Oom Paul is now over 120 years old and enjoying retirement, although he is still in very good working shape.
Born (well, manufactured – to be more accurate) in 1891, he was made by Loew & Co in Berlin and imported to South Africa where he was named after President Paul Kruger, the leader of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), established by Boer settlers in the country’s hinterland. Installed at the ZAR mint on Church Square, Pretoria, the steam-driven Oom (Uncle) Paul press was responsible for minting approximately 8 million coins between 1892 and 1900, when the British invaded the ZAR.
Incorporated into the mint of the Union of South Africa, Oom Paul was also responsible for many other coins over the years, including crowns for the British Royal family’s visit in 1947, the first one-cent piece when South Africa became a republic and moved to decimal currency in 1961, the first Krugerrand in 1967, the first gold Protea in 1986, as well as many of the 24-carat series. Oom Paul is now in the South African Mint Company’s museum.
President Kruger didn’t last as long as Oom Paul (he died in exile in 1904 following the end of the ZAR) but his name also lives on – more recognisable it must be admitted – with the Krugerrand, the world’s most widely held bullion coin.
First minted on 3 July 1967, the Krugerrand was unique in the coin world as it was not only used for investment but also legal tender in South Africa (to prevent scratching, it contains a large amount of copper). It was a 22-carat, 1 troy ounce (31.103g) gold coin that had no denomination as its value was linked to the gold price and fluctuated with it. The obverse contained an effigy of Kruger with the words ‘South Africa’ in English and Afrikaans while the reverse had a springbok, the antelope considered a South African national symbol.
The coin immediately captured the public’s attention as an accessible way to invest in gold, especially in the US during the 1970s when large amounts were imported and sold. It became so popular, other countries copied the concept such as Canada’s Maple Leaf, Australia’s Nugget and China’s Panda.
Rand Refinery has been an agent for and on behalf of the South African gold mining industry to distribute the coins worldwide
In 1980, three other sizes (1/2 ounce, 1/4 ounce and 1/10 ounce) became available. More than 54 million Krugerrands have been manufactured, marketed and delivered by Rand Refinery, the company authorised by the National Treasury, through the Reserve Bank, to make and supply gold coin blanks for Krugerrands.
Rand Refinery says that so far about ‘48 million ounces of fine gold contained in newly minted Krugerrands have been sold world-wide. This equates to more Krugerrands in circulation internationally than all other gold coins combined’.
The name has a common resonance, reaching to all parts of the globe and even television. In the hit series The Sopranos, mobster Tony Soprano’s daughter Meadow, recalling her childhood, says: ‘Did [the other] kids ever find US$50 000 in Krugerrands and a .45 automatic while they were hunting for Easter eggs?’
Since 1998, Rand Refinery has been an agent for the South African gold mining industry, distributing the coins worldwide – and sales are growing. According to the South African Gold Coin Exchange, which operates the retail division the Scoin Shop, about 10 000 Krugerrands and collectible coins were sold in 2013, up 30% on the previous year.
Scoin Shop, established in 1972, has outlets though 40 shops in 80 countries. It says most overseas sales take place in the US, Germany, Canada and Australia.
Krugerrands occupy an important space as far as the investing public is concerned. However, a variety of other coins are produced in South Africa for collectors and investors alike. For example, South Africa’s late President Nelson Mandela will be featured in the second edition of the South African Mint Company’s Protea Life of a Legend series for 2014.
While Krugerrands occupy an important space as far as the investing public is concerned, there are many other coins produced in South Africa for collectors and investors alike
The three-coin series comprises a 24-carat gold R25 (one-ounce), and R5 (1/10 ounce) and a sterling silver R1. Each coin is themed around Mandela’s dedication to learning as well as education.
The pure gold R25 coin depicts the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, where Mandela studied law. It features a young Mandela wearing a double-breasted suit with his well-known quote: ‘Everywhere in the world it is accepted that students, as a thinking and independent-minded section of the population, have the right to freedom of thought and expression of opinion.’
The pure gold R5 coin carries his quote: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.’
The R1 silver coin, has his quote: ‘The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and education is a very important weapon to prepare children for their future roles as leaders of the community.’ It features Mandela as a child practising how to write his name on a slate board.
All three coins have the same obverse: South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea, in a half garland below Mandela in one of his famed ‘Madiba’ shirts.
South African Mint Company managing director Tumi Tsehlo told the media they were honoured to release the series. ‘Making it more special is that it is dedicated to education, which was so close to his heart,’ he said.
The limited-edition set is the first in a series that will be issued over the next 12 years in honour of Mandela’s life and work.
Previous Protea series have featured South African writer and Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee (2011) and struggle legends Albertina and Walter Sisulu (2013), while the South African Mint Company also released the pure gold Natura series, dedicated to the country’s wildlife. It has focused on the meerkat (2011), the African wild dog (2012) and the zebra last year, the 20th year the series has been running.
By John Rossouw