Of the many numismatic books I have opened over the years, I have found few as readable and as absorbing as Professor Francois Malan’s story of South Africa’s Krugerrand: “Krugerrand Golden Jubilee” Prestige Bullion, South African Mint & Rand Refinery, 2016, 300 pp. ISBN 978-0-620-74116-3.
The book certainly was not what I had expected. In its pages Malan presents the entire history of the coin commencing a few billion years ago through to the present day. And he presents it in a clear style laced with a minimum of jargon. This gives the book an appeal far beyond the numismatic community.
Those who enjoy a great romp through history will find much in this book to inform and amuse as should those who have simply wondered what the Krugerrand was all about, or perhaps, why this symbol of Boer rule continues to be produced in post-apartheid South Africa.
Malan’s book opens not with the Krugerrand but the missing millions of Paul Kruger. This is a war story. It involves subterfuge, mystery, and even a World War II spy – plus at least 1.5 tons of missing gold. My only surprise was that Indiana Jones did not feature – although Breaker Morant does get a walk-on role in Chapter 3.
The geological origins of the Witwatersrand Basin that contains South Africa’s gold are outlined in Chapter 2: the ancient impact of an asteroid that uplifted South Africa’s gold-bearing strata into a series of concentric folds that would yield the ridge of white waters (witwatersrand) seen by the Boers during their Great Trek in the Transvaal. The discovery of gold and it subsequent exploitation conclude the chapter.
The economics of the gold and silver standards occupies Chapters 3 and 4. They include the founding of the Pretoria Branch of Britain’s Royal Mint and the final collapse of the post-WWII Bretton Woods agreement that would play midwife to the Krugerrand.
Chapters 5 through 8 tell of the evolution of the Krugerrand: its concept, design, naming, production, and marketing. The story of the gold booms and busts in the 1960s and 1970s fill out Chapters 9-11 while Chapter 12 concerns the impact of world’s sanctions on the apartheid regime.
The book concludes with the effects of the fall of apartheid, the rising, phoenix-like, of golden Krugerrands from the ashes of the World Trade Center, and a retrospective glance at the past 50 years.
The final pages of the book detail the Krugerrand typeface that was developed specifically for the coin. I confess I never knew it had one.
The book is abundantly laced with design sketches, maps and historic documents plus innumerable black and white and colored photographs. The quality of the reproductions is superb. Many of the early historic black & white images have been printed with a touch of soft focus. They provide a wonderful sense of history.
My one gripe lies with the book designers. Where large pictures have been spilled across double pages part of an image tends to get lost in the binding curve. The resulting awkwardness is not too severe given that the book is section sewn and not adhesive-bound. Nonetheless it does limit the ease of viewing in several places.
That small matter aside I would recommend this book for all numismatic shelves be they those of a dealer or a collector. It is a superb reference although, regrettably, lacking an index or mintage details.
Readers wanting their own copy can obtain one from South African Mint: www.samint.co.za.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.
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