Lesotho 'Missing Link' Gold Pattern Discovered|
May 07, 2013
“Discovery” coins are in a class by themselves, producing a special frisson of numismatic gratification. So it was a real thrill to stumble on a hitherto unrecorded pattern, which is a missing link between a set of rejected patterns and the very different issued coinage.
Lesotho, which had formerly been the British protectorate of Basutoland, became the independent Kingdom of Lesotho on Oct. 4, 1966. Like many other newly independent countries in Africa during the ’60s, the new country wanted to proclaim its sovereignty by issuing coins commemorating its independence.
Toward that end, patterns were prepared at Argor, S.A. in Chiasso, Switzerland, for four silver coins (KM.Pn1-4) and four gold coins (KM.Pn6-9, erroneously indicating 0.9160 gold). The four gold patterns have common reverses: The national symbol supported by horses, the national motto on a ribbon below: KHOTSO PULA NALA (“peace, rain, plenty”), the denomination (2, 4, 10, and 20 maloti), a mintmark (the letter “A” in a diamond) and an indication of the fineness of the gold (“900/1000”).
The obverses feature a bare head facing right of King Moshoeshoe I, the 19th century founder of the country, with the designer’s name, A.COLOMBO, below the truncation.
Seven sets of these bare-head patterns were prepared. Naturally, they are very rare. My set came from a 1988 Superior auction, where, oddly enough, all four reverses were pictured, but not the bare heads that make these patterns so special.
These patterns were summarily rejected by the Lesotho government because the bare head failed to display any of the tribal regalia that would identify the image as a portrait of the founding father Moshoeshoe I.
Until recently, the next chapter in the numismatic history of Lesotho was its first issued coinage: silver 5, 10, 20, and 50 licente pieces (KM-1, -2, -3.1-3.2, and -4.1-4.2) and gold 1, 2, and 4 maloti pieces (KM-5-7). All of these coins bear a handsome portrait bust facing right of Moshoeshoe I duly decked out in tribal regalia and attributes of kingship. The designer’s name A.COLOMBO now appears above the King’s right shoulder.
Imagine my surprise when I recently encountered and was able to purchase a previously unrecorded 10 maloti pattern with the same reverse as the bare-head 10 maloti patterns, down to the 900/1000 indication of fineness, but with the approved and adopted royal bust. This mule is a missing link pattern between the rejected bare-head patterns and the issued coinage.
More was changed than just the portrait. The bare-head patterns were struck in 900/1000 gold to a weight standard of 1.5 grams to the maloti (2.98, 6.98, 15.07 and 30.14 grams; the second is much too heavy, but, hey, these are patterns). The issued gold pieces were struck in .917 gold and weigh 4.01, 7.94, and 15.93 grams, equivalent to British half-sovereign, sovereign and 2-sovereign standards. We can see that the British past of Lesotho was being reflected in the metallic content of its first gold coins.
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