By Blake Wilkins
It was with a sense of deja vu that I read a brief BBC article revealing that a hoard of Kruger gold coins had been found in Holland around the time of the Second World War and deposited in a Swiss vault ‘for safekeeping’.
A day or two later the SA Mint released a statement under a headline that referred to the Krugerrand ‘Lost Hoard’. For reference purposes, the coins are not ‘Krugerrands’ but let’s not delve too deeply into that point. The story had been relatively widely reported in the South African media.
The report intrigued me as the author of a book-in-the-making with the title Looted Gold. Readers may remember from a previous article in the Chronicle that the book delves into the history of the gold that disappeared when President Paul Kruger left Africa in 1900 to go into exile. The missing Kruger millions (now worth billions in any currency you care to name) is said to be the most enduring missing treasure mystery of the last 120 years.
My attempts to get clarity from the SA Mint about the ‘Kruger hoard’ initially got nowhere. But then the folk at the SA Mint outdid themselves with a good response. Without being negative about my experience with responses from government entities, I take my invisible hat off to the team at the SA Mint.
Look, let’s be honest. The sudden appearance of gold coins from a Swiss bank vault after 120 years is bound to be just a little edgy. So no surprise the Mint was not able to provide information about who owned the gold coins before they were purchased by the Mint.
What the Mint sent me in response to my many questions was a carefully structured FAQ or frequently asked questions. From my experience in the communications business, such FAQs are always prepared well in advance in anticipation of questions from all quarters and especially the media.
You may well question my reference to deja vu. The short answer is that in Looted Gold my co-author Mike Dwight and I give weight to the notion that Kruger and his cohorts were sending gold out of the South African Republic (also known as the Transvaal Republic) for years before Pretoria fell to the British. Even the gold loaded onto Kruger’s presidential train a few days prior to his departure from the capital and further seized shortly afterwards by Jan Smuts is probably but a fraction of the precious metal that flowed clandestinely out of South Africa under the president’s watch.
So an official report from the SA Mint gives a certain amount of gravitas to our research of several years. Yes, Kruger gold coins minted prior to 1900 and worth hundreds of thousands were shipped out of the Transvaal Republic. How did they get to Holland? Who was responsible for shipping the coins there. Where were they hidden and who found them? Who took them to Switzerland and placed them in a vault. In whose name was the vault retained?
Here’s part of the statement released by the SA Mint: ‘A rare, intriguing trove of South African gold coins discovered in a Swiss vault has been released by the South African Mint.
‘While it is true that gold was evacuated from Pretoria by the then Transvaal Government during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), no accurate account has ever been produced of its fate, spawning an urban legend of the ‘Kruger Millions’. The appeal of this missing gold thus makes the recent discovery of a large parcel of the gold Kruger ponde a significant find.
‘Named “the lost hoard” by the numismatic community, the Kruger ponde were stored in the Netherlands during the early 20th century. The parcel was then transferred to Switzerland before the Second World War (1939–1945) for safekeeping and remained in a Swiss vault for decades, until it was recently sold at an auction.
‘These original, certified and graded coins are available for purchase, along with a 2019 limited-edition privy-mark Krugerrand.
‘These unique coins are available in two sets. The first set is made up of an 1893–1900 Lost Hoard Kruger half-pond with a 2019 1/10 oz gold privy-mark proof Krugerrand. The second set consists of an 1893–1900 Lost Hoard Kruger full pond and a 2019 ¼ oz gold privy-mark proof Krugerrand. The sets have limited editions of 233 and 677 units respectively.
‘The authenticity of the lost hoard find has been independently verified and graded by the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation in Florida, in the United States. Each coin has been individually graded, certified and slabbed. The certification confirms the authenticity, legal tender status (1893–1900) as well as the correct weight of each individual coin.
‘The packaging features, among other things, a replica of the original money bag in which the coins remained hidden for more than a century,’ the SA Mint’s statement said.
For the record, her are the FAQs from the SA Mint in response from my questions:
The Lost Hoard
Frequently Asked Questions
- How many coins were discovered in the Swiss vault?
233 half ponds and 677 ponds so 910 coins in total
- What is the value of one 1893–1900 Lost Hoard Kruger half-pond with a 2019 1/10 oz gold privy-mark proof Krugerrand and what is the value of one 1893–1900 Lost Hoard Kruger full pond and a 2019 ¼ oz gold privy-mark proof Krugerrand?
The grading determines the price of each coin; hence it is difficult to provide an accurate cost for each coin. Based on grading each coin could cost anywhere between R14 500 to R250 000.
- How did the South African Mint acquire the ‘Lost Hoard’?
A large hoard of Kruger ponde was recently discovered in Europe, which appears to have been stored in the Netherlands for many years during the early part of the 20th century, and then transferred to Switzerland for safekeeping. It remained there in a Swiss vault for decades until it was recently sold in a series of auctions.
The South African Mint accepted an offer to acquire the full complement of Lost Hoard coins in a private transaction.
- Are these the ‘Kruger Millions’ that Paul Kruger took to Europe when he went into exile?
It is very tempting to speculate that these coins form part of the Kruger Millions, however the dates and the worn condition of some of the coins indicate a different source.
- How old are the Lost Hoard coins?
The Kruger ponde and half ponde are dated between 1893 and 1900, which means that they were minted over 120 years ago. The proof Krugerrands are modern South African Mint coins dated 2019.
- Are Lost Hoard coins historically important?
Yes, they are highly important, both historically and numismatically because of the story that they uncover about the early days and the Transvaal Government at Machadodorp.
It is likely that most of the coins in possession of this Government bore the date 1898-1900. During the war years when people in Pretoria withdrew their gold coins from the banks, the Government was in control of the Mint and most likely only had newly minted coins available.
The rarity and scarcity of the coins also add to their significance in history.
- Will the Lost Hoard coins be displayed at the Coin Museum?
The original certified and graded coins which form part of the Lost Hoard are available from the South African Mint for purchase, paired with a 2019 limited edition privy mark Krugerrand in a beautiful 2 coin set.
The museum houses one of the impressive double 99 Kruger pond overstrike coins as part of its permanent displays.
- Are the Lost Hoard coins exclusive to the South African Mint or can they be acquired elsewhere?
The South African Mint is in possession of the full complement of Lost Hoard coins, they cannot be purchased elsewhere except from the Mint or some of our authorized dealers (find authorized dealer list on www.samint.co.za).
- Are the coins in the Lost Hoard set bullion or proof?
The lost hoard coins were issued as circulation coins, and the accompanying Krugerrands are proof coins dated 2019.
- Are the Lost Hoard coins legal tender coins?
These coins were minted before the existence of the South African Reserve Bank. They were legal tender coins of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek.
- Are the Lost Hoard coins rare coins?
Yes. Many of the coins were melted down and mounted in jewelry so the few that survived are very rare. Kruger ponde are also not freely available in the market, which makes their numismatic value undeniable.
- How much does it cost to acquire one of the Kruger ponde?
The Lost Hoard coins come in two different sets. The first set consists of a Lost Hoard Kruger Half Pond and a 2019 1/10oz privy mark Krugerrand and the second set consists of a Lost Hoard Kruger Pond and a 2019 1/4oz privy mark Krugerrand. Each of the Lost Hoard coins are graded differently, thus each set will be priced differently according to the different gradings each coin received.
- How many sets will be available?
The Lost Hoard range will be available in two sets: the first set consists of a Lost Hoard Kruger Pond dated from 1893-1900 and a 2019 ¼oz gold privy mark proof Krugerrand, with a limited edition of 677. The second set is made up of a Lost Hoard Kruger Half Pond dated from 1893-1900 with a 2019 1/10oz gold privy mark proof Krugerrand, with a limited edition of 233. A total of 910 sets.
- I have a coin that looks similar to the Lost Hoard, will the South African Mint buy it?
The South African Mint does not buy back coins. Gold collectable coins can be sold to the South African Reserve Bank at the gold price