The Kookaburra coins 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.
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.
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.