is it not strange that with a total of only 25 pieces struck it should have been necessary to employ two reverse dies? Did the first die crack, causing O. Schultz hurriedly to prepare another, as a result of which the small differences came about?”

 

On his SA Medals website, Professor Michael Laidlaw actually reveals another variety, being a medal with a loop. The two varieties previously mentioned are very scarce and we have only seen a handful ever being auctioned, but the loop variety we have never seen before. Is it possible that the loop was added at a later stage to a “normal” medal?



Regarding the probable date that the medals were presented, we will recall Becklake’s short reference to the medal in 1934 (previously mentioned) in which he says the following of importance: - “… the medals was doubtless produced in Germany and presented at the opening of the Mint, by the contractors, to various persons interested”.

 

We are neither sure which contractors he had in mind (e.g. The Berlin Mint that supplied the dies or Ludwig Loew & Co. that supplied the mint presses), nor who the various persons interested were. Another question is to what occasion was Becklake referring to: - The opening of the National Bank and Mint building in April 1893 or the date when the Mint started to strike the first coins – presumably in November 1892?  We speculate that it is the latter because of the date and also for another reason. The reader will recall that in part 1 of this paper we published a picture of President Kruger at the opening ceremony of the buildings accompanied by 35 men. The names of all these men are recorded in the following picture.


None of these men are representatives of either the Berlin Mint or Ludwig Loew & Co. We thus believe that the medals were presented when the first coins were struck in Pretoria and not at the opening ceremony of the National Bank and Mint building.

 

Is there a connection between the medals and the proof issues of 1892? The reader will remember that E.A. Hohmann had two proof sets and two of the medals which he bought in Berlin in 1954. Hohmann wrote that he obtained one of the medals from the collection of the Director of the Royal Mint in Berlin and the other from the estate of one of the employees of the same institution of that time. He also stated that he bought his two 1892 proof sets from former employees of the Mint (most probably from the estates of the same two persons). From this, we deduce that if indeed 25 medals were originally struck, not all were sent to South Africa to be presented to some people when the mint presses were officially put into operation. We also cannot be sure that there is indeed a connection between the medals and the proof issues of 1892.


As mentioned, the medals are very rare and seldom offered to collectors.


The Proof Issues


The first time of which we are aware that the 1892 proof coins of the Z.A.R. are mentioned, was in J.T. Becklake‘s Notes on the Coinage of the South African Republic, reprinted in 1934 from the Numismatic Chronicle, Fifth Series, Vol. XIV.


Becklake states “It should be noted, also, that the 1892 series includes some special sets of specimen coins which were struck in Berlin, with polished dies and from polished blanks, for all denominations except, I believe, the penny.” As we shall see, Becklake was wrong about the penny but what is very important is him saying that the specimen coins (proofs thus) were issued in special sets.


Although boxes are known for displaying a full set of Z.A.R. coins, it is not known when they were made and for what purpose. The following boxed set (the coins are not proofs) were sold on auction by Old Johannesburg Warehouse Auctioneers. Werner Lamprecht, a well-known expert on ZAR coins believed these boxes are of a more recent vintage.



In the SANS newsletter of June 1957, E.H. Hohmann (previously mentioned in this paper) wrote a short article entitled Kruger Specimen Proofs. He says that a set of 1892 proofs from the crown (5/-) to the penny (1d) was (then) recently advertised in the United States. He also says that a similar set was offered by Jacques Schulman in Holland.


He writes that the proofs were struck by the Berlin Mint and that various proofs in his collection, including two pennies, as we have stated before, came from collections of former employees of the Royal Prussian Mint in Berlin.  


One of his 1892 proof sets was sold 57 years later in May 2014 by Stephan Welz & Co. in Sandton, Johannesburg. This was reported by Jeff Stark in Coin World who wrote that only “Ten complete 1892 Proof sets are known, the auction firm reports, based on research by Brian Hern in Hern’s Handbook on South African Coins and Patterns. The set in the auction is from the Erich Albrecht Hohmann Collection, and all nine coins are ‘Brilliant Proof’ according to the firm”.


Regarding the number of proof coins minted, no records are known to exist showing the actual figures. Many coin catalogues in the past, including international catalogues like Krause’s Standard Catalogue of World Coins, have only provided approximate numbers, e.g. for the tickey between 35 and 40 pieces and the 2-shilling between 50 and 60 pieces. Other numismatists like Elias Levine and Brian Hern, have estimated more specific numbers as we will show.


The numbers certified by the world’s two top grading companies, NGC and PCGS, might also give an indication. However, we should take into account that some collectors will sometimes return coins for grading in the hope that better results will be achieved the 2nd time around. In other words, the same coin can be shown on the census reports more than once. Secondly, some experts like Hern and Lamprecht believe that certain Z.A.R. coins that are certified by the grading companies as proofs are in reality uncirculated specimens (we will come back to this issue later in this paper).


The following schedule shows the number of proofs graded by NGC and PCGS and the total of these two companies. In the 2nd last and last column on the right are the numbers of proofs that Elias Levine (1974: 57) and Brian Hern (2023: 7-15) estimated were produced.



The following schedule shows the percentage that each figure above constitutes of the total number of 1892 proofs graded by each company and the estimates of Levine and Hern. This would indicate each denomination’s scarcity compared to the other denominations. The last column is the average of NGC/PCGS (combined), Levine and Hern.



Except for perhaps the penny, the other denominations show noticeable similarities regarding the percentages shown. Hence, although the actual numbers may be influenced by coins being submitted more than once for grading, the percentages would still be a fair indication of a certain denomination’s scarcity compared to the others (we do not believe that certain denominations are significantly resubmitted more than others).

From the schedule above we can now rank the coin denominations from the least to the scarcest as follows: - 2-shilling, half-crown, sixpence, shilling, threepence, crown, half-pond, penny and pound.

As we had said, although the certified numbers could be influenced by regrading (coins submitted more than once) and faulty grading (non-proofs graded as proofs) the schedules show us that it is highly unlikely that the same number of coins were struck for each denomination. So although sets might have been struck and presented to dignitaries or bought by employees of the Berlin mint or the public, extra coins were most probably struck in certain cases while in others, some sets might not have included, for example, the bronze penny and two gold issues which are unquestionably very rare. In March 2000, Noble Numismatics in Sydney, Australia listed a proof set from the penny up to the crown and stated “This, the short set, is reported to be only one of the three sets known to exist”.

According to Levine (1974:34) when a proof set was presented by President Kruger to G.J.T. Beelaerts van Blokland, a Dutch diplomat and legal advisor in service of the Z.A.R., it contained a non-proof penny.

 

On the picture right, G.J.T. Beelaerts van Blokland stands behind Paul Kruger. The picture was taken when delegates from the ZAR visited the London convention in 1884.

 

Beelaerts van Blokland was known to be a coin collector and in 1893, presented some coins to the ZAR State Museum in Pretoria. (Source: Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde, 1900)


Regarding the erroneous grading of proofs, E.A. Hohmann (previously mentioned), wrote in 1957 that Dr. Alec Kaplan in his South African coin catalogue (1950) lists a single shaft crown under the proofs that were struck. Hohmann gives the reason why this would not have been possible as the single shaft crown was struck in Pretoria (and not Berlin where all the 1892 proofs were minted). He says that he had a half-crown in his collection which he believed was a proof coin, but it was inspected by the Mint and although brilliantly struck, was found not to be proof “… but may have been one of the first of the regular issues to have been minted”. He continues “It is my opinion that this would also have been the case with the single shaft 5/-, and that such ‘first strikes’ with a particularly smooth surface may have been erroneously looked upon as proofs.” 


In his Coins and Counterfeits of the Z.A.R. (1974: chapter 5) Elias Levine describes the differences between the proof and regular issues in detail and provides pictures as examples. Regarding the pennies, he says that “uncirculated 1892 pennies are generally well struck as to sometimes be taken as proof coins”. Regarding the reverse sides of the coins, he describes three differences between the proofs and non-proofs and five for the obverses. He also notes that another test, but not a conclusive one, is the colour, which shows up as a mauve sheen on the proof pennies.


Levine says that it is also difficult to distinguish the proof 2-shilling, half-crown and particularly the crown from non-proof coins, but more easily for the other silver denominations. (This might be one of the reasons why the 2-shilling and half-crown are indicated as the most common proof coins in the census reports, although the crown is not).


Regarding the two gold issues, he says “The proof 10/- and £1 are amongst the most beautiful proof gold coins in the world. They are like liquid gold. There is absolutely no mistaking the proof 10/- but there are some particularly good strikings of the Pond on semi-proof blanks…”


We will probably never know how many proof ZAR coins were struck, but what we do know is that they are rare issues and most definitely deserve their pride of place in any advanced collection of the coins of South Africa.


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