It’s Australia’s rarest circulation coin and despite its diminutive size, the 1922/21 overdate threepence punches well above its weight in claiming its rightful place as part of numismatic folklore.
Even in very worn condition, the counter stamp “2” over “1” is very obvious. It’s the “how “ and “why” it exits, in the first place, that has collectors and mint officials at loggerheads. It’s an argument that has raged for well over 80 years with the same futile result as trying to change someone’s opinion on religion, politics or tea versus coffee.
The outcome of all this research – and speculation – has done little to unite the various factions. Probably the closest we will ever get to forming a consensus is to borrow a quote from British wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. In attempting to explain the machinations of the post war Soviet Government, the whimsical MP suggested it was akin to a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
This tiny lightweight has been the subject of countless club magazines and newsletter articles since the mid-1950’s. In 1971, the Royal Australian Mint tried to end the speculation by issuing a press release claiming the “overdate” was nothing more than a “filled die.”
Wizened dealers and collectors would have none of it! To them it was a deliberate attempt for the government of the day to save money. Probably not the most effective way to introduce a convincing argument; but the fact remains that as 1922 dawned, the Melbourne Mint had a number of unused 1921 dies but no fresh 1922 replacements available until January 29th.
Many numismatic enthusiasts, including myself, believe that one of these superseded dies was, literally, pressed into service by placing a punch with a numeral “2” over the last “1” of the date and giving it a good whack with a suitably blunt instrument.
This was the argument that the first Controller of the Royal Australian Mint, Mr Len Henderson, tried to downplay in his report 50 years ago. He argued that no self-respecting employee of a mint bearing the Royal cipher would either produce, or condone, such a crude piece of workmanship.
While it is commendable that Mr Henderson tried to protect the reputation of the mint, his explanation was a bit light on facts for many numismatists.
When Mr Henderson put forward his explanation that the overdate was the result of a chipped, oily, or rusty die, he neglected to acknowledge the list of other ‘elephants’ in the room!
Hiding in plain sight, collectors were quick to point out the existence of at least three other examples of coins bearing altered dies that appeared in the George V series alone. All came after the 1922/21 overdate; so if these were also the result of a faulty die, the precision and neatness of the end result is truly remarkable.
As well as another threepence contender from the 1930’s, other examples – and denominations include the 1933/32 penny; the 1925/23 One Shillling and the 1934/33 overdate threepence.
While it could be argued that the artistic workmanship of the 1922/21 overdate resembled a train crash, the same could not be said of the other above-mentioned pieces. The placement of the date punch and its ability to almost completely obscure the original date underneath is a thing of beauty.
Two of the above overdates, the penny and the threepence, coincided with the Great Depression that engulfed most of the globe from 1929 to around 1936. Perhaps, again, these issues were a means of belt tightening during difficult times and an attempt by the government not to waste taxpayers money. Let’s just go with that thought anyway!
The 1934/33 raises another issue that, may or may not, have a connection to the 1930-penny. Like the 1922/21 threepence, it is not hard to get into an argument about how the 1930 penny came into being and how, and why, examples filtered into circulation.
There is no disputing that dies for a proposed general issue of 1930 pennies were prepared. The fact that the issue was not produced in large quantities was probably because there were already enough coins in circulation to support the shrinking economy.
This raises the conundrum surrounding the 1934/33 overdate threepence. The coin in question is certainly an unmistakable 1934 issue. Improved photographic and scanning techniques clearly show that the underscored numeral is a three.
This would indicate that the elephants are really starting to herd and in need of another insightful comment from Sir Winston to explain. The short answer is, there were no 1933 threepences struck for circulation.
Could this be a case that is similar to the 1930 penny? Dies were produced but existing levels of circulating threepences were sufficient, In short, there was no need for more threepences.
This logic seems to be bourne out by studying the production of other denominations in 1933. There were no 1933 sixpences struck; the 1933 shilling is the rarest date with a mere 220,000 struck and the 1933 florin being the second lowest mintage behind the 1932 florin. Without trying to labour the point, it would appear that an economically responsible government was keen to convert unwanted 1933 dies into useful 1934 circulation coins.
The 1925/23 overdate shilling is a similar – but different! While passing as a 1925 issue, it appears to have been originally a 1923 dated piece. No circulation coins dated 1923 are known to exist; as was the case with the 1933 threepences.
What makes this coin unique as an overdate is that it is the only issue that appears as a Proof. Such coins are usually produced from specially prepared dies. The proof example in the Museums Victoria collection is an overdate.
Again this could be considered as another cost cutting measure. If this is the case, then extended scales of economy would suggest that even the specially prepared and polished dies were pressed into service once the VIP and record strikings were completed.
An article that appeared on the internet suggests that an unopened mint roll of 1925 shillings were found alongside a similar roll of 1931 shillings. Of interest, according to the source, all the 1925 coins were overdates.
What is also interesting is that the 1922/21 has garnered so much attention when compared to the other four coins. Admittedly the 1922/21 overdate is more defined and easier to identify than the other issues that have almost seamless features.
Probably one factor that helped promote the 1922/21 overdate above all others was the introduction of the “Hendo” cardboard, fold out albums in the mid 1960’s. These allowed a circular hole [supposedly] the same diameter as the denomination. Each space was dated and the idea was to push the coin into the void.
Not all holes were created equal, and I now shudder to recall that some coins needed to be persuaded to fit neatly in the hole with the help of a hammer.
This was especially so with the pennies. Not that I ever got the chance to “flatten” a 1930 penny. My album offered a subtle hint that I wasn’t going to find the elusive rare date. My album didn’t have the space for the 1930 coin fully punched out. It was sort of covered with a perforated plug that could be removed if the impossible happened. It never did!
For a long time I thought the chance of finding a 1922/21 overdate threepence was half reasonable as there was a bespoke spot for the overdate along with a space for the 1922M and 1922 no M.
I was none too pleased to find out, years later that at around 900 known examples I had at least double the chances of getting a 1930 penny that had a ‘guesstimated’ mintage of 1,500 to 3,000.
The other common denominator both coins share is that nearly all the known examples have been well circulated. Even the lowest standard grade of “good” is being generous to most 1922/21 overdate threepence.
A grade described as ‘clapped out” would cover most of the known survivors and not nearly be as confusing as the grades “Good” and “Very Good” that really lose something in translation as a grade. It’s a bit like saying that Donatella Versace’s plastic surgery has made her look “Good” or “Very Good” rather than someone who had an “Extremely Fine” chance of applying for Witness Protection.
Up until recently only four overdate threepences were known to be at the higher end of the grading scale.
The example offered here by Coinworks is the best of the best and carries on the firm’s long held reputation of trading in high quality numismatic items.