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South African Legends: The 1874 Burgerspond

The iconic 1874 Burgersponde coins were struck from the first gold found in South Africa in and around the Pilgrims Rest area and is one of the country's greatest rarities. After visiting the goldfields in late 1873 President Burgers the president of the ZAR decided to produce his own indigenous gold coins - and on the 9th February 1874 wrote to J J Pratt, the Republic's Consul General in London sending him a portrait of himself and a sketch of the ZAR's coat of arms.

His letter stated that the Government had resolved to have coins struck and included 300oz of native gold to be used for that purpose. The Volksraad (Peoples Council) were unaware of his plans. Interestingly the gold used to strike the Burgers Pond was mined, like its famously rare partner the Veld Pond, at Pilgrim's Rest.

L C Wyon from the Royal Mint cut the dies from the portrait and the sketch. The coins were struck by Ralph Heaton and Sons of Birmingham. The first shipment of 695 Burgersponde was dispatched to the Republic in early August 1874 - these are known as the fine beard variety.

At a meeting of the Volksraad (Peoples Council), President Burgers presented 50 of his gold coins (the first strike - fine beard variety) to the members of the council. He was expecting strong recognition and admiration for producing 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 very own face on it. They remonstrated with him saying that it was a most egotistical and self centered thing to do.

The September meeting was one that President Burgers would remember for a very long time. This quickly degenerated into massive debate, argumentation and 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.

To make matters worse the die broke - and a smaller second batch, the rarer coarse beard variety, numbering just 142 pieces was minted - Pratt keeping four of these coins for himself before they were shipped in October 1874. The President's beard appears much thicker and coarser in this second batch.

The gold Burgerspond coins never circulated - being snapped up by burgers as keepsakes - often being mounted and being presented to loved ones as jewellery (like the mounted coin below).

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