The 1852 Adelaide Pound is the nation’s first gold coin, struck at the South Australian Government Assay Office, Adelaide. A classic piece of Australiana, its appeal is timeless.


The nation's first gold coin

The Adelaide Pound is the nation’s first gold coin. It was struck at the South Australian Government Assay Office, Adelaide, using gold that had been brought from the Victorian gold fields.

A classic piece of Australiana, its appeal is timeless.

Collectors contemplating the purchase of an 1852 Adelaide Pound have two options, the Adelaide Pound Type I or Adelaide Pound Type II. And while they share the same obverse design, they have vastly different reverse designs.

  • The Adelaide Pound Type I  was minted in the very first production run of Adelaide Pounds using the Type I reverse die. Shown above at front.
  • The Adelaide Pound Type II was produced in the second production run of coins using the Type II reverse die. Shown above at rear.

First production run of coins? Or the second production run?

How do collectors differentiate between those coins that were produced in the first run and those that were minted in the second run? The answer is quite simple. The reverse dies used in the first and second production run of the Adelaide Pound were different.

Coins from the first production run have a simple, elegant beaded inner circle surrounding the value of one pound on the reverse. Coins from the second production run have a different reverse design that mirrors the border design on the crown side, more intricate and featuring a scalloped inner border abutting a beaded inner circle.

The obverse design, depicting the crown and the legend Government Assay Office Adelaide, was never changed and was used continuously throughout production.

Why were two different dies used?

The simple answer is that the first die cracked. And had to be replaced.

Disaster struck during the early stages of the minting of the 1852 Adelaide Pound.

Die-maker Joshua Payne confirmed as much in an interview conducted in the 1870s indicating that they had struggled to find the correct pressure levels to exert on the dies to execute a strong design.

In the early stages of production, pressure was applied to the edges to ensure that the denticles and the legend were strong. The pressure however cracked the reverse die in the DWT section of the legend. (The very reason why the coin is often referred to as the Cracked Die Adelaide Pound.)

Production was halted and the reverse die replaced

When the mishap was discovered, minting was temporarily halted. The cracked reverse die was replaced. The critical point being that the new reverse die had a different design. More intricate, it featured a scalloped inner border abutting a beaded inner circle.

A definite upside to the disaster - a coin that has magnificent edges and is extremely rare

There was an upside to this disaster for the coins out of the first run have almost perfect edges, beautiful strong denticles, akin to a picture frame.

As with any decision, there is often a downside for the pressure applied to the edges created shortcomings in the execution of the crown, the central part of the design.

The crown in most Type I Adelaide Pounds is slightly flattened and although some might suggest that the flattening is due to wear, this is simply not the case. There was insufficient pressure on the central part of the dies to create the perfect crown.

There is another upside to the cracking disaster. Because the coin was considered 'imperfect' very few examples were put aside as souvenirs, making Type I Adelaide Pounds extremely scarce.

The challenge for Type II buyers

Relaxing the pressure in the production of the second run of Adelaide Pounds lengthened the die usage but created its own shortcomings. For once the pressure was reduced, the perfection that was achieved in the edges of the Cracked Die was simply not achievable.

Most Type II Adelaide Pounds will have some weakness in their edges in the Government Assay Office area. But nearly always, the crown design is perfectly executed with flattened areas simply due to wear.

The challenge for collectors is to find an Adelaide Pound Type II that shows maximum strength in the edges. And they do exist!

We follow a rule of thumb when it comes to selecting Adelaide Pounds, and you will not go far wrong in selecting a nice example by following our protocols.

Start with the edges and work your way in. Confirm the strength of the edge denticles and the legend Government Assay Office. And then move inwards to the crown. Lastly examine the fields.

So which one is more available? Type I or Type II?

Aside from the design difference between the Type I and Type II Adelaide Pounds, there is a drastic difference in their availability. There are perhaps forty of the Type I Adelaide Pounds available to collectors. If we translate that figure to frequency of sightings, we would expect a Type I to come up for sale once every few years.

There are perhaps two hundred and fifty of the Type II available to collectors and we would expect several examples, across a broad range of qualities, to come up for sale annually.

The difference in availability quite obviously creates an enormous price disparity. With a Type I Adelaide Pound you are looking at $100,000-plus. A Type II Adelaide Pound is a $20,000-plus coin.

History of the 1852 Adelaide Pound

The discovery of gold in the 1850s is one of the most extraordinary chapters in Australian history, transforming the economy. And transforming our society for it marked the beginnings of a modern multi-cultural Australia instigated by mass migration, particularly from China.  

Several coins were spawned by the Gold Rush, including our first gold coin, the 1852 Adelaide Pound.

It was struck in Adelaide at the South Australian Government Assay Office without the sanction of the British Government or the approval of Queen Victoria.

To validate their actions in circumventing Royal protocols, the South Australian Legislators found a loophole in the Government’s regulations and passed the Bullion Act, that allowed them to create their own mint and strike gold ingots. And eventually strike gold coins.

The Bullion Act No 1 of 1852 has a record unique in Australian history. A special session of Parliament was convened to consider it. Parliament met at noon on the 28 January 1852.

The Bill was read and promptly passed three readings and was then forwarded to the Lieutenant Governor and immediately received his assent. It was one of the quickest pieces of legislation on record, with the whole proceedings taking less than two hours.

Thirteen days after the passing of the Act, on 10 February 1852, the Government Assay office was opened. Its activities were supported by a state government initiative to provide armed escorts to bring back the gold from the Victorian diggings.

The Assay Office was effectively Australia's first mint, be it unofficial. Its sole purpose was to assay gold nuggets brought from the Victorian goldfields and to re-shape them into ingots. No minting expertise was required in the casting of the ingots.

Nine months later, following agitation from Adelaide’s business community, legislation was passed that authorised the Government Assay Office to strike gold coins. Within a week of opening, 600 gold Adelaide Pounds had been delivered to the South Australian Banking Company, 100 of which were sent to London.

Suddenly precision was required. The design was intricate, created by colonial die sinker and engraver, Joshua Payne. So, it was always going to be a tough ask for a factory to start churning out currency to a defined weight and design.

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 and very few actually circulated. The official and recorded mintage of the nation’s first gold coin, the 1852 Adelaide Pound, was 24,648.

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.

The 1852 Adelaide Pound was as unofficial as you could get but it saved the colony of South Australia from bankruptcy. A simple case where the end justified the means.

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