2019- AFRICAN BIG FIVE by the South African Mint

The African Big Five are a popular subject on coins and foils. Considered the five most dangerous animals on the continent for hunting on foot, each of them stand out in their environment, even the herbivores. The Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant, and Cape Buffalo are all quite capable of killing humans and frequently do. The Cape Buffalo, in particular, seems to have a mean streak a mile wide.

The Big Five bullion coin programme was meant to be a simple, but quite intense one. Starting with the Elephant, we were originally led to believe they would launch the others on a monthly schedule, but it ended up taking over two years to get them all out, two dated 2019, two 2020, and the last for 2021. While sold as a bullion coin series, we’d say that was stretching the definition a little, and these are firmly in semi-numismatic territory. The mintage of 15,000 is fairly normal these days, but being packaged in heavily themed blister cards is not.

Whatever the semantics, these are gorgeous coins, especially for the bullion market. Each of the five carries a portrait on the reverse face, and all show perfect perspective and anatomy. The artist clearly knows their stuff. The obverse is quite unique, bearing a face-on portrait, but split in half and switched to the opposing edge of the coin. The idea is that when a pair of coins are sat side by side, the image repeats across multiple coins. The mint even released a twin-coin proof silver set to showcase it.

You can see each design below, in all three metals, and on page two, you can see the proof silver sets, and the rare and unique proof Krugerrand privy sets – the rarest of them all. In late 2021, the South African Mint debuted the first Series II coin, and it’s clear the style of the first series is staying in place. However, the range has expanded with 1/4oz, 5oz and 1 kg gold coins, and 5oz and 1 kg silver. In addition, there’s a two-coin 1/4oz set like the 1oz silver one, and a silver version of the Krugerrand privy set joins the line-up, which is now very expansive. Series II can be seen on page 3.

2019 Big Five I : Lion

As a big cat, it goes without saying that the Lion isn’t something to be trifled with, especially in its natural habitat, so its inclusion in the Big Five was always a foregone conclusion. With males exceeding two metres in length (not including the tail) and weighing up to 225 kg, one of these would be a formidable adversary, but as they usually hunt in prides of several animals, the risk is multiplied.

This is a beautiful design, doubly so for a bullion coin. The portrait of the male lion is superb in both its anatomy and its aesthetic appeal. Likewise, the obverse mirrored face-on portrait works extremely well when placed alongside another coin. A fine way to start off this series.

2019 Big Five I : Elephant

An absolute powerhouse of strength, intelligent, and unlikely to forget a transgression, the Elephant easily earns its place in this elite group. The largest land animal alive today, reaching four metres in height and tipping the scales at up to 10,000 kg in extreme cases, they become extremely aggressive when they lose sight of their young, or are attacked,

The reverse design has the tricky task of fitting this behemoth on a small canvas, but does an admirable job. Like the Lion coin, it exhibits a terrific grasp of the animal’s anatomy and is an imposing view. The obverse is outstanding, with the distinctive look of the elephant lending itself well to the split, repeating view.

2020 Big Five I : Rhino

Like the Elephant, the Rhinoceros is a huge and powerful beast, but in this case matched with an attitude problem possessed by little else. Typically weighing up to 1400 kg, they have been known to exceed double that. Only the Elephant doesn’t fear the Rhino. What makes these especially dangerous is their skin, which can hit 5 cm in thickness and has a collagen lattice structure that is very resistant to being punctured.

The reverse design is similar in execution to the Elephant, not surprising given it must be equally difficult to depict in this small canvas, but it’s just as impressive. The mint has done an especially fine job on the obverse, choosing not to simply cut the horn down the middle, but to angle it for a better view of the eye and the back horn.

2020 Big Five I : Leopard

The second big cat in the list, the Leopard, is another formidable predator. Hunting alone, they have an extremely powerful bite and are very agile. Mainly a nocturnal hunter, males can hit 90 kg in weight, but despite that relatively low weight, they regularly hunt and kill much larger prey, like Gorillas and Buffalo.

As the Rhino coin follows the Elephant, the Leopard has nods to the Lion coin in inspiration. Another fine portrait, it just looks ‘right’, with great care taken to include texture and detail to the fur and the whiskers, often missing from depictions of cats on coins. The obverse is very similar to the Lion, hardly surprising given these two are the most similar of the Big Five.

2021 Big Five I : Buffalo

When we said earlier that the Rhino was possessed of an attitude like almost any other animal, the almost likely referred to the Buffalo. Yes, it’s a bovine, although not related to the domesticated cow, and a big one. Tipping the scales at up to a ton in weight, and with a fused bony plate bearing a pair of substantial horns, this is physically an intimidating animal. Outside of prides of lions and the largest of crocodiles, nothing really gets in the way of the Cape Buffalo. Mainly, it’s not the intimidating presence that makes it so feared, but a personality that seems to comprise a mean streak a mile wide. It’s estimated they kill over 200 people every year.

The design of this one manages to get across more than a hint of that attitude and menace, and it’s clear that this is a powerful creature. The star here is the obverse, which employs crossed horns, giving an added sense of depth to the dual half portrait. It also adds to the subliminal meanness of the Buffalo. Clearly not something you want to be trying to stare down…

2021 Big Five II : ELEPHANT

The Series II debut makes it clear that little will change from an artistic point of view, and we’re okay with that. The obverse returns unchanged, as the date has always been on the reverse face. That reverse face is similar to the first elephant coin, but a touch nicer, in our view. It’s a terrific portrait of this quite magnificent animal. There are now three sizes of silver and four of gold, although all the extra ones are struck to a proof finish. The platinum one ounce proof coin remains in the line-up.

2022 Big Five II : LION

2022 Big Five II : RHINO

2022 Big Five II : LEOPARD

2023 Big Five II : BUFFALO