It’s Australia’s rarest circulation coin and despite its diminutive size, the 1922/21 overdate threepence punches well above its weight in claiming its rightful place as part of numismatic folklore.
Even in very worn condition, the counter stamp “2” over “1” is very obvious. It’s the “how “ and “why” it exits, in the first place, that has collectors and mint officials at loggerheads. It’s an argument that has raged for well over 80 years with the same futile result as trying to change someone’s opinion on religion, politics or tea versus coffee.
The outcome of all this research – and speculation – has done little to unite the various factions. Probably the closest we will ever get to forming a consensus is to borrow a quote from British wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. In attempting to explain the machinations of the post war Soviet Government, the whimsical MP suggested it was akin to a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
This tiny lightweight has been the subject of countless club magazines and newsletter articles since the mid-1950’s. In 1971, the Royal Australian Mint tried to end the speculation by issuing a press release claiming the “overdate” was nothing more than a “filled die.”
Wizened dealers and collectors would have none of it! To them it was a deliberate attempt for the government of the day to save money. Probably not the most effective way to introduce a convincing argument; but the fact remains that as 1922 dawned, the Melbourne Mint had a number of unused 1921 dies but no fresh 1922 replacements available until January 29th.
Many numismatic enthusiasts, including myself, believe that one of these superseded dies was, literally, pressed into service by placing a punch with a numeral “2” over the last “1” of the date and giving it a good whack with a suitably blunt instrument.
This was the argument that the first Controller of the Royal Australian Mint, Mr Len Henderson, tried to downplay in his report 50 years ago. He argued that no self-respecting employee of a mint bearing the Royal cipher would either produce, or condone, such a crude piece of workmanship.
While it is commendable that Mr Henderson tried to protect the reputation of the mint, his explanation was a bit light on facts for many numismatists.
When Mr Henderson put forward his explanation that the overdate was the result of a chipped, oily, or rusty die, he neglected to acknowledge the list of other ‘elephants’ in the room!
Hiding in plain sight, collectors were quick to point out the existence of at least three other examples of coins bearing altered dies that appeared in the George V series alone. All came after the 1922/21 overdate; so if these were also the result of a faulty die, the precision and neatness of the end result is truly remarkable.
As well as another threepence contender from the 1930’s, other examples – and denominations include the 1933/32 penny; the 1925/23 One Shillling and the 1934/33 overdate threepence.
While it could be argued that the artistic workmanship of the 1922/21 overdate resembled a train crash, the same could not be said of the other above-mentioned pieces. The placement of the date punch and its ability to almost completely obscure the original date underneath is a thing of beauty.
Two of the above overdates, the penny and the threepence, coincided with the Great Depression that engulfed most of the globe from 1929 to around 1936. Perhaps, again, these issues were a means of belt tightening during difficult times and an attempt by the government not to waste taxpayers money. Let’s just go with that thought anyway!
The 1934/33 raises another issue that, may or may not, have a connection to the 1930-penny. Like the 1922/21 threepence, it is not hard to get into an argument about how the 1930 penny came into being and how, and why, examples filtered into circulation.
There is no disputing that dies for a proposed general issue of 1930 pennies were prepared. The fact that the issue was not produced in large quantities was probably because there were already enough coins in circulation to support the shrinking economy.
This raises the conundrum surrounding the 1934/33 overdate threepence. The coin in question is certainly an unmistakable 1934 issue. Improved photographic and scanning techniques clearly show that the underscored numeral is a three.