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The Source of the Silver used for the Z.A.R. Coinage

Pierre H. Nortje (May 2024



It is fairly widely known that the gold used to strike South Africa’s first gold coin, the so-called Burgerspond (1874) was sourced from alluvial gold mined at Pilgrim’s Rest in the Eastern Transvaal. When the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek started to mint the Kruger coinage (1892-1900), the gold was also sourced locally from various mines in the Transvaal. As a matter of interest, the gold used for both the Burgerspond and the last gold coin of the ZAR, the Veldpond (1902), came from the same geographical source, the Pilgrim’s Rest area.


Less known, and seldom discussed in numismatic literature, is the source for the silver coinage of the ZAR that was struck from 1892 to 1897. This short paper aims to look at this issue.

The Albert Mine

In the booklet Shells to Shillings (1959:31) written by Eric Rosenthal for Barclays Bank, a picture is shown of a silver bar engraved


Presented to South African Republic Museum by Directors of Albert Mine Limited as a memento of the First Pure Silver produced on African Continent. Pretoria. 28 February 1893”.


Rosenthal remarks that “… some of this went into the old Transvaal Republic coinage, 1893”

In a MA thesis by Graham Walter Reeks entitled “A History of Silver Mining in the greater Pretoria region, 1885-1999” (UNISA, 2012:36), he refers to an Albert mine silver bar. Reeks was of the opinion that the whole affair was probably a scam by the mine.


He says a report appeared in the South African Mining Journal in January 1893 that a bar of silver had been brought to Johannesburg from the Albert mine. It was purported to be the first ever produced on the African continent. The bar measured 25 cm long, 12.5 cm wide and 2.5 cm thick. The ZAR mint had certified it as weighing 8.45 kg with a purity of 0.944. The same journal in March 1893 was stating that “…the concentration process seemed to be a success, and specimens of smelted ore had recently been given to the State President.


Reeks says that …


There are no records of the Albert mine ever having smelted ore or concentrates and there is no evidence of smelting at the mine as no slag was found in the area during a surface survey conducted ten years ago. Even if they had smelted the ore, they would not have had the technology or equipment to refine the bullion to the high level of purity given in the report. This event seems more likely a case of re-melting a bar of pure silver from another source and forming it into a rough bar and using it to raise speculative capital”.


He adds that the operation closed as a working mine in May 1893.


In his book Roots of the Tree (1992) Arthur Webb says that the ZAR Government initially hoped that its silver requirements could be met by the Albert mine, but after some silver was bought and essayed, it was found inadequate for coin production.


He also says that the Government then relied on imported silver plates (refined silver).

An Albert mine share certificate dated 13 November 1890. Source:

Rosenthal’s statement thus, that some of the Albert mine silver went into the Transvaal Republic coinage, can therefore not be correct. In any case, we know that the ZAR began striking silver coins the year before in 1892, and this silver was most probably sourced from overseas, as was the silver for the coins struck up to 1897.

For the record, we must mention that there were quite a number of silver-producing mines in the greater Pretoria area in the late 1880s / early 1890s e.g. Willows, Edendale and the Argent Mines that included Boschpoort and Brakfontein. According to Reeks (2012) H. Eckstein & Co. – also known as the Corner House Group –emerged to become the strongest company in the silver mining industry of the 1890s.

According to Wikipedia, Hermann Ludwig Eckstein (1847–1893) was a German-born British mining magnate and banker who came to South Africa in 1882.

However, we can find no record that this company or any of the mentioned mines supplied the ZAR Mint with silver for coinage and speculate that the silver-bearing ore was sent to England, as we know the majority of the Witwatersrand gold was destined for during the period.


Who then, supplied the silver?


In our view the silver was not locally sourced; the most probable suppliers would either be England or Germany, and we suspect it was the latter.


The first ZAR silver coinage was struck in Germany in 1892. When the minting process was transferred to Pretoria later that year, the Mint was managed by Friederich Munscheid who was previously employed by the German Imperial Mint in Berlin. One would therefore assume, although we have no proof of this, that the ZAR sourced its silver, at least initially, from the same source that the Berlin Mint received theirs from. The relationship between the Pretoria and Berlin Mints was always close, as, for example, the latter provided the dies for the ZAR coinage struck between 1892 and 1900. The minting presses themselves were also made by a German firm, the Berlin-based Ludwig Loewe & Co.


Where did Germany source its silver from?


According to the Report of the Director of the Mint upon the Production of the Precious Metals in the United States (1891) German refineries produced approximately 400 000 kilograms of silver (worth ± 13 million US Dollars then). Roughly 55% of the silver was refined from local ore and the rest of the ore was imported from South America and Australia. The report however, does not say what Germany did with the refined silver but we can safely assume that at least some of it was indeed exported (the report does mention that the value of the silver used for German coinage production in 1891 was 1.14 million dollars which was not even 10% of the total refined silver available).


So if Germany provided the Pretoria mint with silver, the original source would still not be known, as a very large part (± 45%) was imported into Germany from other countries.


As we have stated, the other supplier could have been England: Our research shows that the country did indeed export silver during the period, the bulk being sourced from other countries, refined and then exported. So again, as in the case of Germany, if England supplied the ZAR Mint’s silver, the original country (or countries) it was mined in, are not known.


But as a consolation, we do know where the gold for the ZAR coinage came from.


Actually, the author speculates that a very large percentage of gold coins, probably the majority, produced worldwide from the late 1800s onwards, at least into the late 1900s, were struck from gold produced in South Africa. 


But the source of the silver used for the ZAR coinage, remains a mystery – at least to the author.

Post Script


Just before this paper was published, the author received interesting new information on the subject from Joel Potgieter, one of our junior WCNS members. 


On page 419 of Hern’s latest Handbook on South African Coins & Patterns, he refers to an “1895 Five Shillings” and writes “A unique piece with the normal obverse but a plain reverse engraved “STAATSMUNT. HET EERSTE STUK VAN TRANSVAALSCH ZILVER. 10 Okt. 1895”. (Translated it says “Government Mint. The first piece from Transvaal silver”). Hern says that this coin has a mass exceeding that of a normal crown, dispelling the idea that this is a normal coin which has been skimmed and then engraved.


In Hern’s Handbook on the Medallions of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek and the Anglo Boer War (2008: 9) he also refers to this piece and writes “Housed in the South African Mint Museum is this unique piece commemorating the first use of native silver by the Staats Munt (sic) on October 1895. So where did the silver come from for the ZAR coinage prior to this date?


One must take into account that the 10th of October 1895 was Paul Kruger’s 70th birthday; was it just a coincidence that the coin carries that date? Could it have been a birthday present to the president by a local silver supplier?


This is confusing, as Reeks writes in his thesis (2012:9) that the silver mines of the greater Pretoria region were closed after the world crash in silver in 1893-4 and “… at the end of 1895, the prospects for successful mining of silver in South Africa were economically nil.

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