The 1930 Penny is Australia’s most sought after rare coin. Its star status has made it a national icon.
There is no doubt it is an industry phenomenon, for in a market that is quality focused it is interesting to note that the 1930 Penny is keenly sought irrespective of its grading - and growth over the mid to long term has been significant across all levels of quality.
Officially the 1930 Penny was never struck and a review of minting records at the Melbourne Mint confirms that no pennies were struck for circulation in that year. The mint does however record the minting of six 1930 Pennies to proof quality.
Many theories have been put forward as to the accidental minting of the 1930 Penny. One theory postulates that a number of circulating strikes may have been minted at the same time as the Proof version, set aside and inadvertently issued years later by mistake.
The more popular explanation is also the more romantic. Mint policy dictated that the dies were prepared in readiness for the striking of a penny in 1930. The Depression and the lack of economic growth meant that, apart from striking a small number of halfpennies and gold sovereigns, the Melbourne Mint became a tourist attraction. It is thought that a mint guide minted small batches of 1930 pennies for tourists as souvenirs of their visit.
The suspected mintage is 1500 to 2000.
The accidental minting of the 1930 Penny was not discovered until the 1940s. Dealers responded to the discovery by offering to pay up to 10/- for an example.
However it wasn’t until the 1960s that the 1930 Penny became a national symbol. Newspapers were instrumental in creating that image, television played a lesser role.
Lists of Australian coins and their market prices and headlines such as “Have you cashed in on Australia’s coin craze yet?” and “A Penny could be worth £500” appeared in the 60s in the daily newspapers. The nation’s rare coin market reacted in a frenzy as thousands cashed in on the opportunity to make big money.
The craze was fuelled on the one hand by the lure of quick money and on the other by the pressure of the collector market for supplies. Decimal currency changeover posed an imminent and very real danger to coin collectors - the melting down of undiscovered rare pieces. Collectors keen to complete sets of all coins minted in Australia rushed to acquire the elusive pieces at rapidly escalating prices.
In 1964, the Sydney Sunday Telegraph published a guide to the latest prices on Australian coins. It was the first time that such a list had been published and, while most pennies were fetching a small premium over face value, the 1930 Penny was listed at £50 in Fine condition (today that same coin would be worth more than $20,000). By 1965, a Fine 1930 Penny had more than doubled in price to £120. By decimal changeover, the price had moved to £255 ($510) and the 1930 Penny had captured the imagination of collectors and non-collectors alike.
The reasons for its original popularity was its accessibility – it could be obtained by the man in the street as loose change - and the mystery surrounding its striking.
The 1930 Penny is the glamour coin of the numismatics industry and is Australia’s most renowned rare coin. It is unrivalled for popularity and enjoys a constant stream of demand unmatched by any other numismatic rarity.
The rarity and significance of the 1930 Penny touches all of its owners. We speak from experience. We have seen it first hand with our clients, the sheer excitement of acquiring Australia’s famous copper rarity. You can hear it in their voice. You can see it in their face.
We are regularly searching out 1930 Pennies to satisfy buying enquiries, both from private buyers and auction houses. The difficulty here is that the majority of coins that we see do not meet our quality criteria.
The accidental minting of the 1930 Penny was not discovered until the 1940s. That the 1930 Penny underwent at least a decade of circulation before it was discovered means that most of the surviving examples are knocked around, with obvious defects such as edge bumps and gouges.
We look for 1930 Pennies that are evenly toned and have minimal marks in the field. We reject those coins that have unsightly gouges or harsh edge knocks. The coins have to be extremely attractive to look at even though they have circulated for in our opinion coins of this ilk have the greatest investment potential.
The Proof 1930 Penny is the world’s most valuable copper coin of the modern era. Its pricing is on a par with Australia’s other famous coin rarity, the 1920 Sydney Mint Sovereign. Both coins have cracked the million dollar mark, the 1930 Penny in 2011 and the sovereign more recently in 2013.
Melbourne Mint records confirm that six Proof 1930 Pennies were struck.
Three are held privately, one in Melbourne and the remaining two in Sydney. The three publicly held specimens are located in the British Museum, the Museum of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Belinda Downie celebrated the purchase and sale of her first Proof 1930 Penny in 1997. It was acquired at a Melbourne public auction and later sold to the owner of the Madrid Collection for $147,500.
A second Proof 1930 Penny came up at auction in 1999. This example had been formerly housed in the British Museum. Acting on the instructions of a Victorian buyer the coin was acquired for $258,750. The same coin came back into Coinworks hands in 2005, when it was sold to a Sydney family for $620,000. And where it still resides.
Downie sold her third Proof 1930 Penny in 2011 for 1.05 million. This example had a long and exemplary history having been owned by one of the industry’s great collectors and a pioneer of the rare coin industry, Syd Hagley.
In an interview conducted late in 2010, a colleague of Syd Hagley recalled being offered the coin for just £300 in 1964. He declined the offer simply because he couldn’t afford it at the time.
His misfortune became clear in 1974 when the coin sold at auction in Los Angeles for $16,000 as part of the famed Dr Paxman Collection. The under bidder at the time, now retired rare coin dealer Laurie Nugent, still recalls his bitter disappointment at missing out on the famous penny. He eventually acquired it in 1981.
In 1982, the Proof 1930 Penny’s star status was confirmed when Australian nursing home magnate Doug Moran bought it for a reported $100,000. For Moran, it was a matter of national pride – he declared that the coin was so important it should never leave Australian shores.
The Hagley specimen was offered at public auction in 2000, where it was picked up by a Melbourne collector for $281,750.
In 2011, Coinworks was commissioned to sell the coin privately. The sale was completed in that year for $1.05 million.
The Proof 1930 Penny is referred to in the press as the ‘King of Australian coin rarities’. And with good reason. The coin has generated a strong emotional attachment that goes far beyond its numismatic worth. It exemplifies a national pride that has given it, as an object of Australiana, a much broader place in history.