The 1930 Penny is a part of Australian folklore. The coin is a national icon and its star status has made it one of Australia’s most valuable coins.
What’s most interesting is that the 1930 Penny stumbled into fame. It was the coin that was never meant to be struck.
Officially the 1930 Penny was never struck and a review of minting records at the Melbourne Mint confirms that no pennies were struck for circulation in that year. (The mint does however have a record of the six Proof 1930 Pennies that were struck as museum pieces.)
Many theories have been put forward as to the accidental minting of the 1930 Penny. One theory suggests that a few circulating strikes may have been minted at the same time as the Proof version, set aside and inadvertently issued years later by mistake.
The more popular explanation is also the more romantic.
Mint policy dictated that the dies were prepared in readiness for the striking of a penny in 1930. The Depression and the lack of economic growth meant that, apart from striking a small number of halfpennies and gold sovereigns, the Melbourne Mint became a tourist attraction. It is thought that a mint guide minted small batches of 1930 pennies for tourists as souvenirs of their visit.
The suspected mintage is about 1500 coins.
Before the arrival of decimal currency in 1966, no Australian could look at a penny without glancing at the date, just in case it was the elusive ‘1930’. A product of the Depression, it was everyone’s chance to make big money fast.
The accidental minting of the 1930 Penny was not discovered until the 1940s. Dealers responded to the discovery by offering to pay up to 10/- for an example. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the 1930 Penny became a national symbol. Newspapers were instrumental in creating that image, television played a lesser role.
Lists of Australian coins and their market prices and headlines such as “Have you cashed in on Australia’s coin craze yet?” and “A Penny could be worth £500” appeared in the 60s in the daily newspapers. The nation’s rare coin market reacted in a frenzy as thousands cashed in on the opportunity to make big money.
In 1964, the Sydney Sunday Telegraph published a guide to the latest prices on Australian coins. It was the first time that such a list had been published and, while most pennies were fetching a small premium over face value, the 1930 Penny was listed at £50 in Fine condition (today that same coin would be worth more than $25,000).
By 1965, a Fine 1930 Penny had more than doubled in price to £120. By decimal changeover, the price had moved to £255 ($510) and the 1930 Penny had captured the imagination of collectors and non-collectors alike.
The craze was fuelled on the one hand by the lure of quick money and on the other by the pressure of the collector market for supplies. Decimal currency changeover posed an imminent and very real danger to coin collectors - the melting down of undiscovered rare pieces. Collectors keen to complete sets of all coins minted in Australia rushed to acquire the elusive pieces at rapidly escalating prices.
There are no pennies being checked in schoolyards anymore, but for many collectors the journey to acquire our most famous penny still goes on.
The 1930 Penny is still to this day the glamour coin of the numismatics industry and is unrivalled for popularity, enjoying a constant stream of demand unmatched by any other numismatic rarity.
There is no doubt it is an industry phenomenon, for in a market that is quality focused it is interesting to note that the 1930 Penny is keenly sought irrespective of its grading - and growth over the mid to long term has been significant across all levels of quality.
The 1930 Penny was selling for £50 in the late 1950s. A decade later by decimal changeover, the coin was fetching £255 ($510). By 1988, the year Australia celebrated its Bicentenary, the 1930 Penny had reached $6000. The turn of the century saw 1930 Penny prices move to $13,000.
And with a 100th anniversary over a decade away, the push to acquire Australia’s favourite Penny is really on.