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Numismatic Articles by Pierre H. Nortje: The so-called “Big Five” Coins of the ZAR

The lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo are the much-loved five large African

mammals, fondly called the “Big Five”.

According to Wikipedia, these five wild animals were originally termed the “Big Five’’ by

big game hunters who found them to be the most difficult and dangerous African

animals to hunt on foot. The term is now also widely used by safari tour operators and

game watchers.

Today, collectors of the coins of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek sometimes (also) use

the phrase “the Big Five” when referring to the ZAR coinage, but there is not always

consensus on which 5 coins should be included in this revered pre-eminent list.

When African safari tour operators and game watchers use the term, one would guess

that it is these select 5 African mammals that people wish to tick off their want-to-see or

their personal photograph bucket lists.

Would these following select “Big Five ZAR coins” then be those 5 coins that most ZAR

collectors would like to own?

A fellow numismatist suggested these five…

1874 Burgers Pond Fine Beard

1874 Burgers Pond Coarse Beard

1898 Sammy Marks Gold Tickey

1899 Double 9 Pond

1902 Veld Pond

He was a little taken aback when I suggested that many collectors would disagree and

that some would even exclude all of his five on their list.

“Why?” he asked.

My line of reasoning was that informed collectors would probably consider the 5

scarcest ZAR coins as those they would wish to own, and not one of his 5 coins would

be on that list. There is a relative long list of ZAR coins that are all scarcer than those

listed above, these being the “Single 9” pond, all nine coins, particularly the pair of gold

coins, of the proof issues of 1892, the proof-like 1896 sixpence, the proof-like 1894 half

pond, the rimless blank penny of 1900, the gold half-crown dated 1892, the gold 3-

pence dated 1894 and the gold sixpence dated 1897.

My numismatist friend suggested that most of these coins were never intended for

circulation and so should rather be called “patterns” or in some cases “tokens”. I agree,

but why does he then include the Sammy Marks Tickey in his top five? The 1898 gold

Tickey was certainly never intended for circulation - in essence it was purely a

presentation piece.

So the question must again be asked – what criteria should qualify a ZAR coin to be

one of the “Big Five”?

Let us say (just for the sake of the argument) that at the very least the coin must have

been struck with the intention of it being put into circulation. (This would then, for

example, exclude all proof coins and those gold patterns mentioned including the

Sammy Marks Tickey).

A second criterion could be that it must be a very scarce coin. Here a problem crops up

as some coins are “grade scarce”, meaning that they could be fairly common in

circulated grades, but in say uncirculated condition they are extremely rare. Take the

single shaft 1892 Pond for example: In certified mint state, this coin is scarcer than both

the fine beard Burgerspond of 1874 and the 1902 Veldpond. A coin like the 1893 Half

Pond in mint state condition is scarcer than any of the big five mentioned above. I think

that most experienced collectors would probably verily “drool” if they were even able to

handle one, let alone own a mint state example of either of these two prestigious coins.

If mint state scarcity is the only criterion (for coins struck for circulation purposes), the

following coins would be the top five (number certified in mint state in brackets):-

Number 5 – Half Crown of 1893 (12 coins)

Number 4 – Shilling of 1895 (11 coins)

Number 3 – Two-Shillings of 1895 (10 coins)

Number 2 – Two-Shillings of 1893 (6 coins)

Number 1 – Shared by the 1893 Shilling and 1893 Half Pond (4 each)

It is interesting to note that not a single coin on the initial “Big Five” list is included


Another criterion could be the “popularity” or “fame” of the coin. The Veldpond, for

example is a famous coin due to it being struck as an emergency gold issue during the

dying days of the Anglo Boer War. It certainly overshadows a humble coin like the 1895

Tickey but few collectors know that this last mentioned coin is almost 5 times scarcer in

mint state than the “famous” Veldpond. But no one would even consider ranking it

above the enigmatic Veldpond in terms of a “Big” list.

Maybe the same is true of the “Big Five” mammal list – the lion (and leopard) are

relatively common cats in the wild, but I suppose most safari goers would much rather

like to spot them than say the relatively unknown, but very rare and endangered Black-

Footed Wild Cat [Felis nigripes].

To sum up: in my view there could be various criteria when considering which five

ZAR coins would be eligible for a “Big Five” spot and there is certainly no correct

answer. Numismatics is a wonderful and fulfilling hobby, and everyone is welcome to

collect what he or she fancies, or places at the top (and bottom) of their wish-lists!

By: Pierre H. Nortje

About Pierre H. Nortje

Pierre H. Nortje has been a coin collector since the 1970's and is actively involved in all aspects of numismatics. He studied political science and public administration at the University of Stellenbosch and earned his masters degree in 1993. Currently residing in Durbanville, Cape Town, he recently (2016) won the South African National Numismatic Society's Merit Medallion in recognition of his "outstanding research and publication" of his paper entitled "The Truth Behind The Griqua Town Coinage"

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