New Issue: South African coins celebrate world’s first heart transplant

The South African Mint recently issued a silver coin commemorating the 50th anniversary of a medical miracle that astonished the world in 1967—the world’s first heart transplant, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa.

The extraordinary surgery is celebrated on a unique pair of coins: a two-rand silver coin and a smaller, two-and-a-half-cent “Tickey.” The two coins fit together to allow the viewer to imagine the transplant. The small silver Tickey coin, which depicts the good heart, appears on top of the larger coin depicting the torso and—within it—the poor heart.

The very complex and correct anatomical detail of the two reverse designs was provided by South African Mint designer Richard Stone and renowned artist Carl Jeppe, who’s a well-respected artist and lecturer of figure drawing at the Technikon School of Fine Arts, in Pretoria. Jeppe was also Richard Stone’s drawing lecturer in the mid 1990s. The engraver was Paul Botes, of the South African Mint, who worked closely with the designers to ensure that the precise details were exactly transferred to the master tooling.

The obverse of the two-rand coin (shown above) was designed by Arthur Sutherland in 2000.


The reverse of the larger, two-rand coin depicts the skeleton, epidermis, veins, and organs of the torso area of the human body. Even the complex of veins and arteries weaving their way into and out of the heart can be seen alongside a web of blood vessels connecting it to the liver. Also visible is the detailed texture of the outer wall of the heart and the puffy, pillow-like tubing of the large and small intestines.

The diseased heart shows fat deposits, dying muscle, and an area of blocked blood flow, as noted in the central area where the frosted and polished surface seems darker. A raised circle indicates the position of the heart, as well as serving as the placeholder for the small Tickey and the imagined cavity of the human chest. To the right, in two lines, is the date “1967 / 12.03” (Dec. 3, 1967), when this highly specialized surgery was performed. The face value, “R2” (or two rand) and the words “FIRST HEART / TRANSPLANT” are superimposed over the lower half of the torso.


The obverse of the two-rand coin was developed by Arthur Sutherland in 2000. Sutherland was the master engraver of the mint until his retirement in 2002. The design centres on the standard coat of arms of the Republic of South Africa in frosted relief on a mirrored field. It’s flanked on either side by the first two and last two digits in the year of issue, 2017. Surrounding the coat of arms in a pentagon formation are 10 phrases (two phrases for each side of the pentagon): the name of South Africa in each of the country’s 11 official languages (with a single instance representing both the Ndebele and the Zulu languages, which spell the name identically).


The reverse of the Tickey coin (shown above) depicts a healthy heart.

The reverse of the smaller, two-and-a-half-cent Tickey depicts a healthy heart with the thick, healthy aorta coming out of the top; the many blood vessels; and the texture of the heart wall. The frosted finish of the healthy heart, produced in relief against a mirrored field, emphasizes the organ’s good health. At lower right on the mirrored field, also in relief, is the face value of two-and-a-half cents depicted with a stacked fraction and a superscript letter “C” for cents. The metallic composition appears in two lines in the upper right field as “Ag925” and “Cu75” (92.5 per cent silver, 7.5 per cent copper), with the initials “CNB” representing the chief surgeon of this miracle, Dr. Christian Neethling Barnard, below.

The obverse of the Tickey coin (shown above) was designed and engraved by Kruger Gray.


The two-and-a-half-cent obverse design was developed and engraved by Kruger Gray and first appeared in circulation in 1922. The central device is the standard depiction of the King Protea, South Africa’s national flower, in frosted relief on a mirrored field, with “SOUTH AFRICA” above and the designer’s initials, “KG,” to the right of the base of the stem. The year of issue, 2017, is set between two floral ornaments below the flower. The field is surrounded by a beaded border within a plain, raised rim.

Denomination Metal Weight Diameter Quality Mintage
two-and-a-half cents .925 silver 1.3 grams 16.30 mm Proof 1,700 pieces
two rand .925 silver 31.1 grams 38.725 mm Proof 1,700 pieces

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