The Kookaburra Pattern Square Pennies and Halfpennies are exceptionally Rare, exceedingly valuable and have assumed an iconic prominence in the Rare coin industry. In the nationalistic climate that followed World War I (1914-1918), Australia was at last going to get its own coinage – a uniquely Australian Penny and Halfpenny.
Sketches were made, designs approved, Prototypes struck. And then the whole thing fell apart. How did it happen?
Said to be the inspiration of Treasurer William Watt, the idea was to replace the traditional bronze coppers then in use with totally original, totally Australian coins.
The final design was radical. The coins would be square, use an alternative metal and feature the laughing kookaburra – a clear sign of Australia’s growing nationalism.
In a move that sparked controversy, Treasury even endorsed the depiction of an uncrowned monarch – a contentious issue at the time, but one that eventually received Royal approval.
A number of prototypes were produced between 1919 and 1921. In all, the Melbourne Mint struck twelve different penny designs and two halfpenny designs in varying quantities, with a total production of about 200 coins.
The prototypes were passed to officers of Treasury, Parliamentarians and members of the public to test the reaction to the proposed change and to encourage acceptance.
The response was poor. There was a general 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 required a circular penny.
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’s piece.