The Kookaburra Square Penny and Halfpenny 1919 to 1921.


The introduction of the Kookaburra Square Penny in 1919 underpinned an attempt by the then Labor Government to stir up national sentiment post World War I. A ploy to evoke the great 'Aussie' spirit.

The plan was to discard the British-styled penny and halfpenny and to create a new coin with a typically Australian design featuring a kookaburra. The shape was to be changed from circular to square and a new metal was chosen, cupro-nickel rather than copper.

Tests began at the Melbourne Mint in 1919 and continued for three years, ending in 1921. Thirteen different designs were trialed over the three years in varying quantities producing a total of 200 pieces.

And please note, that is a total of 200. Not 200 of each design. Hence their extreme rarity.

The Kookaburra penny and halfpenny were 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. In the same auction it is noted that a Ferdinand VII Holey Dollar sold for £72 10/- (so twice the price of the 'kookas') and that same Holey Dollar is today worth $500,000!

The demand for the Square Pennies continued throughout the late 50s and into the 60s with the Australian Coin Review, the then industry magazine, reporting on the ever-increasing prices being paid at auction. The momentum of strong buying interest has continued to this very day. The coins are engaging and their rarity offers collectors the challenge they are always looking for.

The journey began in 1919 when the Melbourne Mint produced Australia's first Square Penny.

In 1919, the Melbourne Mint tested four different square penny designs striking the coins in cupro-nickel. They are referred to as the Type 3, Type 4, Type 5 and Type 6.

The Type 3 is the most readily available of those dated 1919. And the most popular. The simple reason for their popularity is that they are accessible. While you might have to wait two years for a nice Type 3, you could be waiting a decade for the others.

It also has to be noted that as the other types are far scarcer, that rarity comes at a much, much higher price.

Our estimates on the numbers of cupro-nickel 1919 kookaburra pennies available to private collectors.

Type 3 Square Penny         15             

Type 4 Square Penny          4  

Type 5 Square Penny          8

Type 6 Square Penny          8    


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.


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.


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.


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.

The journey continued in 1920 and the Melbourne Mint produced Australia's very first 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 the most valuable square kookaburra in the 1920 Square Halfpenny. As a consequence, the kookaburra coins dated 1920 are viewed as the 'glamour' coins of the entire series.

*Two examples of the Type 13 Square Penny were discovered in a stock take in the Museum of Victoria in the 1970s. Fondly referred to as, the 'raised-tail kooka', no examples are believed privately held.

Our estimates on the numbers of cupro-nickel 1920 kookaburra coins available to private collectors.

Type 1 Square Halfpenny              3 

Type 7 Square Penny                   12 

Type 8 Square Penny                     4 

Type 9 Square Penny                     7 

Type 10 Square Penny                   7 

Type 13 Square Penny                   0*


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 $300,000 and is the most valuable in the series.


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. And yet still amazingly rare.


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

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.


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.


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. Two examples are held in the Museum of Victoria.

Production of the Square Penny and Square Halfpenny came to a halt in 1921. 

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. 

Our estimates on the numbers of 1921 kookaburra coins available to private collectors.

Type 2 Square Halfpenny             9

Type 11 Square Penny                20

Type 12 Square Penny                40


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

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. It is also noted that the design of both the obverse and reverse is unique to the Type 11.


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 importantly, they are 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 Square coin. They are engaging. And they are prestigious.
  • You can buy one Square Halfpenny.
    As you can see from our article, 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.

The history of the Kookaburra Coins continued ....

The Melbourne Mint commenced striking Australia's Commonwealth copper pennies in 1919. No sooner had the mint started issuing the coins, than it was directed by Treasury to commence testing an entirely new penny concept, a square coin made from cupro-nickel.

In many ways the Government's proposal was way ahead of its time. Australia did eventually introduce cupro-nickel coinage, but some 47 years later, when the nation went onto decimal currency in 1966.

The introduction of the Kookaburra Square Penny underpinned an attempt by the then Labor Government to stir up national sentiment post World War I. To evoke the great 'Aussie' spirit.

If you think about it. Putting the nation’s native bird - the kookaburra - onto a coin was a no-brainer to achieving that goal. A drastically changed shape, a square. And a new metal - - cupronickel was part of the total package to maximise impact on the population.

The proposal was contentious in that the monarch, King George V, was to be depicted on the obverse without a crown. Some say it was the rumblings of a Republican movement way ahead of its time.

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.

Sadly, in 1921 and after three years of testing, the scheme fell apart. The response to Australia’s square coinage was poor with widespread public resistance to change and people generally rejecting 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 Square Pennies that remain today are relics of our past, and the sentiment that they stir up in the current market is collector sentiment, driven by their novel shape. And with only 200 believed to exist, collector thirst is driven by their extreme 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.

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.

It is noted that the Kookaburra Square Pennies tone, some more strongly than others, a reflection on their storage in the intervening years.

A Square Penny with minimal, attractive toning and beautiful surfaces is a joy to behold. And a prized classic Australian coin rarity.

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PO Box 1060 Hawksburn Victoria Australia 3142

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