The 1813 Holey Dollar
The Holey Dollar is the nation’s first coin struck in 1813 under the direction of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It is a classic Australian coin rarity with timeless appeal
As the nation’s very first coin, it is one of the most influential in the Australian rare coin market. That it was created from a coin of the Spanish Empire means that its influence extends to international markets.
The British Government had no capacity to supply Macquarie with metal blanks to create Australia’s first coinage so, he improvised and ordered 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars - foreign coinage - to use as his substitute for blanks.
Macquarie enlisted the services of William Henshall, a convicted forger, to cut a hole in each dollar thereby creating two silver pieces out of one. The donut shaped silver piece was over stamped around the edge of the hole with the date 1813 and New South Wales and became the Holey Dollar with a monetary value of five shillings.
The small disc that fell out of the centre of the silver dollar was over stamped with the date 1813, New South Wales and a Crown and became the Dump. Its monetary value was fifteen pence.
The shipment of 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars was converted into 39,910 Holey Dollars and 39,910 Dumps. Spoilage, mishaps during the minting process, and specimens sent to Great Britain as an official record of the striking account for the missing coins.
In creating two coins out of one, Macquarie effectively doubled the money supply. And increased the total worth of the shipment of 40,000 coins by 25 per cent.
The Holey Dollars and the Dumps were demonetised in 1829 with the vast majority recalled and melted down.
Today there are approximately 200 Holey Dollars held by private collectors with perhaps 100 held in museums. The figure '200' is the critical one for collectors. The original mintage of 39,910 is to a certain extent irrelevant.
The availability of 200 Holey Dollars, of varying qualities and varying prices, means that if a collector passes on an example in one particular year, he/she is quite likely to see another within two years … the downside being that prices will most likely have risen in the intervening time.
It is open to debate as to whether the Holey Dollars and Dumps solved the penal colony’s currency crisis. There is no debate however that the issuing of Australia’s first coinage symbolised the changing dynamics of the penal colony.
New South Wales had started out in 1788 as a jail, a repository for miscreants, under the governorship of Captain Arthur Phillip. It had emerged some twenty-five years later as a thriving economy requiring a formal medium of exchange to support a burgeoning commercial hub.
Sold January 2020. Price $480,000.
The first step in the task of acquiring a Holey Dollar is to set your budget.
Holey Dollars are available in price ranges to suit all budgets, starting at $50,000 for a heavily circulated example up to the very best examples at $400,000-plus.
Quality is the prime force in determining the value of a Holey Dollar, but it is not the only force in setting a value.
And herein lies the intrigue of the coin.
Lachlan Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish Silver dollars to create Australia’s first coins. The order was not date specific, so any date would do. Any monarch would suffice, Charles III, Charles IV, Ferdinand VI or Ferdinand VII.
Nor did Macquarie purchase the coins direct from a particular mint. The shipment was ordered from the East India Company and came from Madras comprised of coins struck in the Spanish colonies of Mexico, Peru and Bolivia with some even sourced from the motherland, Spain.
And the dollars all came at different quality levels, with the majority well worn.
So, if you are trying to work through the value of a Holey Dollar, you have to consider the rarity of the monarch, because some monarchs appear more frequently than others. Holey Dollars featuring the portrait of Charles IV are the most readily available, followed by Charles III, Ferdinand VII with the Ferdinand VI Holey Dollar unique.
Also a consideration, the rarity of the mint, for some mints were prolific producers of silver dollars, while others were lean on production. Holey Dollars created from silver dollars sourced from the Mexico Mint are the most readily available, followed by the Lima Mint in Peru, Potosi Mint in Bolivia, with the Madrid Mint unique in private hands.
And lastly, there is the overwhelming issue of quality.
The Holey Dollar is one of Australia's most desirable coins. Talk to those fortunate enough to own one, either private collectors or institutions such as Macquarie Bank, National Museum of Australia and the Mitchell Library, and they will tell you that the Holey Dollar is viewed as the jewel in their collection.
Of the 200 Holey Dollars that are available to collectors, the chart below indicates the percentage of Holey Dollars found at each quality level.
It is noted that most Holey Dollars are today found well-worn with many looking like a tap washer.
The reason is simply that no quality parameters were set on Macquarie’s shipment of 40,000 silver dollars.
That and the extensive use of the silver dollar as an international trading coin meant that most of the coins imported by Macquarie were well worn.
As you would expect, a reduced availability correlates to an increase in price.