News & Views


Australia’s Classic Rarities. Rare coins that have timeless appeal.


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Rare coins that have timeless appeal. In this, we are talking about the nation’s first silver coins, the 1813 Holey Dollar and 1813 Dump, the inspiration of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

And the nation’s first gold coins spawned by the Gold Rush of 1851, the 1852 Adelaide Pound Type I and Type II. And the 1855 Sovereign and 1855 Half Sovereign.

We are also talking about the nation’s first cupro-nickel coin, a penny that featured Australia’s native bird, the kookaburra, the 1919 Kookaburra Penny .

And last, and by no means least, the coin struck during the Depression, that brought instant wealth to its owners, the 1930 Penny.

These coins present a timeline of key points in Australia’s history.

They are highlights of our financial history and for collectors, highlights of our numismatic history. They also define Australians as people, our psyche, our entrepreneurial spirit and our resilience as a nation.

They set the framework for today's coin collectors.


Start your collecting journey …

If you are setting out on your journey to acquire Australia’s classic coin rarities, let our charts be your guide and your starting point.

Our first chart details the eight coins referred to above and their original mintage. With regards to the 1919 Square Penny and the 1930 Penny the mintage figures are only estimates as there is no official record of the numbers struck. (Denoted by an * in the chart.)

For collectors the key to evaluating the rarity of a coin (and hence its value) is to look beyond the mintage and assess its availability.

The availability is an indication of the number of examples available to collectors in a lifetime of collecting. When you consider the number of collectors (worldwide) that are potential buyers of Australia's classic coins, you have a better understanding of just how extraordinarily scarce they are.

For example, it is noted that the original mintage of the Holey Dollar is 39,910. The coins were demonetised in 1829 with the vast majority recalled and melted down.

Today there are approximately 200 examples held by private collectors with perhaps 100 held in museums. The figure '200' is the critical one for collectors. The original mintage is to a certain extent irrelevant.

The availability of 200 Holey Dollars, of varying qualities and varying prices, means that if a collector passes on an example in one particular year, he/she is quite likely to see another within two years … the downside being that prices will most likely have risen in the intervening time.

The second chart details the number of top tier examples, with the quality range that defines ‘top tier’ indicated in brackets. It is an interesting exercise in relativity, if nothing else.

The extreme rarity of the 'top tier' classics helps us understand why such pieces are so sought after. And why they command such high prices.

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Chart 1. The original mintage. And the availability in today's collector market of the Holey Dollar, Dump, Adelaide Pound Type I and II, 1855 Sovereign and Half Sovereign, 1919 Square Penny and 1930 Penny.

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Chart 2. Our estimates of the number of 'top tier' coins, with the quality range defined by that term indicated in the bracket. The figures are based on auction data and Coinworks private sales.


The 1813 Holey Dollar and Dump

The Holey Dollar and Dump are the nation’s first coins struck in 1813 under the direction of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

The British Government had no capacity to supply Macquarie with metal blanks to create Australia’s first coinage so, he improvised and ordered 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars - foreign coinage - to use as his substitute for blanks.

Macquarie enlisted the services of William Henshall, a convicted forger, to cut a hole in each dollar thereby creating two silver pieces out of one. The donut shaped silver piece was over stamped with the date 1813 and New South Wales around the edge of the hole and became the Holey Dollar with a monetary value of five shillings. The small disc that fell out of the centre of the silver dollar was over stamped with the date 1813, New South Wales and a Crown and became the Dump and given a monetary value of fifteen pence.

The shipment of 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars was converted into 39,910 Holey Dollars and 39,910 Dumps. Spoilage, mishaps during the minting process, and specimens sent to Great Britain as an official record of the striking account for the missing coins.

It is open to debate as to whether the Holey Dollars and Dumps solved the penal colony’s currency crisis. There is no debate however that the issuing of Australia’s first coinage symbolised the changing dynamics of the penal colony.

New South Wales had started out in 1788 as a jail, a repository for miscreants, under the governorship of Captain Arthur Philip. It had emerged some twenty-five years later as a thriving economy requiring a formal medium of exchange to support a burgeoning commercial hub.

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Useful information if you are buying a Holey Dollar

The first step in the task of acquiring a Holey Dollar is to set your budget. Holey Dollars are available in price ranges to suit all budgets, starting at $50,000 for a heavily circulated example up to the very best examples at $400,000-plus.

Quality is the prime force in determining the value of a Holey Dollar, but it is not the only force in setting a value. And herein lies the interest and intrigue of the coin.  

Lachlan Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish Silver dollars to create Australia’s first coins. The order was not date specific, so any date would do. Any monarch would suffice, Charles III, Charles IV, Ferdinand VI or Ferdinand VII. Nor did he order the coins direct from a particular mint. The shipment came from the East India Company and was comprised of coins struck in the Spanish colonies of Mexico, Peru and Bolivia with some even sourced from the motherland, Spain. And they all came at different quality levels, with the majority well worn.

The rarity of the monarch and the rarity of the mint together with its quality are the three attributes that determine the ultimate value of a Holey Dollar.

Of the 200 Holey Dollars that are available to collectors, the chart below indicates the percentage of Holey Dollars found at each quality level.

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Please advise availability and pricing information on Holey Dollars
Useful information if you are buying a Dump

When William Henshall holed the Spanish Silver Dollar, he created two pieces out of one, a donut shaped piece which became the Holey Dollar and a tiny central disc which became the Dump. Both pieces, the Dump and the Holey Dollar, have historical standing as the nation’s first coins.

The Dump, therefore, can be bought on its own merits as a collector’s item, simply because it is Australia's first coin.

It can also be acquired as a stand-alone investment piece for high quality Dumps are particularly scarce. In fact, far scarcer than a Holey Dollar in a comparable quality level and we refer you to the second chart shown above that details the availability of  'top tier' coins.

Or an 1813 Dump may be bought to partner its five shillings counterpart, the 1813 Holey Dollar. If the coin is going to be held in partnership with a Holey Dollar, then our suggestion would always be to observe the aesthetics and within reason marry the quality levels.  

While the Holey Dollar offers options for collectors of the mint, monarch and the date, the Dump also offers options. Four dies were used in the striking of the 1813 Dump and they are referenced as the A/1, D/2, C/4 and E/3 with each die producing a vastly different style of coin.

The most aesthetically pleasing Dump is that struck using the A/1 die, which produced a coin that was well centred. Of the 800 Dumps that survive today, more than 70 per cent were struck using the A/1 dies.

The D/2 die produced a coin that had some design shortcomings. Historians suggest that the D/2 die was quite possibly the first die used, for the D/2 examples invariably have partial or no  edge denticles and a partially struck legend and date indicating that the die was too large for the silver disc. Of the 800 surviving Dumps 25 per cent were struck using the D/2 die.

The C/4 and E/3 dies produced coins that were very crude and esoteric and tend to be enjoyed by collectors seeking to acquire one of every die variety. There is a suggestion that they may have been test pieces presented to Macquarie before production began. Or contemporary forgeries.

Dumps are available in price ranges to suit all budgets, starting at $10,000 for a well circulated example up to the very best examples at $100,000-plus.

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Please advise availability and pricing information on 1813 Dumps

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 at the Government Assay Office in Adelaide 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.

Australia's first mint, be it unofficial, was a Government Assay Office. Opening on 10 February 1852, 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. Suddenly precision was required. The design was intricate, created by colonial diesinker 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.

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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.

Useful information if you are buying an Adelaide Pound

Collectors have options when it comes to acquiring a Holey Dollar, they being the mint, monarch or quality of the original Spanish Dollar. And options with respect to the Dump of the A/1, D/2, C/4 or E/3 design type.

But, collectors also have options when it comes to the 1852 Adelaide Pound. Indeed, collectors have two options, the extremely rare and coveted Adelaide Pound Type I that came from the first production run of Adelaide Pounds. Or the very scarce Adelaide Pound Type II that was produced in the second production run. (The numerical reference indicating first or second.)

Question. So how do we identify coins from the first and second production run?

Answer. Both coins share the same obverse crown design but, have different reverse designs.

Coins from the first production run have a beaded inner circle surrounding the value of one pound.  Coins from the second production run have a crenelated inner circle.

But there is another very obvious difference between the two types of Adelaide Pounds. The Type I clearly evidences the disaster that occurred in the very first production run of the Adelaide Pound. That the reverse die had cracked, in the DWT section of the legend, the reason why it is also known as the Cracked Die Adelaide Pound.

Our first chart shown above, shows the drastic difference in availability of the Type I Adelaide Pound and the Type II. There are perhaps 40 of the Type I and 250 of the Type II available to collectors. The difference creates an enormous price disparity.

An average Type I Adelaide Pound is $125,000-plus with very limited availability. A Type I would become available every every few years.

An average Type II Adelaide Pound is $30,000 and several examples would be available annually.

Historians have established that disaster did strike during the early stages of the minting of the Adelaide Pound. The reverse die cracked due to the pressure applied to the edges.

There was an upside to this disaster for the coins out of the first run have 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 this is simply due to wear, this is 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 high quality Type I Adelaide Pounds extremely scarce. 

Relaxing the pressure in the production of the second run of Adelaide Pounds lengthened their 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 the 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 minimal weakness in the edges. And they definitely exist!

If you follow our rule of thumb, we don’t think you will go far wrong in selecting a nice Adelaide Pound Type II. 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.

Please advise availability and pricing information on Adelaide Pounds

1855 Sydney Mint Sovereign and Half Sovereign

The Gold Rush of 1851 spawned the striking of the nation’s first official gold coinage, a sovereign and a half sovereign struck in 1855. 

Unlike South Australia, which overcame a currency shortage by striking the Adelaide Pound, New South Wales followed protocol and petitioned for a branch of the Royal Mint London to be established in Sydney.

On the 9 August 1853 Queen Victoria gave approval to establish Australia’s very first mint at or near Sydney in New South Wales.

It was decided that, as the coin would only be legal tender in the colonies, a design specifically attributed to the Sydney Mint should be produced.

Designs of Australia’s first gold coinage were prepared in 1853 at the Royal Mint London. The Royal Mint also manufactured the dies.

The Sydney Mint was established on the site of the Rum Hospital in Macquarie Street. The mint began receiving gold on 14 May 1855 and issued its first gold sovereign soon after on June 23. Months later, the Sydney Mint issued half sovereigns.

The reverse design incorporated the words Australia and Sydney Mint, the inclusion of the word Australia, a point of fascination with historians. At the time the nation was operating as separate colonies. Australia did not operate under a single Government until Federation in 1901.

The design, referred to as the Sydney Mint design, lasted until 1870 and was the only time the word Australia appeared on our gold sovereigns. Post 1870, the nation’s sovereigns took on a traditional British design. 

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Useful information if you are buying an 1855 Sovereign

The Sydney Mint was established on the site of the Rum Hospital in Macquarie Street.

The mint began receiving gold on 14 May 1855 and issued its first gold sovereign soon after on June 23.

Months later, the Sydney Mint issued half sovereigns.

The reverse design incorporated the words Australia and Sydney Mint, the inclusion of the word Australia, a point of fascination with historians. At the time the nation was operating as separate colonies. Australia did not operate under a single Government until Federation in 1901.

The design, referred to as the Sydney Mint design, lasted until 1870 and was the only time the word Australia appeared on our gold sovereigns. Post 1870, the nation’s sovereigns took on a traditional British design.  

1855 Sydney Mint Sov Pie Chart
Please advise availability and pricing information on Sydney Mint Sovereigns
Useful information if you are buying an 1855 Half Sovereign

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Please advise availability and pricing information on Sydney Mint Half Sovereigns

The 1919 Kookaburra Square Penny

The introduction of the Kookaburra Square Penny underpinned an attempt by the then Labor Government to stir up national sentiment post World War I. To evoke the great 'Aussie' spirit.

If you think about it. Putting the nation’s native bird - the kookaburra - onto a coin was a no-brainer to achieving that goal. A drastically changed shape, a square. And a new metal, cupronickel was part of the total package to maximise impact on the nation's citizens.

The proposal was contentious in that the monarch, King George V, was to be depicted on the obverse without a crown. Some say it was the rumblings of a Republican movement way ahead of its time.

Tests commenced at the Melbourne Mint in 1919 with the test pieces ultimately passed to dignitaries and Government officials to assess their reaction.

Four different coin designs were tested in 1919 and they are referred to as the Type 3, Type 4, Type 5 and Type 6.

The Type 3 Square Penny, with its modern lettering and sleek-style kookaburra, has a design that is unique. The Type 5 Square Penny also has a unique kookaburra design. The Type 4 and Type 6 share the same kookaburra design, but have different obverse designs.

All of the 1919 Square Pennies are extremely rare. The Type 4 would become available to collectors, once in a decade and is by far the rarest of those dated 1919. The Type 5 and Type 6 Square Pennies would be seen on the market perhaps once every five years. The Type 3 with its unique design would be seen on the market perhaps once every two years. The popularity of the Type 3 becomes immediately obvious when you look at these numbers. A collector still has to wait two years for a Type 3 Square Penny ... but that's better than waiting for ten!

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Sadly, in 1921 and after three years of testing, the scheme fell apart. The response to Australia’s square coinage was poor with widespread public resistance to change and people generally rejecting 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 Square Pennies that remain today are relics of our past, and the sentiment that they stir up in the current market is collector sentiment, driven by their novel shape and their extreme rarity.

Useful information if you are buying a Square Penny

Glancing at the photo of the 1919 Type 6 Square Penny shown above, you could be forgiven for believing that the Square Pennies were struck to exacting minting standards. Dare we suggest proof quality minting standards.

But the coin shown above is an aberration and one of the finest, its supreme quality traits reflected in its strike, its surfaces and the edges.

The Square Pennies were test pieces. Trials, so they were not struck to exacting minting standards, a tell-tale sign the lack of uniformity in the width of the edges.

Given to dignitaries to assess their reaction, there was no packaging and we know that not every dignitary was a collector and would have handled them with care.

 

Some of the coins must have been tucked into a fob pocket for they have circulated. Others could have rattled around a top desk drawer. Or passed around to colleagues ... introducing multi possibilities of mishandling. So preservation is a key issue with Square Pennies.

It is noted that the Kookaburra Square Pennies tone, some more strongly than others, a reflection on their storage in the intervening years.

A Square Penny with minimal/attractive toning and beautiful surfaces is a joy to behold. And a prized classic Australian coin rarity.

Please advise availability and pricing information on Square Pennies

The 1930 Penny

The 1930 Penny is a part of Australian folklore. The coin is a national icon and its star status has made it one of Australia’s most valuable coins.

What’s most interesting is that the 1930 Penny stumbled into fame for a review of records at the Melbourne Mint confirms that apart from the six 1930 Pennies struck to proof quality, no pennies were struck for circulation in that year. 

Many theories have been put forward as to the accidental minting of the 1930 Penny. One theory suggests that a few circulating strikes may have been minted at the same time as the Proof version, set aside and inadvertently issued years later by mistake.

The more popular explanation is also the more romantic. Mint policy dictated that the dies were prepared in readiness for the striking of a penny in 1930. The Depression and the lack of economic growth meant that, apart from striking a small number of halfpennies and gold sovereigns, the Melbourne Mint became a tourist attraction. It is thought that a mint guide minted small batches of 1930 pennies for tourists as souvenirs of their visit.

The suspected mintage is about 1500 coins.

The accidental minting of the 1930 Penny was not discovered until the 1940s, dealers responding to the discovery by offering to pay up to 10/- for an example. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the 1930 Penny became a national symbol. Newspapers were instrumental in creating that image, television played a lesser role.

Lists of Australian coins and their market prices and headlines such as “Have you cashed in on Australia’s coin craze yet?” and “A Penny could be worth £500” appeared in the 60s in the daily newspapers. The nation’s rare coin market reacted in a frenzy as thousands cashed in on the opportunity to make big money.

In 1964, the Sydney Sunday Telegraph published a guide to the latest prices on Australian coins. It was the first time that such a list had been published and, while most pennies were fetching a small premium over face value, the 1930 Penny was listed at £50 in Fine condition (today that same coin would be worth more than $20,000).

By 1965, a Fine 1930 Penny had more than doubled in price to £120. By decimal changeover, the price had moved to £255 ($510) and the 1930 Penny had captured the imagination of collectors and non-collectors alike.

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Before the arrival of decimal currency in 1966, no Australian could look at a penny without glancing at the date, just in case it was the elusive ‘1930’. A product of the Depression, it was everyone’s chance to make big money fast.

The craze was fueled on the one hand by the lure of quick money and on the other by the pressure of the collector market for supplies. Decimal currency changeover posed an imminent and very real danger to coin collectors - the melting down of undiscovered rare pieces. Collectors keen to complete sets of all coins minted in Australia rushed to acquire the elusive pieces at rapidly escalating prices.

We are well into the decimal era now, so no one checks for pennies in schoolyards anymore. But maybe the backs of couches.

For many Australians however, the journey to acquire the 1930 Penny still goes on. It is to this day, Australia's favourite currency collectible.

Useful information if you are buying a 1930 Penny

For a lot of Australians, acquiring a 1930 Penny fulfills a lifetime’s ambition, a desire that began in childhood.

The first step in the task of acquiring a 1930 Penny is to set your budget.

1930 Pennies are available in price ranges to suit all budgets, starting at $20,000 for a well circulated example. A 1930 Penny, that to the naked eye, has its design details relatively intact, will be graded Very Fine and will command prices in excess of $45,000. 

A coin that has undergone minimal circulation, graded Good Very Fine or better, is an aberration (perhaps ten are known) and will command prices upwards of $90,000 up to the very best example, graded at About Uncirculated  and valued at $450,000-plus.

The best advice we can give potential 1930 Penny buyers is that irrespective of the quality level and the price, acquire a 1930 Penny that is visually very attractive and that has no obvious defects from its time in circulation.

The 1930 Penny was not discovered until the 1940s, allowing at least a decade of circulation before collectors even knew of their existence.

Which means that most of the 1930 Pennies had been handled, mishandled, dropped, scratched or rattled around in change.

Don’t accept the huge unsightly gouge. Or the massive edge knock. There will always be some signs of circulation with a 1930 Penny, but if they overwhelm the overall aesthetics of the coin, then in our view, don’t buy it.

Storage, how well a coin has been preserved, is also a contributing factor to the value of a 1930 Penny. If there are tell-tale signs of poor storage, the coin should be knocked back.

The very reason why we reject more 1930 Pennies than we accept. Our attitude with 1930 Pennies is clear. There are a number of 1930 Pennies around, but not all of them are worth having.

1930 Pie Chart 5 July 2017

The pie chart shown above shows the scarcity of a 1930 Penny at the various quality levels.

Explanation for tabs:
gVF - aUnc
Exceptional quality Good Very Fine to About Uncirculated.
aVF - VF 
High quality About Very Fine to Very Fine.
good - gF
A well circulated Good to Good Fine and the quality level at which 1930 Pennies are frequently sighted and offered.

Please advise availability and pricing information on 1930 Pennies

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