Technical details of the Kangaroo Office Sixpence
Displays a broad engine-turned rim encircling a superb portrait of Queen Victoria and the words VICTORIA and AUSTRALIA embedded in the rim.
Displays a broad engine-turned rim encircling a large figure ‘6’ in the centre and the words SIX PENCE embedded in the rim.
Soon after the opening of the Adelaide Assay Office in 1852, and the striking of the Adelaide Pound - the nation's first gold coin - there was an attempt to establish a private mint in Melbourne.
The mint was called the Kangaroo Office. Its prime goal was to buy gold at cheap prices direct from the fields and convert the precious metal into 'coins' of a fixed weight that would be released at their full value in London.
The plan was devised by English entrepreneur, William Joseph Taylor.
By trade Taylor was an engraver and die sinker, active in the numismatic industry producing both coins and medals. He formed a syndicate to finance the operations with two colleagues, Hodgkin and Tyndall. The total investment was £13,000.
Numismatist or just shrewd businessman?
Taylor's mint was only one component of a broader-reaching enterprise that was based in London. The overall plan was to profit from all aspects of the Gold Rush and included a clipper ship - called the Kangaroo - that would bring migrants and goods from England to Melbourne and return with gold in its specially outfitted strongroom.
The Kangaroo sailed from London on 26 June 1853. On board, the pre-fabricated structure to house the mint and the shop. And the coining press, dies and two employees, Reginald Scaife, the Manager, and William Morgan Brown, his assistant. The ship arrived at Hobsons Bay, Melbourne on 26 October 1853.
The Kangaroo Office got off to a bad start as there were no facilities at the wharf for off-loading heavy equipment, such as the coining press. With no other option available, the press was dismantled, moved and reassembled, a process that took six months.
1854 and the Kangaroo Office was up and running
The Kangaroo Office eventually commenced operations in May 1854, striking gold coins. To thwart currency laws, the designs were made to look more like weights than coins. Taylor himself cut the dies for a 2oz, 1oz, 1/2oz and ¼oz gold piece, each dated 1853.
The coins were exhibited at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1854 (17 October - 12 December) and were written up in the Argus Newspaper as "several tokens of pure Australian gold were exhibited by Mr. Khull, bullion broker. They were manufactured by Mr. Scaiffe and are to be exhibited at our Palace of Industry."(Sadly a price was never quoted.)
Apart from the logistical difficulties of setting up business, the financial viability of the Kangaroo Office came under an immediate cloud.
By mid-1854 when the mint became operational the price of gold had moved up to £4/4/- an ounce, vastly different to the £2/15/- per ounce when the plan was hatched. And there was a glut of English sovereigns in circulation.
By the middle of 1854, Reginald Scaiffe, the Kangaroo Office Manager, had an overwhelming sense of failure for the shop had taken less than £1 in trading, he had a ten-year lease, could not find cheap labour. Nor cheap gold. And basically had no customers.
Despite the financial challenges of the operation Taylor was unconvinced that his days as a coin designer and manufacturer were at an end.
1855 and a new plan emerges ,,, silver and copper coins
In 1855 he produced dies for the striking of a sixpence and shilling in gold, silver and copper. This was his first attempt at producing a piece depicting a value rather than a weight.
The coins featured the same broad engine-turned rim as the earlier minted gold coins. The obverse however featured a superb portrait of Queen Victoria with VICTORIA and AUSTRALIA embedded in the rim. The reverse featured the denomination in figures at the centre and in letters embedded in the rim above.
William Taylor also produced patterns for a fourpence and twopence struck in copper; the former featuring Britannia on the obverse and the figure ‘4’ on an engine turned background. The twopence features the kangaroo with Melbourne above it: the obverse similar in style to the fourpence.
Taylor operated his Kangaroo Office for three years during which time he sustained substantial losses. With all hope of a profit gone, the dispirited promoters in London issued instructions for the Kangaroo Office to be closed.
Now while it is true that Taylor never achieved his ambitions, the Kangaroo Office coins are revered by Australian collectors. And collectors right across the globe.