Most serious coin collectors in South Africa have heard about the Single 9, commonly referred to as the “King of South African Coins.” However outside of the country, it is relatively unknown, despite being one of the top five most expensive rare coins in the world – it was sold in 2010 for about $4 million.
The story of the Single 9 begins in 1899 at the start of the Second Anglo-Boer War. The British Empire was engaged in a struggle with the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers for control of the two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) and the Orange Free State.
The war would become the bloodiest, most expensive conflict that the British engaged in until World War I. Although not the stated reason for war, the British were most likely trying to seize control of the area because of the discovery of large gold deposits in the Witwatersrand region in 1886.
Amidst the struggle to maintain their independence, President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic ordered that new gold coins be minted. Without the means to create the dies needed to strike new coins, the government ordered that new dies be made in Germany for 1899 coinage. However, the shipment of dies was intercepted and confiscated by the British on its way from Germany to the Transvaal.
The Boer Government was not to be deterred from making new coins. Instead of the new dies, they decided to use the old ones from 1898 and punch a 9 on the obverse of the coin to signify the year 1899. However, when the first pond (Dutch for “pound”) was struck, they realized that the 9 was too large and protruded onto the bust of President Kruger.
Consequently, no further coins were minted using that punch. This particular pond was put aside and came to be known as the “Single 9”. The rest of the coins in this batch, of which there were 130, were stamped using two smaller 9s, and subsequently came to be known as the Double 99.
The Single 9’s first owner was United States Consul General C.E. Macrum. He was given the coin in a ceremony by the Kruger government in order to establish the republic’s identity as an independent country with its own coinage. Macrum scratched an “m” on the bust of President Kruger to mark his ownership of the coin.
For the next 50 years, the coin’s whereabouts were unknown. It resurfaced in 1954 when it went on sale at the “Palace Collections of Egypt” auction in Cairo – the sale of King Farouk’s famed coin collection. The King is alleged to have acquired the coin in Paris some years earlier. At the auction, the coin was sold to Dr. Froelich of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for 655 Egyptian pounds.
Since then, the Single 9 has changed hands five times. It was sold at an auction in 1969 for R2,530, and then again in 1983 for R132,000. In 1999, the coin was sold in a private deal for R4.65 million. In 2001, it was sold again privately for R9.8 million. Finally, in 2010, the Single 9 was sold to a private buyer for over R20 million. The sale, like the prior two private sales, was facilitated by Mr. Walter Fivaz, the CEO of South Cape Coins.