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The ‘Hannibal Head’ Holey Dollar is legendary. Discovered in a Bushranger’s hoard in Tasmania in 1881 and presented to the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Sir John Henry Lefroy, the ‘Hannibal Head’ Holey Dollar is now available for private sale.


1810 Hannibal Head Holey Dollar Date side July 2018

The Holey Dollar. A narrative that embraces Australian history. And European history.  

The Holey Dollar is a story that involves Australian history. Where was it discovered? Who owned it?

It also is a story about Spanish history. 

Where in the Spanish Empire was the original Silver Dollar minted? In Spain or the silver-rich Spanish Colonies of Soputh America.

And who was the Spanish King at the time of its issue? Ferdinand VI, Charles III, Charles III or Ferdinand VII.

And while every Holey Dollar has a story to tell, the ‘Hannibal Head’ Holey Dollar is, in our view, the most potent narrative of them all.

Hannibal Head non date mood SF July 2018

Sir John Henry Lefroy portrait

Sir John Henry Lefroy, Governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

Hannibal Head Holey Dollar Pencil drawings banner July 2018

First pencil drawings of the Hannibal Head Holey Dollar as published in the Chronicle of the Royal Numismatic Society London. The earliest recorded illustration of Australia's very first coin.

The ‘Hannibal Head’ Holey Dollar. The technical details.

This 1813 New South Wales Holey Dollar was created from a Spanish Silver Dollar that had been struck in 1810 at the Lima Mint in Peru.

The legend of Ferdinand VII and an imaginary depiction of the monarch, referred to as the ‘Hannibal Head’ portrait, appeared on the silver dollar.  

The anomaly of the portrait is explained below.

The Spanish Empire was in decline. In 1808, King Charles IIII abdicated the Spanish throne for his son Ferdinand VII, the latter reigning for less than two months.

Both Charles and Ferdinand were pressured to cede the Spanish throne to Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Joseph.

The Spanish colonial mint in Lima refused to recognise Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain.

In what can only be regarded as a political protest, the Lima Mint created their own silver dollar with the legend of the imprisoned Ferdinand VII and an ’imaginary portrait’.

The portrait was far from flattering and is referred to as the ‘Hannibal Head’ portrait.

The ‘Hannibal Head’ Holey Dollar is famous. And for several reasons.

It is unique.

Up until 2014, one other example was held in the State Library of New South Wales, bequeathed to the Library by Sir William Dixson. Stolen from the Library in 2014, the coin has never been recovered.

Discovered in Tasmania in 1881, near Hobart, in what was believed to be a bushranger’s hoard, this ‘Hannibal Head’ Holey Dollar was subsequently presented to Sir John Henry Lefroy, Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, 1880 – 1881.

The coin’s discovery was written up in several newspapers published in the early 1880s, the Hobart Mercury (1883) and the Sydney Morning Herald (1884).

An article detailing the discovery of the 'Hannibal Head' Holey Dollar, and a pencil drawing of the coin, was published in 1883 in the journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, London, penned by Sir John Henry Lefroy.

It is the earliest known illustration of Australia’s very first coin.


The Holey Dollar. A coin of influence.

As the nation’s very first coin, the Holey Dollar is one of the most influential coins 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.

Beginning with Columbus in 1492 and continuing for nearly 350 years, Spain conquered and settled most of South America, the Caribbean, and the south west of America. 

The Spanish Empire was the first global empire in history.

It was however the silver rich continent of South America that became Spain’s treasure trove, bank rolling its ascendancy as a world power.

Not only were the Spanish mint's prolific, the monarchy in 1537 introduced exacting weight and purity into its coinage that would see worldwide dominance of the Spanish Silver Dollar as an international trading coin.

The Spanish Silver Dollar was the coin that ruled the world.

It was the coin that was holed, and counter stamped by private individuals, banks and government authorities in the nineteenth century the world over.

Including the penal colony of New South Wales in the cration of its first coins, the Holey Dollar and Dump. 

Hannibal Head Holey Dollar date July 2018 1
Hannibal Head Holey Dollar non date July 2018 1

The Holey Dollar. A hierarchy not just based on quality.

In 1812, Governor Lachlan Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars and enlisted the services of emancipist William Henshall to convert the shipment into Holey Dollars. And Dumps. The very first coins struck in Australia.

There is a pecking order within the 300 surviving Holey Dollars. And it not based solely on quality, the very reason why the well circulated Ferdinand VI Holey Dollar (graded about Fine) was valued at the same level as the Madrid Holey Dollar when it was displayed in 2013 by the Macquarie Group.

The obvious hierarchy for most Australian rare coins is quality.  Consider the 1930 Penny. The Adelaide Pound. Establishing a pecking order is simple and basic.

The protocols for establishing a pecking order for Holey Dollars is a touch more complicated. It relates to the content of Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s original order for 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s order was not date specific. Any date would do. Any monarch would suffice, King Charles III, Charles IIII, Ferdinand VI or Ferdinand VII.

Nor did Macquarie care where the coin was minted. Mexico. Peru. Bolivia. Or Spain. And quality was inconsequential.

All that mattered was that it was a Spanish Silver Dollar. 

And it is the interplay of these attributes, quality, mint, monarch and date that define a Holey Dollar and leads us to say that while all Holey Dollars are rare, some are far rarer than others.

When you look at the approximately 300 surviving Holey Dollars, the coins can be grouped based on the combinations of monarch and date of the original Spanish Silver Dollar.

The chart below clearly shows the importance of the Ferdinand VI Holey Dollar.  And the Hannibal Head Holey Dollar offered here.

legend for hannibal head

Distribution of Holey Dollars based on their legend and portrait. Figures based on Mira Noble records, published in 1988.

*Charles III died in 1788. To maintain silver coin production, the Spanish Mint’s continued to produce coins depicting the portrait and legend of the deceased monarch. Two Holey Dollars, dated 1789, feature the legend and portrait of the deceased monarch.

**In 1789 and 1790 the Spanish Mint’s amended the legend to Charles IV maintaining the portrait of the deceased king.

In 1791 the legend and portrait were amended to Charles IIII.


The Holey Dollar. A symbol of innovation.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie etched his name into numismatic history forever when in 1812 he imported 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars to alleviate a currency crisis in the infant colony of New South Wales.

Macquarie’s order for Silver Dollars did not specify dates. Any date would do. He wasn’t concerned about the various mints at which they were struck. Nor was he fussy about the quality of the coins. The extensive use of the Spanish Silver Dollar as an international trading coin meant that most were well worn.

Concluding that the shipment of 40,000 Spanish Silver Dollars would not suffice, Macquarie decided to cut a hole in the centre of each dollar, thereby creating two coins out of one, a ring dollar and a disc. It was an extension of a practice of ‘cutting’ coins into segments, widespread at the time.

Macquarie needed a man skilled in coin techniques to carry out his project. William Henshall acquired his skills as an engraver in Birmingham, where the major portion of his apprenticeship consisted of mastering the art of die sinking and die stamping for the shoe buckle and engraved button trades. He was apprehended in 1805 for forgery (forging Bank of England Dollars) and sentenced to the penal colony of New South Wales for seven years.

Enlisted by Lachlan Macquarie as the colony’s first mint master, Henshall commenced the coining process by cutting out a disc from each silver dollar using a hand-lever punch.

He then proceeded to re-stamp both sides of the holed dollar around the inner circular edge with the value of five shillings, the date 1813 and the issuing authority of New South Wales. 

Other design elements in this re-stamping process included a fleur de lis, a twig of two leaves and a tiny ‘H’ for Henshall.

The holed coins were officially known as ring, pierced or colonial dollars and although ‘holey’ was undoubtedly applied to them from the outset, the actual term ‘holey’ dollar did not appear in print until the 1820s. We refer to the coins today as the 1813 New South Wales Five Shillings (or Holey Dollar).

The silver disc that fell out of the hole wasn’t wasted. Henshall restamped the disc with a crown, the issuing authority of New South Wales and the lesser value of 15 pence and it became known as the Dump. The term ‘dump’ was applied officially right from the beginning; a name that continues to this day.

In creating two coins out of one, Macquarie effectively doubled the money supply. And increased their total worth by 25 per cent.

Anyone counterfeiting ring dollars or dumps were liable to a seven-year prison term; the same penalty applied for melting down the coins. Jewellers were said to be particularly suspect. To prevent export, masters of ships were required to enter into a bond of £200 not to carry the coin away.

Of the 40,000 silver dollars imported by Macquarie, records indicate that 39,910 of each coin were delivered to the Deputy Commissary General’s Office by January 1814 with several despatched back to Britain as specimens, the balance assumed spoiled during production.

The New South Wales colonial administration began recalling Holey Dollars and Dumps and replacing them with sterling coinage from 1822.

The Holey Dollar and Dump remained as currency within the colony until 1829. The colony had by then reverted to a standard based on sterling and a general order was issued by Governor Darling to withdraw and demonetise the dollars and dumps.

The recalled specie was eventually shipped off to the Royal Mint London, melted down and sold off to the Bank of England for £5044.

It is estimated that approximately 300 Holey Dollars exist today of which a third are held in public institutions with the balance owned by private collectors. 

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