South Africa’s first gold coin: the Burgers Pond

Up until 1874, the only currency in circulation in South Africa was British. Then in that year two indigenous currencies were introduced. In East Griqualand, a trading store called Strachan and Company issued trade tokens that were widely used as currency for over 50 years along South Africa’s east coast. Further north, President Burgers of the South African republic had a batch of gold coins struck. These coins came to be known as the “Burgers Pond.” They were the first South African coins to be struck but were never put into circulation.

Thomas François Burgers was the fourth president of the former South African Republic from 1872 to 1877. He studied theology in the Netherlands and then returned to South Africa where he worked as a priest. His liberal ideas brought him into conflict with the Dutch Reformed Church and in 1864 he was suspended from the ministry. In spite of this, Burgers was very popular with the citizens of the republic. They urged him to stand for the presidency and he was elected by a considerable majority in 1872.

Burgers is best known for the role he played in minting South Africa’s first gold coins. As far back as 1853, people had been petitioning for indigenous coinage. In 1874 President Burgers purchased 300 ounces of gold and sent it to J.J. Pratt, the Republic’s Consul-General in London, with a request that coins be struck the same size as the English pound. He sent him a portrait of himself as well as a sketch of the republic’s coat of arms. Pratt contracted with Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham to have the coins struck.

The first batch of 695 coins was produced in July 1874. It became known as the “fine beard” variety. A further 142 coins were struck in September of the same year. This second batch of rare coins is called the “coarse beard” variety. The reason there are two distinct types of Burgers pounds is that the original die used to stamp the coins broke, and a new die had to be created to produce the remainder. The new die was slightly different from the first one and it made the president’s beard look thicker and coarser.

When President Burger presented the coins to the Volksraad, the parliament of the South African Republic, they were indignant. They criticized him for using the Republic’s money to produce coins bearing his image, saying it was egotistical and done for his own vanity. Due to the overwhelming negative response to the coins, no new coins were struck and the coins were never allowed to circulate. Instead, these rare South African coins were kept by the members of the Volksraad as keepsakes, with many of them mounted as jewellery or ornaments.

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