Towards the end of 1901, the British forces were spread over the Republics and the struggle was growing ever more unequal for the Boers, now on the losing side. The Z.A.R. government was already in the field with the forces and cut off from all resources. Money grew scarcer by the day; presently all sources were depleted. Money was urgently needed by the Boer forces to buy provisions, particularly maize and wheat, from the black tribes. The paper money that the government had brought into circulation was unacceptable to the blacks and, to make matters worse, almost the entire supply of paper money (blue backs printed in Pietersburg) had been lost in a skirmish with the British.
At this time General Ben Viljoen (seen right) set up his headquarters at Pilgrims’ Rest, the little mining village situated in the beautiful valley about 25 miles north east of Lydenburg. This became the permanent base of the Boer forces under his control. They were the Lydenburg commando of about 400 men under commandant David Schoeman and a corps of 500 Johannesburgers under the general’s brother, Commandant W. Viljoen.
Pilgrims’ Rest had been occupied once by General Buller in 1900 but the Boer war had never reached this haven. Various quarters large quantities of mealies, which were ground in a water mill driven by the Blyde river. Families came there from ravaged districts, marriages were celebrated and the normal life of the community was maintained until the last day of the war. Near the village are the oldest goldfields in South Africa. All the mines were idle, though undamaged, but sufficient gold was obtained to warrant the establishment of a state mint.
When General Viljoen was taken prisoner, the gold came under the control of General Muller, who immediately conferred with Field-Cornet A. G. E. Pienaar about having it minted. There were several deserted mining workshops with machinery which, with ingenuity, would allow for a coin to be minted. A Mint Commission was appointed, but minting could not begin before the necessary approval had been obtained from the government of the Republic. Within a week, permission was gained and the State Mint in the Field (Veld) was in a position to begin its operations, with P. J. Kloppers as "Hoofd van de Staatsmunt ten Velde". Before the war Kloppers was principal of the Kaapsche Hoop Government school, in the Barbeton district and as late as 1927 was a school inspector of the Transvaal Education Department (source: The Star, Johannesburg, Transvaal: Saturday 17th September 1927). Kloppers had already given serious thought to the task awaiting him. The more he thought about it, the more impractical the initial idea of issuing little rectangular blocks of gold seemed. These blocks would have had a slightly higher value than the gold pounds in circulation. Eventually he decided to manufacture flat discs with a milled edge and stamped on the flat surfaces so as to at least give the product a "professional" appearance.
With the co-operation of one or two "bittereinders" (die-hards), Dick Graham and mechanic, W. Reid, Kloppers converted old equipment in the abandoned Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (TGME) workshops at Pilgrims Rest. A machine used to punch holes in corrugated iron, to create machinery suitable to roll gold into plates of the required thickness and to punch out coin blanks. It was in this workshop that the Veld Pond was minted (not in the field as the image on the right suggests). (The TGME was formed from an amalgamation of several smaller mining companies at Pilgrims Rest in 1895 - it was later taken over by Rand Mines - a mining giant that is now known as Barlow Rand. The TGME was shut down during the Boer War. In 1974 Rand Mines sold the land in and around Pilgrim's Rest once owned by the TGME to the Transvaal Provincial Administration opening the town up to tourists. Pilgrims Rest is today a major historical tourist attraction.)
Image right: Kloppers is seated on the left of the photo- note the Veld Ponds on the box in front of "the mint"
Kloppers, using TGME equipment, had been hard at work with the hand-made dies for the coins; two steel cylinders that were heated and then cooled slowly to soften the steel. With a small hardened chisel "Z.A.R. 1902" was engraved on the obverse, and "Een Pond" on the reverse. The engraved dies had to be hardened by reheating and cooling so that the wording could be impressed on to the gold blanks by the toughened steel. Under the circumstances it was a difficult process and the dies cracked on six occasions while being cooled. But the seventh attempt at hardening was so successful that the dies were used nearly 1000 times without showing any signs of wear. To make the veldpond milled edge, Kloppers painstakingly filed neat grooves on the inside of a small ring. This was then also heated and rapidly cooled to harden it (just like the coin dies) and then attached to one of the cylinders.
Image right: The veld pond dies.
An American assayer, W. Coney, managed to get the smelting furnace of an old mine going that had not worked in years, and refined the gold to practically 100 per cent purity. The gold value of the veldpond was therefore slightly higher than that of the British sovereign. Unfortunately, these were not the only problems that the State Mint in the Field experienced. The Lydenburg alluvial gold had the irritating tendency to crack when being rolled out - and this proved to be one of the most difficult problems P. J. Kloppers, Mint Master in the Field, had to solve. Then, one day, driven to despair by all the failures, he found some tablets of sublimate of mercury in an ambulance and added these to the gold, which he then heated. The result was an unqualified success - the gold rolled out like butter, without the slightest crack. The most curious thing of all was that the sublimate of mercury evaporated during the heating process leaving no trace of its presence - except that it made the gold perfectly malleable.
From this home-made mint, flat discs were punched out of the sheets of gold, then laid on the bottom die inside the little ring. The gold blank was then squeezed between the top and bottom dies by the hand press. The pressure on the gold blank was sufficient to force it into the grooves of the ring and the depressions of the chiselled letters of the coinage dies.
A hand punching-machine worked on the screw and press principal like a copying press was found. This machine was adapted to hold the dies, which were brought into close contact by turning the screw. From the other items that were in the workshops a hand roller was contrived by which pieces of bar gold after smelting in a crucible could be rolled between two cylinders into strips of suitable thickness.
What resulted was about 530 unique coins - each resulting from the inexact manner from which it was minted in this rudimentary press.
The gem of the idea originated through the difficulty the Boer forces experienced when trying to make purchases of food and other necessities from the natives. The latter were shy of the paper money which was circulating amongst the Boers themselves. They wanted the sovereign – the sovereign which had the horse upon it (the steed of St. George which is found on British Soverigns).
The Veld Pond
It is interesting to note that Mr. Kloppers did not entertain the idea of manufacturing the sovereigns by hammering-the process by which most coined money had been made from the dawn of minting art up to comparatively modern times-but that he aimed at, and succeeded in his purpose, adapting machinery found in the mine workshops to the manufacture of coins by the screw and press, in collar and with milled edges, having in fact, the main characteristics of the modern sovereign.
And so the "Staatsmunt ten Velde" came into being. With- a great deal of hard work and effort 530 Veldponde were struck. These rank as siege pieces and are today among the most precious historical treasures a collector could hope to possess.
The members of the Transvaal government were highly pleased with the sovereigns, State Secretary Reitz being particularly enthusiastic. At the conclusion of hostilities Mr. Kloppers and his two assistants Messrs. W. Ried and D. Graham, and the members of the commission were all presented by the Transavaal government, as a memento of the services that they had rendered in the regard of the State Mint in the field, with a gold ornament of great interest.
They are made from the same press as the sovereigns, seven in all were struck. The one given to to Mr. Kloppers is a trefoil shape about the same size of three sovereigns arranged in that form. The centre of one side stamped and the obverse die of the “Veld Pond”, “Z.A.R. 1902”. (presented by the government of South African Republic). On the other side of the ornament is engraved in decorative fashion, “P. J. Kloppers, Staatsmunt te Velde, 1902”. Mr Kloppers naturally prizes the ornament very highly and it will be handed down in his family as heirloom. The ornaments given to the other recipients were precisely similar except the difference in the names.
Image right: The type of medal presented to Mr Kloppers
“ Veld Ponde” are pretty scarce today. Years ago numbers of them were mounted and worn by their possessors as broaches or watch chain pendants, a fate that also befell the Burgers sovereigns of 1874. Some specimens of both coins also underwent the indignity of being pierced. Fine, well preserved, untouched specimens of both are however, still to be met for the fastidious collector.
During the latter part of the three years War (Anglo-Boer War) there were also current in the Transvaal numbers of blank disks of sovereign size. Some had raised edges and some were quite plain. These discs are of very little interest compared with the Veld Ponde, as they bear no distinguishing stamp whatsoever.
They were sovereigns in the process of manufacture and were put into circulation from the Pretoria mint before the British occupation of that city. They were issued in that form because the dies which would have converted them into ordinary kruger sovereigns were broken. New dies were ordered from Europe but they were intercepted by the British on their way out. Many people had private inscriptions engraved onto the specimens of these gold blanks in their possession.
It may also be added in conclusion that there was also at Pilgrims’ rest a State printing office in the field (actually the TGME workshops), which among other activities, produced Transvaal Government "Te Veld" notes of the values of £1, £5, and £10. Mr. Kloppers also has some of this money in his possession, which was obviously printed on pages taken out of school exercise books. The only ornamental feature about these Pilgrims’ Rest notes is the Republican coat of arms, which was printed from a die made by Mr. Kloppers.
More on Pilgrim's Rest at this link