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The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Token / Medallion
Pierre H. Nortje (January 2024)


According to Wikipedia … “The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is a cable car transportation system offering visitors a five-minute ride to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. It is one of Cape Town's most popular tourist attractions with approximately one million people a year using the Cableway. In January 2019, the Cableway welcomed its 28 millionth visitor”. It was built in 1929 at a cost of £60,000 and has been upgraded three times since then. It has been accident-free since its inception.


It is said that when Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to summit Everest, took a cable car up Table Mountain soon after his historic expedition he commented  “There is probably no more spectacular place in the world than Cape Town and Table Mountain at the tip of Africa.” Other historical visitors included the British Royal family in 1947 and celebrities like Tina Turner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jackson, UB40, Rowan Atkinson, Justin Bieber and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Picture left was taken in its first year of operation (1929) and on the right in modern times.

Source: Wikipedia

Description and Varieties


The piece is described as a medallion in Prof. Michael Laidlaw’s South African Commemorative Medals. As they were sold (or handed out?) as advertising souvenirs, we are not sure if they should be described as tokens or medallions. Dr. Morgan Carroll classifies them as “advertising discs” which would probably be the correct description. We are of the opinion that they were issued over a relatively long period as quite a few varieties exist.


Let us take a look at these varieties. In his book MTB, South Africa Tokens (2021), Dr. Morgan Carroll writes “Several varieties exist both in the wording and the design and these souvenir discs are found in aluminium and brass”. Pictures of three varieties are shown. In his book Hern’s Handbook on Southern African Tokens (2009:266). Brian Hern also says that several varieties exist but the example he pictures and describes is made of neither aluminium nor brass, but in nickel. Laidlaw’s South African Commemorative Medals also describe three varieties of which two are made of aluminium and the other of a bronzed base metal.


As far as we could ascertain, four basic obverse designs exist, reading as follows:






Sources: MTB South Africa Tokens, Numista and South African Commemorative Medals.

Regarding their reverses, two basic designs exist, the one giving metric measurements reading - OPENED 4TH OCTOBER 1929. CAR HOLDS 28 PERSONS. LENGTH OF CABLE 1220m. HIGHEST POINT 1088m.

image (9)_edited.png

Source: MTB South Africa Tokens

The second reverse design gives much more information and statistics i.e. date of opening, building cost, number of persons per ride, cable length, mountain’s height (as well as those of Devils Peak and Lions Head) distance to nearby islands, visibility and ascent time. However, the information is not always the same as can be seen from the following two examples (both from South African Commemorative Medals).

Note for instance that the date the cableway was opened differs between the two items (October 5th and 6th) but both are incorrect. The actual date was 4 October 1929.

When were these pieces issued?


The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, has a copy in its collection and describes it as a ”Medal commemorating the opening of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, 1929”. If the description implies that the medal was issued with the opening of the cableway, it is, as we shall see, incorrect.


The only source that we could find venturing a date is MTB, South Africa Tokens (2021) which states that they were issued from 1930 onwards, thus a year after the cableway became operational. However, we were unable to track its history further back than the mid-1940s.


A clue might be the fact that on some of them the terms “miles” and “feet” are given, while others use the metric term “meters”, the latter obviously of later vintage.  Likewise, those that state the ascent time as 6 minutes versus others that give the time as 7 minutes. Also, the pieces that indicate the holding capacity of a car as 28 persons against earlier versions stating that the car could only hold 20 persons.


The reader will remember our mention earlier that the cableway was upgraded three times since 1929. Let’s look at the timeline.


According to, the first service in 1929 offered “a wooden cable car with a tin roof that took nearly 10 minutes to carry 19 people and a conductor.


According to, the major upgrades were in 1958, 1974 and 1997

These pictures were probably taken in the 1970s. Source: “Amelia” on Facebook and Table Mountain archives. provides the following information regarding the upgrades.

The 1958 cable car had a capacity of 23 passengers, with one attendant operating the car. These cable cars took eight minutes to travel from the lower station to the top station. The cable cars remained in operation until 1974. The second cableway upgrade saw the introduction of lighter cable cars, each capable of carrying 28 passengers. In 1997 the so-called “Rotair” cable cars were installed that can carry up to 65 people with an ascent speed of between 4 to 5 minutes.


From this information, we can deduce the following: The pieces that give the car holding capacity as 20 persons must be the oldest and issued prior to 1958. Those that give the holding capacity as 28 persons must have been issued from 1974 onwards. The pieces that give the ascent time as 6 and 7 minutes were probably issued before 1974. As a point of interest, on the 5th of July 1974, Act No. 76 of 1973, came into operation with the official introduction of the International Metric System (SI) in South Africa. This means that the pieces giving pre-metrical units (e.g. feet and miles) could have been issued until that year.  None of them seems to have been issued from 1997 onwards but this is not proved conclusively provides these pictures from top left to bottom right: Prior 1958, prior 1974, prior 1997 and post 1997.

A last question


When the author did research for this short paper, he was surprised to find that earlier writers on the tokens of South Africa did not mention the Table Mountain aerial cableway piece at all. One of the leading experts on South African tokens in the previous century, and a collector himself, was Lt. Colonel J.L. Knobel who wrote extensively on tokens during the 1940s until the 1960s. He never mentioned this token. In 1966, E.J. Maynard compiled Tokens of Southern Africa – a Catalogue based on the Collections in the Africana Museum and again the token is not referenced. Finally, in 1978, Dr. G.P. Theron wrote the Tokens of Southern Africa and their history which was considered the standard work on SA tokens. The cableway piece was ignored.


This leads us to the following question: - was the first Table Mountain cableway piece only issued after 1978?


The answer is no, and the reason for this is that earlier token experts did not perceive the piece to be a token, but rather a medallion. For instance, in 1979, Anna H. Smith compiled a publication entitled Commemorative Medals of South African Interest in the Africana Museum. On page 82, as numbers 213 and 214, two varieties of the cableway piece are recorded. The first variety is the one where the obverse reads “TABLE MOUNTAIN. AERIAL CABLEWAY” and the ascent time is given as 6 minutes. Smith lists her source as “Oliver, No. 152” which indicates the piece was recorded in 1946 by H.G. Oliver in the “Catalogue of commemorative medals and plaques of South African Interest in the Africana Museum”. This is interesting as it could mean that the other variety where the ascent time is given as 7 minutes is probably of an older vintage. But as no upgrade to the cableway was made between 1929 and 1958, this is not necessarily so - we have no conclusive proof in this regard, but what we do know is that some of the varieties were issued as far back as the 1940s.


Anna H. Smith mentions that number 213 was a bequest to the Africa Museum by A.S. Rogers. We thought that if we could determine who this person was and when he died, we could establish an earlier date for the piece than 1946 when it was recorded by H.G. Oliver. Our research revealed that A.S. Rogers wrote under the pseudonym “Senior" articles on coins and medals in South African and other newspapers and periodicals c. 1920-1934. This was revealed in a publication entitled Military Medals of South African Interest published by the Africana Museum in 1957. (A copy of this publication is in the library of the WCNS.) We then found that Rogers wrote numismatic articles up to at least 1944 when a pamphlet entitled “Notes from our Scrap Book” was published by the South African Numismatic Society for private circulation of which a copy is also in the WCNS library.


So the author was unable to trace the history of the piece further back than the mid-1940s.


They are fairly easily obtainable and those that are offered on the internet usually sell for low prices. However, the true scarcity of some varieties over others has never been established so a lucky collector might stumble upon a truly scarce piece paying only a couple of Rands for it.


Post Script


It must be noted that various other pieces depicting Cape Town and Table Mountain exist, but as we believe they are of more recent vintage, and their designs differ completely from the series that we have discussed, they were not included in this paper.

Source: Numista & Shoplazza

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