The Ross Pratley 1858 Sydney Mint Half Sovereign

The Ross Pratley 1858 Sydney Mint Half Sovereign
The Ross Pratley 1858 Sydney Mint Half Sovereign
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FDC. In the finest state of preservation, with immaculate satin fields and full original mint bloom on both obverse and reverse, Gem Uncirculated.
Spink Australia Auction 25, lot 2364 • Spink Auctions March 1989, lot 1519, in the liquidation of the R. G and C. Pratley Collection • Noble Numismatics November 2007 Lot 1380 • Sale by private treaty to Melbourne Collection August 2014
A great coin can develop a brand giving it a distinct identity that distinguishes it from its competitors. The brand offers clarity … you know what you are getting. The brand offers trust … again you know what you are getting. The development of the brand starts with an extraordinary quality coin. Coupled with an outstanding performance in the public domain. And then a great collector moves into the picture acquiring the coin, and the demand and the performance self-perpetuates. The Ross Pratley 1858 Sydney Mint Half Sovereign is a brand. It is an extraordinary coin, the finest of its year. And the finest of the entire Sydney Mint Half Sovereign series. Unmarked with full original mint bloom on both obverse and reverse, gem uncirculated or FDC. Its first auction appearance was in July 1988 when as lot 2364 it was acquired by Sydney dealer, Ross Pratley, for $10,200 on a pre-auction estimate of $4000. Its most recent auction appearance was in 2007, when as the front cover item of Nobles Sydney Auction catalogue, the Ross Pratley 1858 Half Sovereign sold for $93,200 on a pre-auction estimate of $50,000. Presented in the finest state of preservation, the technical shots shown below confirm the glorious state of the Ross Pratley 1858 Sydney Mint Half Sovereign.
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1858 Sydney Mint Half Sovereign - Obverse
The Ross Pratley 1858 Half Sovereign was described by Spink Auctions in 1989 as a superb example, perhaps the best struck specimen of the entire date series with full mint bloom on both sides. Almost free of friction and no surface marks.


1858 Sydney Mint Half Sovereign - Reverse
The Ross Pratley 1858 Half Sovereign was described by Nobles Auction in 2007 as unmarked with full original mint bloom, gem uncirculated or FDC, the finest known for the year and the type. It is noted that in 1989 and again in 2007, the coin was a front cover auction catalogue feature item.

Four great Australian coin rarities that also have a brand.


The Hastings-Deering
1852 Adelaide Pound
Gem Uncirculated.


The Gibbs
1813 Holey Dollar


The J J Ford
D/2 1813 Dump


The Quartermaster
1855 Half Sovereign
About Uncirculated.

In 1851, the Sydney Morning Herald published an editorial championing the establishment of a branch of the Royal Mint in Sydney to buy gold at full price and strike it into sovereigns.

The plan for a branch of the Royal Mint received great support from the diggers. Solid opposition came from the banks and a prominent group of private individuals both of whom had become major buyers of gold on the fields at prices discounted well below the full London price. Profits were at stake! Both factions had earlier joined forces to quash a proposal for a Sydney Assay Office that would have also impacted negatively on their commercial interests.

While it is true that New South Wales had in 1851 formally petitioned the home office in London for a branch of the Royal Mint, the decision had already been made in the British Parliament to give the colonies greater autonomy and establish a branch mint to allow them to strike coins of the realm, the sovereign.  

The Sydney Mint would strike sovereigns and half sovereigns to exactly the weight and fineness levels at the Royal Mint but they would have their own design. This was to protect the international reputation of the imperial gold coins in the event that Sydney was unable to meet the exacting standards demanded of the coin.

On the 19 August 1853 Queen Victoria gave formal approval to establish Australia’s very first mint at or near Sydney in New South Wales. In the same year, the Royal Mint London prepared designs of Australia’s first gold coinage and manufactured the dies.

The sovereign and half sovereign obverse design was a filleted bust of Victoria, only slightly different to that used on British sovereigns. The obverse quickly fell out of favour and James Wyon was ordered to engrave a new obverse that would be uniquely Australian to easily distinguish the colonial sovereigns from their British counterparts. To this end, a new portrait was introduced in 1857 that featured Queen Victoria with a banksia wreath in her hair instead of the band.

The reverse design was based loosely around contemporary reverse designs of the British sixpence and shilling. Its strong point of difference to the British sovereigns was the inclusion of the words 'Australia' and 'Sydney Mint'.

The use of the word Australia, a fascination with historians. At the time the nation was operating as separate colonies. Australia did not operate under a single Government until Federation in 1901.

The first Deputy Master of the Sydney Mint was Captain Edward Wolstenholme Ward, a trained member of the Royal Engineers. (Photo shown at top.)

Ward arrived in the colony in October 1854 on the ship Calcutta, along with other members of the Royal Engineers, a sergeant, three corporals and twelve privates. The group was deposited on Circular Quay with the bales and boxes of Sydney's new mint, along with the dies.

The Sydney Mint was established in a wing of the 'Rum Hospital' in Macquarie Street, Sydney. The mint began receiving gold on 14 May 1855 and issued its first gold sovereign soon after on June 23.

In their infancy the Sydney Mint sovereigns and half sovereigns were legal tender only in the colony of New South Wales.

In January 1856, the British tested the quality of the colonial gold coins and the results showed that they had a higher intrinsic value than their British counterparts, primarily due to their 8.33% silver content. Once these facts became known, profiteers began melting them down.

The colonial gold coins also became legal tender in Tasmania and Western Australia in 1856. South Australia and Victoria were reticent to enshrine the Sydney Mint as Australia's official mint as each colony had independently requested their own and were miffed at missing out.

By 1857, the legal tender scope was widened to include all Australian colonies and Mauritius, Ceylon and Hong Kong. In 1868 the Sydney Mint Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns became legal tender throughout the British Empire.

The design of the Sydney Mint Half Sovereign lasted until 1866 and was the only time the word Australia appeared on our gold sovereigns. From 1871, Australia's half sovereigns took on a traditional British design.

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