THE MINT: FROM BULLION TO COIN – ENTRANCE TO EXIT
Jan van den Bos, Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History
The Renaissance style and sandstone façade of the National Bank building or de Nationale Bank en Munt on the north-western corner of Church Square, Pretoria is evidence of an almost forgotten era of dusty roads, horse carts, ox wagons as well as political and church gatherings. This first State owned bank was established to administrate the finances of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR). The Volksraad granted a concession of British, Dutch and German investors to establish a bank and to operate a State Mint behind the National Bank. The ZAR government appointed Friedrich Munscheid of the Imperial Mint in Germany to assist in equipping the Mint. Friedrich ordered three coin presses from Ludwig Loewe in Berlin. The first pounded coins were based on British sizes and denominations. The Mint launched the gold pound, the 5/-, 2/6, 1/-, 3 and 6 silver pennies and bronze and half pennies.
The Royal Mint, Pretoria (1923 – 1941)
British victory at the end of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) led to the closure of the Mint on Church Square. Under the new Mint Act of 1919, the British established a branch of the Royal Mint in 1923. (Current premises of DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History).
The gold mines, the Germiston Refinery and the Mint operated as a unit. The Refinery processed the unrefined natural product, cast the gold into bars and transported it to the Mint. The Mint melted and altered the bars into bullion coins. Throughout the entire production process, the various sections maintained a high standard of quality control.
From bullion to coin
When Germiston Refinery delivered the gold, the Mint office (See floor plan: No. 1 on map) signed and received the consignment and placed the delivery in Strong room A. (No. 2). After a fineness and weight test on the gold had been done, the melting office (No. 3) granted a release. The melting house (No. 4) added the necessary alloy and cast the material into bars. The Assay department (No. 5) sheared off small pieces of the bars and placed them in strong room B (No. 6) until a certificate on the correct composition had been issued. Several alternative rolling and annealing processes were followed on the drag bench to bring the strips to the exact thickness (Nos. 7 and 8). The blank strips were weighed for correctness and if satisfied, passed through the cutting-out press and marking machine (Nos. 9 and 10). The next phase of coin production comprised of an annealing and dripping (No. 11) process in a weak acid solution, followed by a wash and dry session (No. 12). The coins were finally moved to the press and weigh room for a final inspection. Production ended in the stronghold in the Mint office (No. 13).
It is not commonly known that the Mint later housed a small museum. The Mint authorities considered the section allocated for assay purposes (No. 5 on the map) on the north-eastern side of the building too small and developed it into a museum room.
Ironically, when the Mint moved to new premises in Midrand, south of Pretoria, this building was renovated and turned into a museum for the collections of DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History.
Some of the old spaces such as the offices and strong rooms are still used today. These areas are now part of certain museum procedures relating to the objects, such as the documentation, conservation and exhibition of objects.
Meiring, H, Boukuns skatte van Suid-Afrika (16), Die ou Nasionale Bank en Munt van ZAR in Pretoria, in Foto-Rapport, Bylae tot Rapport, 21 September 1975.
National Archives of South Africa, SAB PWD 794, Part II, Pretoria: Royal Mint Erection and additions.
National Archives of South Africa, SAB: PWD 413 Reference 794, Part V Pretoria, Royal Mint Erection and additions.
National Archives of South Africa, SAB: PWD 413 Reference 794 Part VI Pretoria, Royal Mint Erection and additions.