KEEP FOR TEXT AND PHOTOS COPY The 1855 Sydney Mint Sovereign struck 23 June 1855. Australia's first sovereign and the first coin of the realm minted at an overseas branch of the Royal Mint London.


A penal settlement becomes a sophisticated multi-cultural society.

The gold rushes of 1851 had a profound impact on Australia’s social and political development and underpinned the abandonment of the penal system on which the settlement of Australia was based.

The discovery of significant gold deposits in Australia created sudden wealth and stimulated a vast influx of free immigrants, bringing new skills and professions and contributing to a burgeoning economy. In 1851, Australia's total population was 430,000. Two decades later, it had more than tripled to 1.7 million.

Word of the discovery of gold spread like wildfire across the country and overseas.

First was the rush to Ophir near Bathurst in early 1851 and the even greater rush to Ballarat in August of the same year. Then in quick succession came the rich finds throughout central Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory and finally the bonanza in Western Australia.

It is one of the most eventful and extraordinary chapters in Australian history, transforming the economy and the nation's social order, marking the beginnings of a modern multi-cultural Australia.

The four-year journey to Australia's first official gold coinage, 1851 – 1855.

The first response to the discovery of gold in terms of Australia’s gold coinage involved the Assay Office in Adelaide in 1852. The second response was a failed private mint, the Kangaroo Office, in Melbourne in 1854.

The third response involved the establishment in 1855 of Australia’s first branch of the Royal Mint London and thus the nation’s first officially sanctioned mint, the Sydney Mint.

No colony was immune from the dramatic effects of the discovery of gold. Those that had vast gold deposits. And those, such as the colony of South Australia, that was totally devoid of the precious metal.

There was universal agreement between the colonies that the six-month journey for shipping gold to and from London was impractical and was an impediment to business. And that a gold coinage had to be locally produced.

Each colony was experiencing different social and financial pressures and each colony, therefore, had different views as to what form a gold coinage should take. And its urgency.

Ironically, the discovery of gold in the eastern states almost sent the colony of South Australia broke as the mass movement of population from the cities to the Victorian gold fields drained the banks of coins and brought business almost to a standstill.

And whilst it may be perceived that the economy would bounce back when the diggers returned to their home state with their findings, it only exacerbated the problem. The gold boom created an excess of wealth, one that could not be put into circulation. The problem, which had plagued the colonies since the early days of settlement still existed - a lack of hard currency – to exchange for the gold and to stimulate and underpin a return to commerce.

The proposed solution to South Australia’s economic crisis was the establishment of an Adelaide Assay Office that would purchase gold from the Victorian fields at a higher price than paid in Melbourne. And that would strike gold ingots that could be exchanged for banknotes at a set rate. And could used by the banks to back their note currency as though they were sovereigns. 

There is little doubt that Governor Young had exceeded his powers by opening what was effectively a mint that had no sanction from the Home Office in London. 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 the ingots. 

The Bullion Act No 1 of 1852 has a record unique in Australian history. A special session of Parliament was convened to consider it. Parliament met at noon on the 28 January 1852. The Bill was read and promptly passed three readings and was then forwarded to the Lieutenant Governor and immediately received his assent. It was one of the quickest pieces of legislation on record, with the whole proceedings taking less than two hours.

Thirteen days after the passing of the Act, on 10 February 1852, the Government Assay office was opened. Its activities were supported by a state government initiative to provide armed escorts to bring back the gold from the Victorian diggings.

In November 1852, following agitation from the business community the Assay office commenced striking gold coins. Known as the Adelaide One Pound, the coins were struck from 22 carat gold and weighed 8.81gm.

The Bullion Act was intended only as a short-term solution. Its operation was limited to twelve months only and no attempt was made to extend it or continue the coinage after the period originally fixed.

Soon after the opening of the Assay Office there was an attempt to establish a private mint in Melbourne. The mint was to be called the Kangaroo Office and would buy cheap gold and strike it into tokens of a fixed weight.

The plan was devised by an English entrepreneur, William Joseph Taylor who formed a syndicate to finance the operations with two colleagues, Hodgkin and Tyndall. The total investment was £13,000.

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. And during that time the price of gold drastically rose.

Apart from the logistical difficulties of setting up business, the mint's financial viability 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.

By mid-1857 the nation's first private mint, the Kangaroo Office, ceased trading.

1851 to 1855. first response to a gold coinage - the 1852 Adelaide pound
1851 - 1855 first response to a gold coinage - the 1852 Adelaide pound
1851 - 1855 second response to a gold coinage - the kangaroo office sixpence
1851 - 1855 second response to a gold coinage - the kangaroo office sixpence
1851 - 1855 third response to a gold coinage - the 1855 sydney mint sovereign, the nation's first official gold coinage
1851 - 1855 third response to a gold coinage - the 1855 sydney mint sovereign, the nation's first official gold coinage

The Sydney Mint, the nation's first official mint.

In 1851, the Sydney Morning Herald published an editorial championing the establishment of a branch of the Royal Mint in Sydney to buy gold at full price and strike it into sovereigns.

The plan for a branch of the Royal Mint received great support from the diggers. Solid opposition came from the banks and a prominent group of private individuals both of whom had become major buyers of gold on the fields at prices discounted well below the full London price. Profits were at stake! Both factions had earlier joined forces to quash a proposal for a Sydney Assay Office that would have also impacted negatively on their commercial interests.

While it is true that New South Wales had in 1851 formally petitioned the home office in London for a branch of the Royal Mint, the decision had already been made in the British Parliament to give the colonies greater autonomy and establish a branch mint to allow them to strike coins of the realm, the sovereign.  

The Sydney Mint would strike sovereigns to exactly the weight and fineness levels at the Royal Mint but they would have their own design. This was to protect the international reputation of the imperial sovereign in the event that Sydney was unable to meet the exacting standards demanded of the coin.

On the 19 August 1853 Queen Victoria gave formal approval to establish Australia’s very first mint at or near Sydney in New South Wales. In the same year, the Royal Mint London prepared designs of Australia’s first gold coinage and manufactured the dies.

The sovereign obverse design was a filleted bust of Victoria, only slightly different to that used on British sovereigns. The obverse quickly fell out of favour and James Wyon was ordered to engrave a new obverse that would be uniquely Australian to easily distinguish the colonial sovereigns from their British counterparts. To this end, a new portrait was introduced in 1857 that featured Queen Victoria with a banksia wreath in her hair instead of the band.

The reverse design was based loosely around contemporary reverse designs of the British sixpence and shilling. Its strong point of difference to the British sovereigns was the inclusion of the words 'Australia' and 'Sydney Mint'.

The use of the word Australia, a 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 first Deputy Master of the Sydney Mint was Captain Edward Wolstenholme Ward, a trained member of the Royal Engineers. (Photo shown at top.)

Ward arrived in the colony in October 1854 on the ship Calcutta, along with other members of the Royal Engineers, a sergeant, three corporals and twelve privates. The group was deposited on Circular Quay with the bales and boxes of Sydney's new mint, along with the dies.

The Sydney Mint was established in a wing of the 'Rum Hospital' in Macquarie Street, Sydney. The mint began receiving gold on 14 May 1855 and issued its first gold sovereign soon after on June 23.

In their infancy the Sydney Mint sovereigns were legal tender only in the colony of New South Wales.

In January 1856, the British tested the quality of the colonial sovereigns and the results showed that they had a higher intrinsic value than their British counterparts, primarily due to their 8.33% silver content. Once these facts became known, profiteers began melting them down.

Also in 1856, the colonial sovereigns became legal tender in Tasmania and Western Australia. South Australia and Victoria were reticent to enshrine the Sydney Mint as Australia's official mint as each colony had independently requested their own and were miffed at missing out.

By 1857, the legal tender scope was widened to include all Australian colonies and Mauritius, Ceylon and Hong Kong. In 1868 the Sydney Mint Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns became legal tender throughout the British Empire.

The design of the Sydney Mint sovereign lasted until 1870 and was the only time the word Australia appeared on our gold sovereigns. From 1871, Australia's sovereigns took on a traditional British design.

i am looking to invest in an 1855 sovereign

Useful information if you are buying an 1855 Sydney Mint Sovereign.

For collectors looking to obtain just one gold sovereign, the nation’s very first sovereign, the 1855 Sydney Mint Sovereign is the obvious choice. The coin is an enduring symbol of the Sydney Mint’s role in transforming Australia’s first major mineral resource into the lifeblood of a nation.

Our respect for the 1855 Sydney Mint Sovereign is well documented. It is the nation’s first official gold coin and in the upper quality levels is extremely rare, a rarity that far outweighs demand.

The 1855 Sydney Mint Sovereign is sought by the collector that is targeting important / key dates ... the very first year of our official gold currency is an important date in Australia’s numismatic and financial history. The coin also appeals to the sovereign collector. And given the scarcity of the '55 sovereign in the upper quality levels, it also appeals to the investor.

Every circulating coin has a grading level at which serious rarity kicks in. That is the point at which the balance between acquiring a coin as a collectible - and as an investment - shifts more towards the latter. The pie chart clearly shows that those well circulated examples in the quality range of Poor to Good Very Fine are reasonably readily available. The chart also shows that examples in the range of Extremely Fine to Choice Uncirculated are exceptionally scarce.

1855 Sydney Mint Sov Pie Chart
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Basic guidelines for grading the 1855 Sovereign.


Uncirculated and extremely rare.
There is no wear to the high points of the design. Note the continuity in the hair lines on the forehead: a tell-tale high point.


Uncirculated and extremely rare.
No wear to the high points of the design and virtually no bag marks marks in the fields.


About Uncirculated and still, extremely rare.
A hint of wear to the high points of the design evidenced in the hair lines on the forehead.


About Uncirculated and still, extremely rare.
A hint of wear to the high points of the design. And slight evidence of usage in the fields.


Extremely Fine and the point at which extreme rarity cuts in for the 1855 Sovereign.
Note the slight wear to the hair on the forehead and to the left of the ear.


Extremely Fine and the point at which extreme rarity cuts in for the 1855 Sovereign.
Evidence of usage in the fields and slight slight wear to the high points.

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