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Numismatic Legends: The 1916-T GEA Gold 15 Rupien (Tabora Pound)

The German East Africa (GEA) gold 15 Rupien struck in Tabora (a town in then German occupied East Africa) in 1916 occupies a special place in world siege coinage. Boasting a strikingly similar story to that of our very own 1902 ZAR Veldpond, the “Tabora Pound” as it has become affectionately known is highly collectible, sought after and treasured by numismatists the world over.

To understand the magnanimity of this issue we need to revisit the history books and analyse the overall economic and political environment and conditions prevalent at the time.

German East Africa (German: Deutsch-Ostafrika) (GEA) was a German colony in the African Great Lakes region, which included present-day Burundi, Rwanda, the Tanzania mainland, and the Kionga Triangle, a small region later incorporated into Mozambique. GEA's area was 994,996 square kilometres (384,170 sq mi), which was nearly three times the area of present-day Germany, and double the area of metropolitan Germany then.

Gold mining in the area dates from the German Occupation when gold was first discovered in area surrounding Lake Victoria. The town of Tabora in particular, situated in modern day central Tanzania, has a rich history as a market town and particularly that of a slave trade capital. The colony of German East Africa declared the town as a protectorate in 1885 and officially administered it from 1891.

Commercial banking was introduced in German East Africa in 1905, when the Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Bank opened its office in Dar-es-Salaam. This bank had a concession from the German Government to issue its own notes and coins, which helped the bank to meet the demand for coins in exchange for its notes. In 1911, a second German bank, the Handelsbank Fuer Ostafrika, opened a branch in Tanga. Shortly thereafter the world would be engulfed in the First World War.

The "Tabora Pound", a gold coin valued at 15 Rupees, was designed by mining industry expert Friedrich Schumacher at Tabora and weighs 6.8 gram (gold). It was minted in a temporary siege-mint by the Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Bank in an adapted train carriage at Tabora in 1916 following the fall of Germany's major port, Dar-es-Salaam, to the Allies during World War One. The steam from the train to which the "mint carriage" was attached drove a palm oil press that was used to mint these unique high quality gold pieces.

A less sophisticated minting device was used in Tabora to produce the brass 5 and 20 Heller coins. The Tabora Pound is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful wartime siege coins ever minted. The gold coins were needed to pay the native troops, for, as in South Africa they, wisely, did not trust paper bank notes. The German commander’s goal was to give one of these gold coins to each member of this 15,000 native askari army. The minting was possible because of a small gold mine in operation not very far away from Tabora from which the gold used in the coins was mined. The coin features the king of the beasts, a triumphant elephant, trumpeting with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background and the date “1916 T” below, a Singhalese gold worker from Zanzibar made the dies after a model prepared by R. Vogt. The reverse features the German imperial eagle with the legend “Deutsch Ost Afrika” and the denomination of 15 Rupien. There are two varieties which can best be distinguished by the arabesque extending from the right wing of the German eagle. In the slightly rarer first variety, "type A", it ends under the “A” in “Afrika” (mintage 6,395), and in the second variety "type B", it ends under the “T” in “Ost” (mintage about 9,035).

Due to the primitive nature of the conditions under which the coins were struck, the gold was a reddish gold, containing copper and silver, since these metals could not be refined out of the gold. Soon after their minting Tabora was occupied by allies' Belgian troops. Indian traders asked 200 rupies each for these coins - like the Veld Pond they were considered rare from the very beginning. Today the 15 Rupee gold coin coin fetches several thousand US dollars for a circulated one and much more for one in Unc (refer to select auction results below). The price of these pieces has already risen by several hundred percent since 2000.

Few of the coins actually went into general circulation, which in any account, would not have been longer than a couple of months when the Allies closed in on Tabora. Many of the coins were captured by the Allies when they finally took Tabora and these were either melted down or taken as war souvenirs by them - which accounts for the large number of pieces that remain in good condition (Extra Fine or, occasionally, almost Uncirculated and rarely Unc).

It is a classical siege coin but reflects the German's innovation and demand for quality. The detail is exquisite and design totally unique with the African symbol of power, the elephant, charging down its foes with complete abandon - a symbol flying in the face of the reality facing the Germans at that time.

Much like in the case of our 1902 ZAR Veldpond, the ingenuity of the men involved in the striking of this historical piece is fully apparent and embodied by the beautiful pieces that they managed to create against all odds.

Auction Results:

· Arabesque below T variety, NGC MS64 - $10,800 (April 2020)

· Arabesque below A variety, NGC MS65 - $10,200 (Jan 2018)

· Arabesque below T variety, PCGS MS63 - $9,400 (Aug 2015)

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