In their nearly century long history the South African Mint has reliably remained one of the worlds best mints. Although prone to a tendency to "play things safe", they have consistently produced highly collectible coins and was one of the first world mints to produce gold bullion coins aimed at the general consumer.
While this conservative approach has led to a good reputation an predictably impressive coins , such as the Natura series, it has however led to the South African Mint lacking behind other leading mints in recent years - in my opinion. With other mints such as the Royal Canadian Mint, Monnaie de Paris(French Mint) and the Perth mint constantly pushing the boundaries of minting technology for the 21st century. Issuing coloured, domed, irregularly shaped and gilded coins to mention but a few on a fairly regular basis. The SA Mint has seemingly gotten stuck on 20th century minting trends. Which brings me to the point of this article. The South African Mint has, for the first time, issued a series of colour printed silver coins.
The new series is inspired by the UNESCO 'Man and the Biosphere' programme and will, in 2016, consist of a total of four coins. The coins depict native fauna and flora from the of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, in the Western Cape region of South Africa. The reserve is an area of nearly 3000 hectare(7400 acre) that aims to protects 1600 individual plant species, a floral diversity per unit area that is greater than anywhere else in the world.
The first two coins will showcase the floral diversity of the Kogelberg Biosphere, while the last two depict the region's vibrant birdlife.
The first coin features the fragile Hermanus Cliff Gladiolus(Gladiolus carmineus) with it's deep pink petals and green stem receiving a colour finish to striking effect. The rocky sandstone outcrops that make up the habitat for this flower are engraved in the background with the ocean in the distance. To the right is the coins denomination R5(five Rand) and the flowers scientific name GLADIOLUS GARMINEUS. Discreetly tucked between the exposed roots at the bottom left are the words 1 oz Ag925 Cu75, indicating the coins metal content.
The second R5 coin in the series depicts the delicate Blue Bearded Disa(Disa Venustra) with it's blue and violet flower and brown green stem. A small waterfall is engraved in the background feeding into a serene body of water. To the right the coin's denomination, R5, appears just below the official binomen of DISA VENUSTRA. Along the bottom right of the rim is the inscription 1oz Ag925 Cu75, indicating the coin's sterling silver composition.
The third coin is anchored by a striking image of the orange-breasted sunbird displaying its colourful plumage of bright metallic blues, violet, olive green, burnt orange and faded yellows. With wings spread the sunbird is about to take flight amongst it's natural habitat of Fynbos on South Africa's south-western coastline. The coins denomination and scientific name are noted to the right, R10 and ANTHOBAPHES VIOLACEA in three lines. The inscription of 1oz Ag925 Cu75 is neatly tucked away along the bottom left rim.
The fourth and final coin in this release bears the image of a male Cape rock-jumper with its dark ferrous-red breast and belly framed by tainted grey wings and crown. Being a ground nesting species, the bird id depicted perched atop a rocky outcrop with the Western Cape coastline visible in the background. To the right is the species' binomen in two lines with the denomination just below, CHEATOPS FRENATUS and R10. Along the bottom left rim are the words : 1oz Ag925 Cu75.
The coins all share a common obverse within the series. The map of South Africa with all nine provinces clearly outlined appears in a diamond mesh pattern, except for the Western Cape province which is patterned with dots instead. A 'magnification effect' points to that area where the Kogelberg Biosphere area is highlighted, with the word ATLANTIC OCEAN just below. In the background nine vertical bars occupy half of the obverse field. To the left the country and date of issue are engraved in three vertical lines : SOUTH AFRICA and 2016. Western Cape is written at the very bottom and a compass rose appears to the bottom left.
As already indicated in the descriptions above all four coins are struck from sterling silver(.925 Fineness) and weigh in at 33.626grams for exactly 1oz of ASW. Despite being denominated differently the coins are all crown sized and measure 38.725mm(1.5246 inch). The coins are being released for R950.00(US$67.00) each. Considering that the series has a limited mintage of only 500 coins per design that price doesn't seem too exorbitant. Especially in comparison to other world mints that have issues with ten or even twenty times higher mintage figures selling for comparable or higher prices.
There has been no official confirmation from the South African Mint so far, but based off of the obverse design we can only assume that this will be an ongoing series. Perhaps each subsequent year featuring fauna and flora from a different province or protected region within South Africa.
For my money, I'd say that the South African Mint's first foray into colour treated collectors coins is a resounding success and I'll be looking forward to seeing what else they have to offer in the coming years.