News & Views

1813 Holey Dollar

The 1813 Holey Dollar is Australia's first coin. It is one coin struck from another and its double history makes it doubly interesting.

The 1813 Holey Dollar is one of Australia’s most desirable coins. Talk to those fortunate owners, either private collectors or institutions such as Macquarie Bank, National Museum of Australia and the Mitchell Library, and you quickly realise that the Holey Dollar is viewed as the jewel in their collection.

Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales between 1810 and 1821, could hardly have imagined the legacy he would leave after importing 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars to the infant colony to alleviate a currency crisis.

The currency shortage was so severe that Macquarie had to buy his own house with 200 gallons of rum. This was clearly unsustainable in a fast growing colony.

Macquarie concluded that 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars would not resolve the colony’s currency deficiencies unless he introduced a mechanism for preventing their export. To this end he instructed emancipated convict William Henshall to deface each Silver Dollar and create two coins out of one.

Call it an act of inspiration, Macquarie doubled the money supply by punching a hole in the centre of each Silver Dollar. The outer ring was re-stamped around the inner circular edge of the hole and became the 1813 Holey Dollar, with a value of five shillings. The small inner disc was also re-stamped to become the Dump with a lesser value of 15 pence. By re-cutting the Silver Dollars, Macquarie increased their total worth by 25 per cent.

Governor Macquarie would etch his name into numismatic history forever.


According to National Museum Australia, the Holey Dollar was finally demonetised in 1829, by which most of the 40,000 coins in circulation had been exchanged for legal tender. The coins were melted down into bullion. The few that survived were typically in the hands of wealthy colonists, banks or companies that could afford to hold on to the demonetised currency.

Coinworks managing director Belinda Downie says only about 300 Holey Dollar coins exist today, with a third of those held in public institutions. Private collectors own less than 200 coins.

If only Macquarie could imagine. In March 2013, Coinworks sold a Holey Dollar for a world record price of $495,000. It was created from a Spanish Silver Dollar that had been minted at the Lima Mint in Peru in 1808. Only 21 of the 200 specimens held by private collectors have ties to the Lima Mint and this is the absolute finest of them all. Simply, a world class rarity.

This sale in 2013 was the ninth Holey Dollar completed by Coinworks in a period of 20 months, with the total value of coins exceeding $3.16 million. A further two Holey Dollar sales were finalised by Coinworks in 2014, one of which sold for $455,000 and was the highest price ever paid for a Holey Dollar created from a Silver Dollar minted at the Mexico Mint. The coin was in pristine, Uncirculated quality and was the very finest Holey Dollar known.

The Coinworks tally of Holey Dollars sold is tipped to increase in 2015 following the announcement that the Company has been commissioned to sell the famous Madrid Holey Dollar. Unique, it’s the only privately held Holey Dollar to be struck from a Silver Dollar that was minted in Spain and features the Crowned M mintmark.

The Madrid Holey Dollar is the “holy of holies”. When London firm Spink offered it for sale in 1988, during the nation’s bi-centennial celebrations, it described the Madrid Holey Dollar as the most desirable of all Holey Dollars.

The Holey Dollar’s imposing size and higher value of five shillings makes it indisputably the dominant partner in the Holey Dollar and Dump pairing. It’s the only coin in the partnership to clearly show it began life as a Spanish Silver Dollar. Belinda says: “It is one coin created from another and its double history makes it doubly interesting.”

The Holey Dollar has always been acknowledged as one of Australia’s classic coin rarities. Its familiarity with the man in the street became even in stronger when Macquarie Bank in 1968 chose the Holey Dollar as its logo.

Belinda says: “Its standing as Australia’s first coin ensures it will always be in demand and never forgotten. It’s a coin that will never go out of fashion. It’s always popular, always recognised.”



Governor Macquarie’s order for 40,000 Silver Dollars did not specify dates. Nor were they minted in the same year.

About 75 per cent of Holey Dollars were converted from Silver Dollars produced during the reign of Charles IIII. Holey Dollars converted from Silver Dollars from the earlier Charles III era and later Ferdinand VII era are extremely rare. The Holey Dollar of Ferdinand VI is unique.

Macquarie wasn’t concerned about the various mints at which the coins were struck – Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Spain, Guatemala, Chile or Colombia.

About 77 per cent of Holey Dollars were converted from Mexico Mint Silver Dollars. Of the remaining mints, 11 per cent pertain to Lima, 10 per cent to Potosi. And one to the Madrid Mint. 

The table below details the spread of privately held Holey Dollars broken down by date (or monarch) and mint.

Unlike today’s obsessive collectors – and rightly so – Macquarie wasn’t fussy about coin quality. He was a pragmatist – he had to be – determined to increase the supply of money in circulation. The majority of Silver Dollars that he imported were well worn reflecting the Dollars extensive use as an international trading coin.

Belinda says: “It’s the combination of mint and monarch of the original Spanish Silver Dollar, combined with the sophistication of Henshall’s cutting and re-stamping process, that makes every Holey Dollar an individual piece, each offering a different degree of rarity.

“While we say all Holey Dollars are rare, some are far rarer than others.”

Legend Mexico Mint Lima Mint Potosi Mint Madrid Mint
Ferdinand VI  1      
Charles III  19  4  1  
Charles IIII  115  16  14  1
Ferdinand VII  12  1    
Classification by Monarch and Mint of known surviving Holey Dollars held in private hands
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