The 1852 Adelaide Pound is the nation’s first gold coin, struck at the Government Assay Office in Adelaide from 22 carat gold brought from the Victorian goldfields.
For most Australian rare coin collectors, acquiring an Adelaide Pound fulfils a lifetime’s ambition.
Its historical standing, as Australia's first gold coin, ensures that it will always be sought after and preserves its investment value.
The prime rule in selecting an Adelaide Pound is to pick a coin that is visually very attractive. Acquire a piece that you would be proud to show your family and friends, one that has an heirloom feel about it.
The coin that we have for sale fits those protocols perfectly and is as per the photographs shown above.
The aesthetics, the look of an Adelaide Pound to the naked eye, is an important part of the selection process.
The Adelaide Assay Office was opened 165 years ago as a refinery to strike gold ingots. Except for ensuring the accuracy of the weight and purity of gold in the coin, there was minimal care regarding the overall striking and the eye appeal of the coin. The coins were to be used as currency, traded in commerce. Not preserved as collectables.
Gold also is a relatively soft metal and the rigours of circulation have treated many Adelaide Pounds harshly.
Which is why we apply strict protocols in the selection of Adelaide Pounds to offer our clients.
This particular Adelaide Pound passes our selection criteria in every respect.
This 1852 Adelaide Pound is accurately graded Good Extremely Fine and follows our rule that it is "a coin that you would be proud to show your family and friends".
The original Survey Office where production of gold Ingots and gold Adelaide Pounds occurred in 1852.
It’s accepted wisdom that the gold rush that brought people and prosperity to Victoria and New South Wales in the mid-19th Century was good for everyone. However, for the people of South Australia, it could well have signalled a catastrophe.
It took a master stroke on the part of that state’s legislators to avert disaster and lay the foundations for a stabilised currency in the young colony. It also led to the creation of Australia’s first gold coin, the Adelaide Pound.
In 1850 South Australia was, like any fledgling colony, struggling to find its feet after the inevitable financial difficulties of its foundation years. With a population reaching 50,000, burgeoning mining, agricultural and pastoral industries, and an estimated cash value of £211,480, there was an air of increasing prosperity.
This, however, masked an over-confidence that resulted in rising prices, high wages, unwise speculation and an over-stocking by merchants.
For those who cared to see it, the year 1851 opened with all the portents of a coming crisis. The discovery of gold in New South Wales led some of the more venturesome males to strike out for the diggings.
When the Victorian goldfields opened up the following year, the trickle became a flood, and by March 1852 over 8,000 of the menfolk had gone east, taking with them not only manpower but also cash resources - about two-thirds of the available coin travelled out of the state.
As the two main pillars of national activity, labour and capital, literally walked out, prices plummeted, property plunged, mining scrip nosedived, and Adelaide took on the air of a ghost town, with row after row of tenantless houses.
It got worse. The cash-strapped banks pressed their debtors for cash payments, but as the majority of debtors were merchants with their capital tied up – disaster beckoned.
The general pessimism lessened in January 1852, when about £50,000 worth of gold arrived in the colony. Even so, on account of the scarcity of coin the merchants and banks were forced to accept gold dust in payment for goods.
Calls were made for the establishment of a mint and the issuing of a coinage, but this was in direct violation of the Royal Prerogative – the colony had no authority to mint and issue coins. In desperation, a reward of one thousand Pounds was offered for the discovery of a gold field in South Australia.
Our political forebears got their act together.
Then came the Bullion Act introduced into Parliament on the 28 January 1852: one of the quickest pieces of legislation on record, with the whole proceedings taking less than two hours. In short, the Act allowed the receiving, assaying and stamping of gold into ingots. The ingots were never intended to form a currency, but could be used by the banks to increase their note circulation, based on the amount of assayed gold deposited.
The Act compelled the banks to increase their note circulation to meet all assayed gold deposited, effectively depriving them of control over their currency issues. The notes were payable in Sterling or coin, which put huge pressure on the banks to import sovereigns to support their note issues.
Sudden termination of the Act could mean temporary insolvency if the banks had insufficient Sterling or coin to redeem their notes.
Needless to say it didn’t receive unanimous approval in South Australia, with the Bank of Australasia declining to issue notes in exchange for ingots. This placed a huge burden on the other two banks.
Neither was there support from the eastern states: Melbourne’s Argus condemned the Act as dangerous, radically unsound and interfering with the natural laws of commerce. But these protests were motivated by self-interest, as South Australia posed a real threat to the Victorian economy by re-directing capital and labour away from the Victorian gold fields.
First the ingots, then gold coins.
The first Assay Office opened on 10 February 1852. Its activities were supported by a state government initiative to provide armed escorts to bring back the gold from the Victorian diggings. By the time the first escort arrived, a second assay office had been established, and Joshua Payne was appointed die-sinker and engraver. By the end of August 1852, over £1 million worth of gold had been received at the assay offices.
But the banks were still under enormous pressure, being forced to import sovereigns to meet the extent of their note circulation.
On 23rd November 1852 the government responded to agitation from both the banks and the public for the minting of gold coins, and passed the second part of the Bullion Act.
Within a week 600 gold coins (known today as the 1852 Adelaide Pound) had been delivered to the South Australian Banking Company, 100 of which were sent to London.
The Bullion Act had a lifetime of only twelve months. By the time the legislative amendments were passed to enact the production of gold coins, the Act had less than three months to run. As a consequence, only a small number of Adelaide Pounds were struck (24,768) and very few actually circulated.
When it was discovered that the intrinsic value of the gold contained in each piece exceeded its nominal value, the vast majority were promptly exported to London and melted down.
That goes a long way towards explaining why so few Adelaide Pounds survive today (approximately 250) and why the highest-quality examples command such high prices.