The history of the Adelaide Pound.
When the Victorian gold fields opened up in 1851, over 8000 South Australians headed east, taking with them not only manpower but also cash resources. About two thirds of the available coin exited 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.
The general pessimism lessened in January 1852, when about £50,000 of gold arrived in the colony and calls were made for the establishment of a mint and the issuing of gold coins.
This was in direct violation of the Royal Prerogative. The colony had no authority to issue coins. Despite the controversy, the Governor of South Australia, Sir Henry Fox Young introduced the Bullion Act into Parliament on the 28 January 1852.
It was one of the quickest proceedings on record, with the entire proceedings taking less than two hours to pass.
The Bullion 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.
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. Consequently, only a small number of Adelaide Pounds were struck (24,768) and very few circulated.
When it was discovered that the intrinsic value of the gold contained in each piece exceeded its nominal value, the clear 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.