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Honouring South African Inventions: The World’s First Heart Transplant

The second instalment of the South African Inventions coin series from the South African Mint commemorates the life-saving heart transplant procedure, pioneered by Dr Chris Barnard in Cape Town 50 years ago.

The South African Mint has issued a pair of sterling silver collectable coins which celebrate the world’s first heart transplant. The extraordinary surgery is celebrated on the 2017 R2 crown and 2-½ cent Tickey, which portray the design of a human chest and heart respectively. Together these coins allow the viewer to imagine the transplant; the small Tickey coin depicting the human heart fits perfectly the design of a human chest cavity that appears on the larger crown coin. Each coin depicts in accurate detail, the complexity of the human anatomy and beautifully pays homage to this great South African medical innovation. The head designer on the coins was the South African Mint’s Richard Stone as well as renowned artist Carl Jeppe (a well-respected artist and lecturer of figure drawing at the Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria). The engraver (aka die sinker) was Paul Botes of the South African Mint who worked closely with the designers to ensure that the precise details were transferred to the master tooling.

SA Mint
2017 Crown and Tickey Set with Heart Mould

The R2 coin depicts in great detail the skeleton, epidermis, veins and organs of the torso area of the human body. The level of detail on this coin reveals the complexity of the veins and arteries weaving their way into and out of the heart, as well as the web of blood vessels connected to the liver. Also visible is the detailed texture of the outer wall of the heart, and even the puffy pillow-like tubing of the large and small intestines. This diseased heart shows fat deposits, dying muscle and an area of blocked blood flow, as noted in the area where the frosted and polished surface seems darker. A prominent 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. Also located on this side in the upper right quadrant of the coin is the anniversary date, 1967.12.03 (3 December 1967), when this highly specialised surgery was performed, the face value of R2 and the words ‘First Heart Transplant’, superimposed over the lower half of the torso.

SA Mint
2017 Tickey Coin

The small 2-½ cent Tickey coin depicts, again in minute detail, a healthy heart, with the thick aorta coming out of the top of the heart, the many blood vessels and the texture of the heart wall. The frosting of the relief of the healthy heart is lighter, whiter to indicate the better physical condition of this heart. The proof finish on the mirrored background focuses attention on the perfection of the healthy heart. Also located on this side are the face value of 2 ½ cents, the alloy of .925 silver combined with .75 copper and the initials ‘CNB’ representing the chief surgeon of this miracle, Dr Christiaan Neethling Barnard. Each coin may be purchased separately or as a set that comes with an anatomically-correct mould of the human heart, housed in an elegant hand-crafted wooden box made of walnut with a glossy, piano-finish varnish. Only 700 of these elegant wooden cases with the pair of coins will be made available.

SA Mint
Sterling Silver Mould of the Human Heart

The first South African Invention to be honoured by the South African Mint in 2016 was the dolos, the large concrete mould designed to break ocean waves at shore. These are innovations that were adopted the world over, putting South Africa at the fore of engineering and medical advancement. More inventions that originated in South Africa will be commemorated on collectable coins by the Mint. The Heart Transplant coins may also be purchased directly from the South African Mint or by completing the order form found online at: or emailing:

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