News & Views


The rumblings of a Republican movement were heard in Australia in 1919. The Federal Labor Government planned to discard the traditional British round penny and halfpenny designs replacing them with square coins featuring Australia's native bird, the kookaburra.


Square Halfpenny Banner Image November 2017

The change to incorporate Australia's native bird onto our coinage was politically motivated.

A wave of nationalism was sweeping the country post World War I and the Government saw political advantage in tapping into the mood of the people by introducing a uniquely Australian flavour to our coinage.

A 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 be accepted.

A new metal was also contemplated. The square kookaburra coins were tested in cupro-nickel.  

Trials 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. It is believed that over the three year period 200 pieces, of various designs, were produced.

The response to Australia’s square coinage was however 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 offers collectors the challenge they so often seek.

 


1919. And the Square Penny trials begin at the Melbourne Mint. 

1919 Square Penny Type 6 rev Large B&B February 2018

1919 Type 6 Square Penny.

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

The Type 3 is the most readily available of those dated 1919. And for collectors, this is indeed a plus. While the other types are scarcer, that rarity comes at a far higher price. And while you might have to wait two years for a nice Type 3, you could be waiting a decade for the others. The table below presents our estimates on the numbers of cupro-nickel kookaburra coins available to private collectors.

Type 3 Penny                    15

Type 4 Penny                     4

Type 5 Penny                     8

Type 6 Penny                     8

Le Souef, the Deputy Mint Master of the Melbourne Mint struck the Type 4, 5 and 6 designs in Sterling Silver for his personal collection. They are referred to as the Type 4A, Type 5A and Type 6A Square Pennies. Only one of each coin was struck and today they are held by private collectors. The table above reflects cupro-nickel coins. 

Check out the different designs, both obverse and reverse, of the 1919 Square Kookaburras.
Type 3 Square Penny

1919 Type 3 Square Penny

The Type 3 Square Penny has a unique kookaburra design and a unique style of lettering for the words 'ONE PENNY'.  A high quality Type 3 will have smooth satin surfaces and proof-like characteristics.

type 4 square penny pair

1919 Type 4 Square Penny

The Type 4 Square Penny is, along with the Type 8, the rarest in the series. We have recorded the sale of only three Type 4 Square Pennies, the last occurring in 2018 for $150,000. The Type 4 has the same kookaburra design as the Type 6.

Type 5 Square Penny Pair

1919 Type 5 Square Penny

The Type 5 Square Penny has a unique kookaburra design. While we contend that eight Type 5 Square Pennies would be available to private collectors, two of those have been defaced by graffiti, thereby reducing the pool of quality coins.

Type 6 Square Penny Pair

1919 Type 6 Square Penny

A top quality Type 6 Square Penny is a coin to behold, pale blue toning and smooth almost proof-like surfaces. While the Type 4 and Type 6 share the same kookaburra design, they have different obverse designs.


1920. The Square Penny trials continue and include production of a Square Halfpenny.

In 1920, the Melbourne Mint tested five different square penny designs and they are referred to as the Type 7, Type 8, Type 9, Type 10 and Type 13. In the same year, the mint tested a square halfpenny referred to as the
Type 1.

The year 1920 is a powerful one in the numismatic industry for it holds some of Australia's greatest coin rarities that include the nation's rarest florin, most valuable sovereign, most valuable shilling and most valuable square kookaburra in the 1920 Square Halfpenny. 

The very reason why the kookaburra coins dated 1920 are considered the 'glamour' coins of the entire series.

The table below presents an estimate on the numbers of cupro-nickel kookaburra coins available to private collectors. 

Type 1 Halfpenny              3 

Type 7 Penny                   12 

Type 8 Penny                     4 

Type 9 Penny                     7 

Type 10 Penny                   7 

Type 13 Penny                   0 (One held in Museum of Victoria.)

1920 Square Halfpenny Image February 2019

1920 Type 1 Square Halfpenny.             

1920 Type 10 Square Penny obv large April 2019

1920 "Crowned Head" Type 10 Square Penny.

Check out the different designs, both obverse and reverse, of the 1920 Square Kookaburras.
Type 1 Square Halfpenny Pair

1920 Type 1 Square Halfpenny

The 1920 Type 1 Square Halfpenny is one of the nation's great Commonwealth coin rarities. The coin is valued at about $450,000 and is, along with the Sterling Silver Square Penny, the most valuable in the series.

Type 7 Square Penny Pair

Type 7 Square Penny

The Type 7 kookaburra design is shared by the Type 9 and Type 10. The Type 7 Square Penny is the most popular of those dated 1920 simply because it is accessible and affordable.

Type 8 Square Penny Pair

Type 8 Square Penny

The Type 8 Square Penny is extremely rare and is, along with the Type 4, the rarest in the series. The Type 8 Square Penny has a unique kookaburra and a unique obverse design. We have recorded the sale of only two Type 8 Square Pennies. 

Type 9 Square Penny Pair

Type 9 Square Penny

The Square Pennies, Type 3 up to and including the Type 8 have circular legends on the obverse. The Type 9 has a square legend on the obverse. It is the uniqueness of the design and its scarcity that makes it a highly valued piece.

Test Type 10 Square Penny Pair

Type 10 Square Penny

The Type 10 Square Penny is the only square penny to show a crowned monarch and is generally referred to as the "Crowned Head" Square Penny. The coin is acknowledged as one of Australia’s greatest Commonwealth coin rarities because of its unique design.

Test Type 13 Square Penny Pair

Type 13 Square Penny

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 known example.


1921. The final year of minting of the Square Penny and Square Halfpenny.

1921 Type 11 Square Penny Choice Unc rev October 2018

1921 Type 11 Square Penny.

In 1921, the Melbourne Mint struck its second square halfpenny. We refer to it as the Type 2.

The mint tested a further two square penny designs referred to as the Type 11 and Type 12.

Those coins dated 1921 are the most readily available of the series and for collectors this is indeed a plus because they are the most affordable entry point into this very exciting series. 

The table below presents an estimate on the numbers available to private collectors. 

Type 2 Halfpenny             9

Type 11 Penny                20

Type 12 Penny                40

Check out the different designs, both obverse and reverse, of the 1921 Square Kookaburras.
Type 2 Square Halfpenny Pair

1921 Type 2 Square Halfpenny

The collector that wishes to acquire a square halfpenny has only two options, the halfpenny dated 1920 or that dated 1921. The 1921 Square Halfpenny receives the full force of collector attention simply because of the extreme scarcity (and price) of the 1920 Square Halfpenny.

Type 11 Square Penny Pair

Type 11 Square Penny

The affordability of the 1921 Square Pennies makes them a very popular choice for buyers keen to enter the series. The Type 11 Square Pennies generally come with glorious proof-like surfaces.

Type 12 Square Penny Pair

Type 12 Square Penny

While we suggest that 40 examples of the 1921 Type 12 Square Penny may exist, the collector that introduces quality into the selection process will find that the pool of available examples is vastly reduced. Note the Type 2 1921 Square Halfpenny and the Type 12 1921 Square Penny share the same kookaburra design. 


Collectors have many options when it comes to the Kookaburra coin series. All of them are exciting and satisfying. And achievable.

  • You can buy one Square Penny. And savour the moment of possessing one of Australia’s classic coin rarities. We have not met a client that hasn’t enjoyed the experience of owning a Kookaburra Pattern coin. They are engaging. And they are prestigious.
  • You can buy one Square Halfpenny. As you can see from our options below, the Square Halfpenny is an elusive and yet integral element of the Square Kookaburra coin series. And so, a natural choice for those buyers who have a prime investment focus.
  • You can buy a Square Penny and a Square Halfpenny. The easiest pairing here is the 1921 Square Penny and 1921 Square Halfpenny.  The perfect pair and extremely rare.
  • A Date Set. Many collectors strive to acquire a date set of Square Pennies, involving a selection of three coins, one struck in 1919, 1920 and 1921. Your pick of design.
  • A date set. And a halfpenny. Collectors that have followed the date set pathway nine times out of ten opt for a Square Halfpenny, just to complete a run of four.
  • And we also have several collectors that are moving to acquire the lot! Every Square Penny and Square Halfpenny design that is available to collectors. Challenging and yet achievable.

The Kookaburra coin series was thrown into the spotlight in 1954 when Geoff K Gray Auctions sold off the collection of the late Sir Marcus Clark.

Active bidding saw a 1921 Square Penny and Square Halfpenny sell for £36. As a point of comparison, a Ferdinand VII Holey Dollar sold for £72 10/- in the same auction. (That same coin sold last year by Coinworks and is today a $500,000 item).

The demand for the Square Pennies continued throughout the late 50s and into the 60s with the Australian Coin Review (the industry magazine at the time owned by respected Australian collector John Gartner) reporting on the ever-increasing prices the coins were fetching at auction.

Strong collector and investor interest in the Square Kookaburras continue to this day.

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.

The very reason why we always talk "quality" when it comes to the kookaburra coins.


Browse & Buy
Recent Sales
Latest Catalogue
News & Views

CONTACT

Suite 17, 210 Toorak Road South Yarra 3141
PO Box 1060 Hawksburn Victoria Australia 3142

© Copyright: Coinworks 

BE INFORMED

Discover new coins and collections added weekly.