This 1870 Sydney Mint Proof Sovereign is the only known example of an important date, '1870' the final year that Australia issued sovereigns with the Sydney Mint design.
There are no recorded examples in public institutions, museums and Government archives, both in Australia and overseas. And this includes the Museum of Victoria, the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra, the British Museum and the Royal Mint London, all of which have extensive holdings of Australia’s heritage coins.
The Royal Mint still has the proof dies. And a pair of strikings in tin of the obverse and reverse bearing the legend MODEL/E. They are held at the Royal Mint, Wales
During a posting in London in the 1970s Barrie Winsor established a provenance that dated back to 1873. He also recalls being offered the coin in 1976 by Judith Spiers of Spink for £4000. (Sadly he recalls, he had to decline the offer.)
Our photos have done justice to the coin. It is magnificent.
When the editor of the industry magazine, the Australian Coin Review saw the photos he indicated that the coin would go on the front cover of their forthcoming November issue.
This gesture has not come at our request. It was simply an acknowledgement by our industry peers that this 1870 Sydney Mint Proof Sovereign represents the very best the Australian rare coin market can offer.
The classic Sydney Mint reverse designed by Chief Engraver of the Royal Mint London, L C Wyon. 'SYDNEY MINT' at top as a curved legend, 'AUSTRALIA' at centre beneath a crown surrounded by a bowed wreath, 'ONE SOVEREIGN' at bottom as a curved legend with plain edge.
The obverse portrait also designed by L C Wyon featuring Queen Victoria wearing a wreath of banksia leaves, the queen’s braided hair drawn around and beneath her ear, extending to entwine with the bun at the back of her head.
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 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 sovereign 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 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.
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 receiving gold on 14 May 1855 and issuing its first gold sovereign soon after on June 23.
In their infancy the Sydney Mint sovereigns were legal tender only in the colony of New South Wales.
In January 1856, the British tested the quality of the colonial sovereigns 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.
Also in 1856, the colonial sovereigns became legal tender in Tasmania and Western Australia. 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 sovereign lasted until 1870 and was the only time the word Australia appeared on our gold sovereigns.
From 1871, Australia's sovereigns took on a traditional British design.