No one could have envisaged in 1919 when the Australian Government directed the mint master of the Melbourne Mint to strike the Square Penny that the coin would one day become a world class rarity.
In 1919, the Labor Government proposed a currency change to incorporate Australia’s native bird - the kookaburra - into the nation’s coinage. The Government wanted to break away from British designs and introduce a uniquely Australian style into our currency.
The mooted change was politically motivated. A wave of nationalism was sweeping the country post World War I and the Government saw advantage in tapping into the mood of the nation. A laughing kookaburra design and the depiction of the monarch without a crown were two of the elements of the new coinage that while highly contentious and provocative, the Government believed would now be accepted.
Tests commenced at the Melbourne Mint in 1919 and continued until 1921 with the test pieces ultimately passed to dignitaries and Government officials to assess their reaction. History indicates that over the three year period 200 pieces, of various designs, were produced.
Public reaction to the introduction of the square coinage was poor.
There was widespread public resistance to change, while the elderly rejected the small size of the coins.
However, the final decision not to proceed seems to have been based mainly on another consideration – the large number of vending machines then in operation requiring a circular coin.
The impetus for change was further eroded when William Watt, the most influential advocate of the nickel kookaburras, suddenly resigned his position as Treasurer before the necessary regulations were in place.
The kookaburra coins never went into production and Australia lost a great opportunity to go its own way.
But with only the 200 prototypes to show as evidence of the Government’s grand scheme, Australian coinage gained another wonderful coin rarity.
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