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A national treasure, Australia’s 1930 Penny

A national treasure, Australia's 1930 Penny.

The 1930 Penny is more than just Australia’s most famous coin, it is a national icon. With somewhere between 1500 and 3000 in collectors’ hands, even a well-used example may be worth over $20,000. Has one coin ever had such a place in a country’s history? Before the arrival of decimal currency in 1966, no Australian – man, woman or child – could look at a penny without glancing at the date …just in case.

Children would huddle in school yards, rifling through their lunch money. No coin jar was safe from scrutiny. Even years after decimal currency, the backs of grandmothers’ sofas continued to be searched.

And why not? The 1930 penny was a part of Australian folklore. It was everyone’s chance to make big money fast.

Newspapers added to the hype with lists of Australian coins and their market value. Throughout the 60s, headlines screamed “Have You Cashed in on Australia’s Coin Craze Yet?” and “A Penny Could be Worth £500!”

What’s most interesting is that the 1930 Penny stumbled into fame. While mint records indicate that six 1930 Pennies were struck to proof quality, they also indicate that no pennies were struck for circulation that year.

But as we know, a small number of them were accidentally released into circulation – somewhere between 1500 and 3000. That mistake started a craze that continues to this day.

The original hysteria was further fuelled by the imminent changeover to decimal currency. With thousands of undiscovered rare coins certain to be melted down, collectors keen to complete full sets of Australian coins clamoured to acquire the elusive pieces, at rapidly escalating prices.

There are no pennies being checked in schoolyards any more, but for many people the search still goes on for our most famous penny. And grandma’s sofa is still worth the occasional search.

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