2. The Republic’s first coins (Staatsponden) The Burgers Pound (1874)

President Thomas Francios Burgers Born 1834 - Died 1881
State President 1872 - 1877 (Transvaal)

The first coins to come from the ZAR were minted by the President of the time, Thomas Francois Burgers. President Burgers was a very liberal and progressive man (the John F Kennedy of the ZAR). He had a great desire to introduce indigenous coinage into the ZAR. The President was known to be an impulsive man.

He purchased some gold and shipped it to Mr J J Pratt, the Republic's Consul General in England, in order to have the coins made. He also sent his portrait to Pratt, along with sketches of the ZAR’s coat of arms. The dies (coin moulds) were made by Mr L C Wyon, the die cutter of the British Royal Mint of the time. The coins were struck by the firm of R Heaton & Sons of Birmingham.

Mr Pratt had attempted to hasten the minting of the coins in order to have them ready by the 5th of June, 1874. This was the date that the President’s wife would return to the Republic after a stay in London. He received 695 pound coins on the 25th of July, 1874 and a further 142 in September of the same year.

The second batch of 142 coins were struck after the minting die from the original batch of 695, broke. On the second batch of 142 coins, the President’s beard appeared to be much thicker and coarser. This was because it is impossible to ever make an exact duplicate of an original. This led to the first batch being referred to as the ‘Fine Beard’ variety and the second batch the ‘Coarse Beard’ variety, resulting in the creation of two very distinct and different types of Burgers Pounds.

The Fine Beard Burgers Pound with a mintage of only 695 pieces. Note the fine nature of the President's Beard. The Coarse Beard Burgers Pound with a mintage of only 142 pieces. Note the coarse nature of the President's beard.

At a meeting of the Volksraad (People’s Council), President Burgers presented 50 of his gold coins with great pride. He was expecting a reaction of great accolade and admiration, for he had produced the Republic’s first indigenous coinage. Instead, there was massive indignation. The members of the Volksraad were appalled and indignant that the President had seen fit to use the Republic’s money to produce a coin with his own face on it. They believed it was an incredibly egotistical and self-centred thing to do.

The September meeting was one that Burgers would remember for a very long time. It quickly degenerated into massive debate and argument, then erupted into general pandemonium. “He has produced these coins out of mere vanity and for his ego” exclaimed many of the members. “No, he has introduced our very own coinage” replied others.

The coining presses at Ralph Heaton and Sons mint in 1862. Picture from the illustrated Times of London, 10th May, 1862.

The greatest concern was that the relationship between the Republic and the Cape Commercial Bank would be harmed. This could have far reaching effects for the Republic, as they would not be able to conduct any business concerning the country’s matters without the use of this bank.

Nevertheless, the mayhem subsided and members of the Volksraad were paid for the first day’s secession – with one Burgers Pound each. They also handed a Pound to Burgers and thanked him for introducing an indigenous coin to the Republic.

Both varieties of these coins are extremely rare and sought after. They are excellent investments in all grades.