In 1884, Jan Gerrit Bantjes discovered gold on a farm in South Africa. Several other similar discoveries followed, but no one uncovered a major/main gold reef until George Harrison did – in 1886. This discovery was the impetus that culminated in the creation of the South African Mint.
The South African Mint, or the SA Mint, manufactures circulating currency on behalf of the South African Reserve Bank. The South African Mint also supplies coin blanks to other nations who do not have large official mints of their own.
Although the mint started out as a government entity, the South African Government privatized it in 1981 as part of a substantial disinvestment effort. It is now headquartered in Centurion, Gauteng Province near Pretoria, manufacturing some of the finest gold and silver bullion products in the world today.
History behind the South African Mint
Paul Kruger, the President of South Africa at the time, proposed that South Africa should have its own coins. Accordingly, a mint was erected in 1892, with Otto Schultz, a renowned coin engraver, designing the very first South African coins.
However, after a fierce Anglo Boer War, British troops occupied Pretoria in 1900 – making British currency legal tender in parts of South Africa. Further expansion led to the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. Right after this, British currency became the only accepted currency in South Africa.
During this turmoil, a makeshift minting facility was set up inside an abandoned gold mine. A rudimentary fly-press and soft, hand-cut dies were used to produce the famed ‘veldponde,’ or ‘field pound,’ coins that are still treasured pieces of South African history. These coins mark the struggle of the Boers, as they fought against the overwhelming power of the British troops.
The Mint Act of 1919 authorized the creation of a branch of the British Royal Mint in Pretoria. This newly-formed mint started striking British Pound coins in 1923.
However, after South Africa gained independence from British rule in 1931, growing cries emerged for the independence of the South African Minting facility. Hence, the Royal Mint severed ties with its South African branch in 1941 – creating the famed mint, we all know today – the South African Mint.
Despite the fact that South Africa got the national mint under its direct control and also gained independence from Britain, the British Pound continued as the legal tender coin until the year 1961. That year, South Africa was proclaimed a republic and launched a new monetary system. The 1 and 2 Rand coins were the first gold bullion coins produced in South Africa.
The Modern South African Mint
The South African Mint occupied its present location in Centurion in the year 1992. It is currently home to some of the most cutting-edge technology in the world of precious metals bullion coins’ production. In fact, it is considered one of the most advanced mints in the world – a title it most certainly deserves, considering the premium quality of its gold and silver bullion products.
Although the South African Mint’s main purpose remains creating circulating currency for South Africa, its large minting capacity and advanced technology allows it to release bullion products for numismatics, in addition to striking circulating currency for smaller nations.
The numismatic division of the South African Mint is recognized for its premium proof gold and silver coins – aimed specifically at collectors who appreciate fine craftsmanship, precious metals purity, and elegant designs.
In 1996, the South African Mint opened its first retail outlet and coin museum, right next to its minting facility in Centurion – called Coin World.
A guide walks visitors through the building, explaining the history of the mint as people walk across various displays that showcase South African coins, working minting machinery, artworks, and antique furniture, which are related to the Mint one way or the other. In fact, visitors can also strike their very own proof coin using ‘Oom Paul,’one of the oldest working mint presses in the world – one of the two imported from Germany in 1892. Between 1892 and 1900, the two ‘Oom Paul’ presses together minted over 8 million coins.
The retail outlet in the building is home to several famous coins like the Krugerrands, in addition to jewellery, mementos, and other collectibles.
South African Mint Popular Coin Series
Like all other famous mints, the South African Mint is responsible for numerous highly-acclaimed coin programs.
Very few bullion coins can hold a candle to the popularity of the Gold Krugerrands. In fact, for a brief period (1967 – 1979), the Gold Krugerrand was the only gold bullion coin in the world. Although its most popular variant remains the 1 oz gold coin, the South African Mint releases ½ oz, ¼ oz, and 1/10 oz coins as well.
Every coin is struck using 0.9167 (22-karat) fine gold. Even though these gold bullion coins are struck by a government mint, they are one of the few coins that do not carry any legal tender value.
The obverses of these coins feature Paul Kruger’s impressive depiction – the handiwork of Otto Schultz – the very same designer who created the first designs for South African coins under the rule of President Kruger.
On the other hand, the reverses display the graceful portrayal of the Springbok Antelope. This herbivore is native to South Africa and is known for ‘pronking,’ i.e. being able to perform multiple leaps into the air – giving these antelope their name.
In 2017, the South African Mint released the first ever one ounce Silver Krugerrand coin. The coin was to honor and celebrate the 50 years of success enjoyed by the Mint.
The coin launch had world-wide success and the premium uncirculated coin did not disappoint silver collectors and investors when it came to the design, quality and craftsmanship. Today, it stands as one of the most distiguished silver coins in the industry.
The earliest coin under this coin program was struck in 1986. Consisting of 1 oz and 1/10th oz coins, the Protea Series quickly became a popular bullion product – with collectors and investors jostling for a piece. The last coin in this series was released in 2001, featuring the tourism industry in South Africa.
Every Protea Series’ Gold Coin was struck using 0.9166 pure gold, weighing either 1 or 1/10 oz. Moreover, the reverse faces of these coins featured annually changing designs – making every coin release unique – attracting even more collectors and investors to complete their collections and bolster their investments.
The obverses, however, showcased the National Flower of South Africa every year – the King Protea or King Sugar Bush.
Big Cats Series
One of the more unique coin releases in the world, the Big Cats Series from the South African Mint was struck in partnership with National Geographic. The coin program aims to raise awareness about the dwindling population of majestic cats like the Tiger, Lion, Cheetah, etc. It features both a silver and gold variant, with an extremely limited mintage.
The first release under this series was issued in 2016, and featured the deadly Cheetah. All coins under this series carry the South African Coat of Arms on their obverses, and a legal tender value was assigned as well.
While the silver coins were struck using 0.925 pure silver, the gold coins in this series boast 0.9999 pure gold.
The coins under the Natura Series held the unique distinction of being the earliest South African bullion gold coins to be struck in fine 24-karat gold. These coins were a hit as soon as they were launched in 1994 – as they provided a purer alternative to the already-famous Krugerrand. The first release celebrated the African Lion, a majestic beast that is known as the true king of the jungle.
Celebrating Africa’s rich flora and fauna, the Natura Series portrayed various aspects of South African wildlife. The final coin under this program was launched in 2012 – featuring the African Painted Wolf – the country’s most critically endangered mammal.
The South African Mint has often tried to raise awareness using various coin designs, trying to showcase the importance of these issues.