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Extract from The South African Mints (1939) - Prof EHD Arndt

(With added pictures by WCNS)

While finality would seem to have been established on the question of the Burgers “staatsponden”, the riddle as to whether President Burgers also contemplated the establishment of a local mint remains unsolved, notwithstanding searches in America, England, Holland, Germany and South Africa. I personally have the most vivid recollection of coming across a statement during my researches in New York in 1922, to the effect that President Burgers in his enthusiasm even went to the extent of ordering mint machinery which, however, like his railway material, was left to rust away at Delagoa Bay. Unfortunately, I did not appreciate the historic value of that statement at the time and hence made no note of the source.

Perrin's Sketch of Mint Building
Layout of the Burgr's Mint Building by Perrin

Strangely enough, a similar statement appeared in Die Burger on several occasions. On January 19th 1923 and January 15th 1925, it was stated that President Burgers had ordered the necessary mint equipment in Holland, but when it arrived in Delagoa Bay there were no funds in the Transvaal Treasury to pay the importation and transportation charges. The machinery was thus left at the port and was ultimately sold after the British Annexation of the Transvaal. After years of inquiry, the author of these news items was found to be Mr. Frederick Rompel of the staff of Die Burger, who declared that he had collected this information as a student in Holland in 1912. But he too had no precise recollection as to where he had found it, excepting that it had been in the “Koninklike Biblioteek in Den Haag”. He referred me to Professor Engelbrecht, however, or to Dr. Leyds.


Dr. Engelbrecht, in his Thomas Francois Burgers, declares: - "Dr. Arndt also claims that Burgers had bought a mint in Europe, but that it was dumped in Delagoa Bay and left to rust. This is incorrect, and Dr. A. also does not quote his source. No mint was ever purchased. Neither in the Burgers papers, nor in the State Archives, nor in the income and expenditure books of the Consul in Amsterdam, does anything thereof appear,” Similarly Dr. Leyds in reply to my enquiry declared: “Your query concerning a minting plant of President Burgers I have to answer in the negative. During his time I was not in South Africa, and I never met him personally, neither in Holland. Whatever I know of the coinage - (“aanmunting”) is, therefore, from hear-say. Years ago, I exchanged views thereon with Mr. C. van Boeschoten, who worked in the Government service at the time. And I think I am in a position to state that President Burgers ordered no minting plant and that such was never sent to Lourenco Marques.” But notwithstanding these verdicts, the subject is far too intriguing to be dismissed without further investigation.



 On December 2nd, 1873, a certain J. Perrin, a Swiss applied for recognition as Assayer in the South African Republic. To this request the Government acceded in January, 1874, when the Gold Commissioner was instructed to administer the necessary oath. In February, 1874, President Burgers visited “Pilgrims Rest, New Caledonia”, when he was presented with an 11 page hand written document by Perrin advocating the establishment of a Transvaal Mint. The Memorandum not only contained a ground plan and front view of the proposed mint, but also sketches of eight different pieces of machinery and equipment, and concluded with a detailed estimate of the cost of plant, amounting to £362. The building, it was estimated, would not cost more than £600. In April (1874) he again addressed the President on the matter urging that small bars of from one to 20 ounces be put into circulation, pending the arrival of the necessary coining material, should the Volksraad sanction the project. (Both documents are reproduced in the Appendix in view of their historical interest).

Sketches of Mint Machinery by Perrin

Was Perrin, therefore, really responsible for the coinage of the Burgers Staatsponden, and did he by any chance also induce President Burgers to order the minting plant? While there is no proof of either, both nevertheless seem quite possible. As for the former, it is significant that the first memorandum was submitted to President Burgers at Pilgrims Rest in February, while Burgers’ instructions to Pratt about the gold coins were dated “Pilgrims Rest, New Caledonia, February, 9th 1874".


As for the second possibility, Perrin's second letter definitely suggests that the President had been fully converted to the idea and that only the sanction of the Volksraad was still wanting. Also, we know that Burgers obtained no prior authority to have the coins struck, a fact which led to the motion, already referred to, in the Volksraad at the time, viz, that the coins be not declared legal tender “on the grounds that no resolutions have been submitted by the State President which would indicate that this matter has been properly handled and can accordingly by approved of.” Even Dr. Engelbrecht, that ardent admirer of Burgers, admits that “it was most certainly a precipitate action, and Burgers on several occasions did not have sufficient patience in the pursuit of his ideals. So too with the coining of money.”



The mystery is deepened by the existence of some thirteen or more pattern Burgers coins of all denominations and various metals all bearing the same date as the pound, viz. 1874, which have been reproduced and described in detail by Mr. Becklake in his Notes on the Coinage of the South African Republic. Commenting on these. patterns, Mr. Becklake declares: “It appears practically certain that the 1874 series . . . were made by the same firm in view of the similarity of workmanship displayed. The Burgers patterns differ in various degrees from the original Burgers pond...This makes it certain that they were not made by Messrs. Ralph Heaton, the manufacturers of the Burgers ‘ Ponde”.

Burgers Pond Pattern Coin

Source: Coin World

"Senior” (the late A. S. Rogers) declared that “ whether these interesting patterns were designed and struck by the minters at the request of the Burgers Government, or whether they were manufactured as speculations on the chance that they might be adopted, I have not been able to ascertain”. As for the first possibility, we have just seen that our Mint is definitely of the opinion that they are not the work of Heatons, while Heatons themselves know nothing about them. Moreover, it will be recalled that Pratt definitely informed them that he had “no immediate instructions relative to Copper, Silver or Bronze Coins.”


As for the alternative suggestion, it is of course known that Messrs. Otto Nolte & Co., of Berlin, on their own initiative, submitted not only a quotation for coins but even some pretty pattern coins to the Government of the Orange Free State. These coins, it has since been discovered, were not produced by Nolte & Co., but by L. Chr. Lauer, “Munzprageanstalt und Abzeichenfabrik ” of Nurnberg, for whom Nolte & Co. acted as agent, which, therefore, accounts for the letters LLC, apparently Lauer's monogram, appearing on some of the Free State patterns.


At all events, Nolte's first letter was not dated earlier than May, 1887, and was followed by a second in December, 1888, when six specimens or patterns were enclosed, apparently some of 1887 and some of 1888. Similarly, we know of Cape of Good Hope and Griqua Town, and even Kruger Transvaal patterns for which Mr. Becklake  and others also hold Nolte (i.e. Lauer) responsible. But here too the coins bear dates as late as 1889 and 1890 respectively. Superficially, therefore, the probabilities that Nolte-Lauer were responsible for these Burgers patterns of 1874 are not very great. Moreover, Mr. Becklake reproduces at least one such Burgers pattern coin bearing the word “ Muntsproeve ” which is not a German word. But though it has the appearance of a Dutch word, no such word exists in the Dutch language. In Dutch they speak of “ muntproef ” or ”muntproeven ” but not of “ muntsproeve “ which, therefore, looks very much like an attempted translation of the German “Munzprobe ” into Dutch. It is the definite opinion of the Dutch Mint at Utrecht and the “Koninklijk Kabinet van Munten Penningen en Gesneden Steenen” at the Hague and various other linguists, that the origin of these patterns must accordingly be sought outside of Holland.

1874 ZAR 2 pence pattern coin with Muntsproeve

Source: Stack's

Copper Splash for 1874 ZAR pattern coins

Copper test splash for the reverse hub die

Source: St James

Interestingly enough, Mr. Becklake in his article also reproduces a Free State One Penny pattern, bearing the same date as the Burgers patterns, viz. 1874, and in addition the identical word “Muntsproeve”. This specimen would, therefore, seem to explode the theory that the patterns were connected with the Burgers’ mint project. It seems pretty definite that they are no more than samples produced by an enterprising firm of coinage manufacturers, but not a Dutch firm. One is accordingly tempted to think of Nolte-Lauer again as the possible manufacturers. Enquiries in numerous other countries have not produced any results. Unfortunately a most careful search in the Free State Archives has similarly failed to produce any clue. Accordingly, it is not possible to give more than the following reply received from L. Chr. Lauer, dd. Nurnberg, 11.8.1939: “I do not doubt that some of the coins were produced by my Firm, but the fact should not be overlooked that the majority of the existing engravings and designs were destroyed by flood (Hochwasserkatastrophe) in 1909 ”.  Unfortunately the outbreak of the present hostilities has deprived me of a reply to a further letter enduring specifically whether his firm was in existence in 1874 and whether at that time they had already adopted the policy of making patterns when soliciting business. But for our purposes, the important point is that there seem to be no grounds for linking the patterns with the mint project. Whether this mystery will, therefore, ever be finally solved, it is difficult to state. In the Transvaal Archives nothing further is to be found on the subject, while Dr. Engelbrecht is positive that Burgers’ private papers offer no clue.


As for the Archives, this is not very surprising, since they do not even give a clue to the original ordering of the pound pieces. Indeed it is surprising to see what steps were taken to maintain apparently desired secrecy. The Pratt Papers contain a copy of the State Secretary Swart’s instructions about the coins. The letter was No. 2753/1874. In the Brieven Boek of 1873 -1874, Letter No. 272, is the one written to the Republican Consul at Cape Town advising him of the dispatch of the gold for re-dispatch to Pratt in England by first mail. The next two pages, however, have been carefully torn or cut out, leaving only a margin, but a wide enough margin so that at the bottom of the first page the letter “J” of J. J. Pratt, and the “C.” of Consul General (of the address of the addressee) are clearly visible. But even more surprising is the fact that the next preserved letter, which is addressed to the Landdrost of Rustenburg, should bear the number 273, apparently so as to complete the disguise. The lack of any tangible evidence on the possible ordering of mint equipment accordingly proves little.


As for the absence of any references in the President's papers, it must be remembered that he sailed from Cape Town for Europe on April 10th, 1875, and did not leave England on his return until February 23rd, 1876, arriving at Cape Town on March 20th, 1876. During that period he travelled extensively in Europe and had ample opportunities to make necessary contacts, and he must have seen and done more than is to be found in his letters to the State Secretary, which are on file in the Archives. Also, there are several instances on record where he acted on his own authority during his visit abroad. Moreover, we are informed that “in pursuit of (his) impossible ideal he exhausted his private fortune, and shattered his health"... He died in poverty and seclusion at the end of 1882. This, too, makes possible the assertion that Burgers paid for the equipment himself. I am assured, however, that this is most improbable as President Burgers kept books with meticulous care, in which he entered all his disbursements. At all events, it is interesting to note that a numismatist like “Senior” (the late A, S. Rogers) should also have concluded: “I have not been’ able to find corroboration of this statement, but I have no reason to doubt it.” Even more positive was “Connoisseur” (the late W. R. Morrison) who declared: 

The Burgers Pond mystery is frequently referred to. It will be recalled that in 1874 President Burgers purchased the Perseverance Nugget, and from this 837 pounds were minted. There was certainly the intention of establishing a mint in the Transvaal. The machinery was purchased, but the project was abandoned. In recent years dies have been discovered in Pretoria, and no one seems to know where the dies came from. As the minting machinery came to South Africa it seems reasonable that the dies should also have been sent out, whilst even if the firm of Otto Nolte sent out the proofs for a Burgers silver coinage ‘on spec’ it is undoubtedly the case that a silver coinage was definitely contemplated.”

The Perseverance or Lilley nugget

The Perseverance Nugget - Source: Mpumalanga Happenings

Unfortunately, little value can be attached to this dogmatic pronouncement since most of its assertions have been disproved in the meantime.

Under the circumstances the following letter received by our local Mint from Messrs. Ludw. Loewe & Co., Berlin, would seem to be of greater significance:


 “We regret very much not to have evidence to show that President Burgers has purchased minting machinery in our firm during his visit in Europe about 1874.


We have made enquiries about this matter by speaking with the eldest managers and clerks of our firm and they asserted that in the said time we have had orders for minting machinery from the Transvaal Republic. However, there is no doubt that the delivering of the machines took place not earlier than 1876. This date is in accordance with the indications which we obtained by looking into the files of the State Mint in Berlin kindly allowed for inspection.”


Coming nearer home, I might quote Mr. James Clark, one of Pretoria’s oldest inhabitants, who informed me: - “In 1879 or '80 I remember hearing, that the Dye and Machinery for minting coins, for the Transvaal were at Lourenco Marques. According to my recollection, these implements were said to be decaying there, in the same way as the Rails for the Selati railway.” Similarly our Mint was “informed by Mr. Gardthausen formerly in the service of the Mint of the South African Republic that it was current gossip and quite well known that this machinery was actually lying at Delagoa Bay”. In final desperation of this inability to solve this mystery, Mr. Becklake and I in August, 1937, interviewed Mrs, Perrin, the widow of the late Mr, J. Perrin, just before her departure for Australia. Though she only met Mr. Perrin in 1881 and was married in 1883, she was very clear in her mind as to what Mr. Perrin had told her on this subject. Her husband was a Swiss and had passed through the Swiss Mint which gave him the right to employment in that Mint. He came to South Africa in 1872, first to Kimberley and later to Pilgrims Rest.

According to Mrs. Perrin, he had been digging and assaying gold at Pilgrims Rest, when he was asked to come to Pretoria with a view to opening a Mint for the Transvaal. President Burgers had bought the complete equipment for a small Mint and had paid for it with his own money - (she thought in Germany, and £4,000 to £5000), to the indignation of his children. Upon its arrival at the coast (she thought at Durban), the Volksraad refused to pay the duty and costs of transport per ox-wagon, so that the equipment was left there and was ultimately sold as scrap. It was a sore point with Mr. Perrin that the machinery should have been bought and then left at the coast.


He was the only man in the Transvaal who knew anything about minting and had considered himself to be the natural director of the proposed Mint. When ultimately the Pretoria Mint was opened in 1892, he considered that he had a right to become Master of the Mint. But it was not until 1889 that he did become Master. (this must be a typo by Arndt, as records show Perrin became mintmaster in 1899 - ed).


It is important to note that this information supplied in August, 1937, agreed entirely with that supplied to Mr. Becklake in an earlier interview prior to July, 1934, but how authoritative it is, it is difficult to say.

In the meantime, two of President Burgers’ daughters, Miss F. Burgers of Parktown, Johannesburg, and Mrs. Adelina Jorissen Burgers, of Rondebosch, Cape Town, have been communicated with. The latter had never heard of this subject, and believed nothing of the story, though she admitted that in any event, his children were too young at the time to understand such matters. Miss Burgers, however, considered it quite possible that her father might have had such a plan, though she had no knowledge of it. Further, she assured me that none of his children would ever have been dissatisfied with anything he might have done for “Land en Volk.”

 In conclusion, it might be of interest to quote the opinion of Dr. C. J. Uys, author of In the Era of Shepstone, who is also an authority on Burgers and his time. In a specially prepared statement, he declares:

President Burgers received a mandate to proceed to Europe by Secret Resolution of the Executive Council of the South African Republic dated June 12 and 13, 1873. He was empowered to do two things:


(a) To conclude treaties with European powers and, if necessary, with America in order to ensure the independence of the Republic, and


 (b To buy Delagoa Bay from the Portuguese Government on the most suitable and advantageous terms. He was given no authority to acquire a minting plant on behalf of the Government."


If Burgers had gone beyond his mandate and had in fact placed the order, the item ‘minting machinery’ would have figured in the accounts laid before the Volksraad on his return from Europe. But this was not the case. Researches in Berlin, however, has revealed, that minting machinery was actually ordered from Messrs, Ludwig Loewe & Co. but no further account could be traced. The order was apparently placed subject to confirmation by the Republican Government, but when on his return Burgers had to face a hostile Volksraad, he seems to have conveniently forgotten about the minting plant and the order was apparently never confirmed. Burgers was a man of unbalanced ideas and fond of dabbling in impossible schemes and it is not impossible that he grew expansive during his sojourn in Berlin and placed the order tentatively.”


In the second place - the contents of the Secret Resolution referred to above leaked out even before the unfortunate Burgers departed for Europe and at the instance of Lord Carnarvon precautions were taken to counteract Burgers’ plans. Warned to observe the utmost secrecy, the British Foreign Office machinery was put into action and all Burgers’ movements were faithfully recorded in Downing Street by the British consular seismograph. I had access to the British Foreign Office records covering the period, and if Burgers had officially purchased a minting plant, the fact would, no doubt, have been recorded, but this too was not the case. This fact further strengthens the conclusion that Burgers might have discussed such a deal with German Firms and even have gone so far as to place an order pending confirmation. In this connection, it may be mentioned that reference is made to such a transaction in a British parliamentary paper which is at present housed in the Columbia University Library and of which a copy may, no doubt, be found in the British Museum or the Public Record Office in London


This completes all the information it has been possible to collect on this most intriguing subject and it is now left to the reader to form his own conclusions. As for myself, I am prepared to accept the verdict of two authorities that the plant was not paid for by Burgers, nor the Republican Government, but I have not been convinced that the order was not actually placed and executed. Not only have we Loewe’s own letter to our local Mint, which was quoted above, and Dr Uys’ own statement that “machinery was actually ordered”, not to speak of all the personal testimonies, also quoted above, but to an outsider it does seem scarcely credible that a President, and especially one who had done so much without authority, should in this particular case have placed himself in the humiliating position of personally placing a relatively insignificant order with a firm in a foreign country, but not daring to make it final without permission which he was still to obtain. Similarly, to one who is not a historian, the fact that no reference to the subject is to be found in the secret papers of the British Foreign Office does not carry much weight, since the purchase of a few machines would hardly seem to be a matter of considerable political significance and, therefore, worthy of special reports. Accordingly, I still think that my chance New York reference, stumbled upon in 1922, may yet be substantially correct.

Appendix 1 - Pdf

Appendix 2 - Pdf

A WCNS Publication - May 2024

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