News & Views

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.

Square Halfpenny Banner Image November 2017

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 people.

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.

Some say it was the rumblings of a Republican movement way ahead of its time.

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.

Four different coin designs were tested in 1919 and we refer to them as the Type 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Five were tested in 1920 and they are referred to as the Type 7, 8, 9, 10 and 13.

The out of step sequence in those dated 1920 occurred with a discovery in the mid-1970s during a stocktake at the Melbourne Mint when a previously unrecorded design, the kookaburra with a raised tail, was found. 

It is the only example known, although Coinworks has a copy of a letter penned by numismatist Ray Jewell in 1967 that indicates he had sighted an example of the ‘raised tail’ kookaburra mooting the possibility that another example may exist, in private hands.

Only two designs were tested in 1921 and we refer to them as the Type 11 and Type 12.

The mint tested the production of square halfpennies in 1920 and 1921 producing coins that while absolutely engaging, highlighted the impracticalities of a diminutive sized square coinage. They are referred to as the Type 1 and Type 2.

The response to Australia’s 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 collector piece. And a prized coin rarity.

For many collectors the fascination with the Square Penny and Halfpenny takes them on a journey to acquire more than one example. The coins are engaging and their rarity offer collectors the challenge they so often seek.

Coinworks acknowledges the use of the Renniks Type Numbers.


The first year of testing at the Melbourne Mint

The Melbourne Mint tested four different kookaburra square penny designs in 1919 and we refer to them as the Type 3, 4, 5 and 6.

The Type 3 is the most readily available of those dated 1919.

While the other types are far scarcer, collectors must appreciate that they will come at a higher price. And may only become available once or twice in a decade.




1919 ... the first year of minting of the Square Penny.

Type 3 Square Penny

Type 3 Square Penny

The Type 3 Square Penny is the most available of those dated 1919 with perhaps fifteen available to collectors. We qualify this by saying the Type 3 also is the most affordable of those dated 1919. Toning can be an issue with the Type 3 Square Pennies. Harsh, irregular toning impacts on eye appeal. When they are nice however they are truly nice with smooth satin surfaces and proof-like characteristics.

The Type 3 has a unique kookaburra design.

Type 5 Square Penny Pair

Type 5 Square Penny

We estimate that there are perhaps eight Type 5 Square Penny examples available to private collectors. Quality is indeed a consideration when it comes to assessing their availability. We know that two out of the eight have been defaced by graffiti, thereby reducing the pool of quality coins available to buyers.

The Type 5 has a unique kookaburra design.


type 4 square penny pair

Type 4 Square Penny

​The Type 4 is extremely rare and in my view is, along with the Type 8, the rarest in the series with perhaps four available to private collectors. Affirmation of its scarcity, Coinworks has only ever sold two Type 4 Square Pennies, both of which have shown minimal toning with very attractive smooth surfaces. (Our last recorded sale was in 2014, the coin selling for $145,000.)

The Type 4 shares the same kookaburra design as the Type 6.

Type 6 Square Penny Pair

Type 6 Square Penny

We estimate that there are perhaps eight Type 6 Square Pennies available to private collectors. The Type 6 has a beautifully sculptured portrait design that saw it continue into 1920. We have seen huge variations in quality amongst the Type 6 Pennies: they  either come very nice or at the other end of the spectrum, very poor indeed. There seems to be very little in between. A top quality Type 6 Square Penny is a coin to behold, pale blue toning and smooth almost proof-like surfaces.

1920 - the second year of minting of the Square Penny.

Type 7 Square Penny Pair

Type 7 Square Penny

We estimate that there are perhaps twelve Type 7 Square Penniess available to private collectors. We have seen a great variation in quality amongst the Type 7. We have seen them proof like. And we have seen them satiny. Streaky toning is very common. While minor spotting is acceptable, heavy spotting can be a negative force which effectively reduces the pool of available examples if you are a collector driven by perfection.

The Type 7 kookaburra design is shared by the Type 9 and Type 10.

Type 9 Square Penny Pair

Type 9 Square Penny

Design trait –  all of the Square Pennies, Type 3 up to and including the Type 8 have circular legends on the obverse. In the Type 9 Square Penny, the Melbourne Mint introduced a square legend on the obverse. It is  the uniqueness of the design and its scarcity that  makes it a highly valued piece.

Type 8 Square Penny Pair

Type 8 Square Penny

The Type 8 is extremely rare and in our view is, along with the Type 4, the rarest in the series. Affirmation of its scarcity, Coinworks has only ever sold two Type 8 Square Pennies.

The portrait of George V on the Type 8 is sensational: sculpted and three dimensional. 

The kookaburra design is unique to the Type 8.

Type 10 Square Penny Pair

Type 10 Square Penny

Design trait –  the Type 10 Square Penny also is acknowledged as one of Australia’s greatest Commonwealth coin rarities. The Square Penny was a very contentious issue at the time as the designs depicted George V without a crown. The Type 10  Square Penny is the only Square Penny to show a crowned monarch. As such it is a unique design type. And highly valued.

1921 - the third and final year of minting of the Square Penny.

Type 11 Square Penny Pair

Type 11 Square Penny

We estimate that approximately 20 of the 1921 Type 11 Square Pennies are available to collectors. The affordability of the 1921 Square Pennies makes them a very popular choice for buyers keen to buy into the series. 

The Type 11 Square Pennies generally come with glorious proof-like surfaces.

Type 12 Square Penny Pair

Type 12 Square Penny

The 1921 Type 12 Square Penny is a tough one as the majority of examples are marred by unsightly toning and spotting. So while we suggest that 40 examples of the 1921 Type 12 Square Penny may exist, once the buyer introduces quality protocols into the selection process the pool of available examples is vastly reduced.

1920 and 1921 - the years in which the mint produced a Square Halfpenny

Type 1 Square Halfpenny Pair

1920 Type 1 Square Halfpenny

Type 2 Square Halfpenny Pair

1921 Type 2 Square Halfpenny

Type 13 Square Penny

Type 13 Square Penny Pair

Type 13 Square Penny

The Square Pennies were test pieces. They were not struck to the exacting standards of proof coining. 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. Hence our emphasis throughout this publication on quality.

So what design to pick? and how to approach the series.

It is a statement of fact that all square pennies and halfpennies are rare. It also is a statement of fact that some designs are more ‘readily available’ than others. First up let’s consider the use of the term ‘readily available’.

While some design types are more ‘readily available’ than others you have to put those two words into perspective. The 1921 Type 12 Square Penny is the most readily available out of all the coins in the series with perhaps 40 examples known.

This is a minuscule number when you start talking 1930 Pennies, where 1500 to 2000 are believed to exist.

We also acknowledge that while some design types are rarer than others, that rarity ultimately means a higher price structure. The rarer the sector, the greater the financial outlay. A Type 1 Square Halfpenny with three known can be a $450,000 plus item. A 1921 Type 12 Square Penny $45,000. There is a big difference. Not necessarily in their potential. But the capital outlay required of the buyer. Because both coins, the Type 1 Square Halfpenny and the Type 12 Square Penny will enjoy capital growth over the mid to long term (subject to the price paid).

In our view the availability of a quality Square Penny or a quality Square Halfpenny is an opportunity (with the emphasis on quality). If you happen to be offered one of exceptional rarity then the opportunity is even more profound.

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