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We admit it. We just love Ferdinand VII Holey Dollars. Not only are they inordinately rare, there is an intrigue and controversy associated with the coins that makes for simply fabulous reading. It’s politics 101. Played out in the nineteenth century.


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First up a definition of 'Ferdinand VII' Holey Dollars.

The nation's first coin, the Holey Dollar, was created from a Spanish Silver Dollar that was holed and counter stamped by our first mint master, William Henshall.

Ferdinand VII Holey Dollars were created from Spanish Silver Dollars that bore the portrait of King Ferdinand VII of Spain.

Ferdinand VII had a turbulent reign, falling foul of the European strongman and Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Ferdinand ascended the throne in 1808 and reigned for less than two months after which time he was imprisoned by Bonaparte in Valencay, France.

By 1813 the French position in Spain had become untenable and Napoleon withdrew his troops.

Ferdinand was released from prison and returned triumphant to Madrid and in 1814 re-claimed his throne.

But Ferdinand VII is not the only monarch to appear on Australia’s Holey Dollars.

Holey Dollars depicting the legend and portrait of the following monarchs have been found:  Ferdinand VI, Charles III and Charles IIII.

The reason for the variation in the monarchs is simply that Governor Lachlan Macquarie placed no restrictions on the content of his shipment of 40,000 silver dollars.

It was not date specific. Any date would do, and any monarch would suffice.

Nor did he care where the dollars were minted, and he placed no controls on quality.

And it is the combination of date, monarch and mint that defines the rarity of a Holey Dollar and that leads us to say that while all Holey Dollars are rare, some are indeed rarer than others.


Ferdinand Holey Dollars are the rarest of the rare.

A major study completed in 1988 by Messrs. Mira and Noble identified a total of 176 privately owned Holey Dollars.

And confirmed the relative frequency of the four monarchs within that total. Their results are summarised below.

  • Ferdinand VI reigned from 1746 to 1759 and appears on only one Holey Dollar. Dated 1757, (56 years before Henshall got his hands on it) there are no other known Ferdinand VI examples either in museums or privately owned worldwide.
  • Charles III reigned from 1759 to 1788. His portrait appears on 32 Holey Dollars.
  • Charles IIII reigned from 1788 to 1808. His portrait appears on 130 Holey Dollars. The Spanish Empire was at its zenith during the reign of Charles IIII, the silver rich continent of South America bankrolling Spain's ascendancy as a world power by way of massive silver coin production. 
  • Ferdinand VII reigned in 1808 for less than two months. And again in 1814. His portrait appears on only 12 Holey Dollars.

And if you are doing the math on the numbers quoted above, yes it does total 175.

And the missing coin? The Hannibal Head Holey Dollar featuring the imaginary portrait of the Spanish monarch, sold by Coinworks in August 2018 for $500,000.

Given that the above data was compiled in 1988, it stands to reason that several examples must have been discovered over the last 30 years. And that is indeed the case.

According to our research, the list of 176 privately owned Holey Dollars can now be updated to 192, with the addition of 16 recently discovered examples.

The monarch's portrait -  and date - depicted on the newly discovered Holey dollars is summarised below.

  • Charles III – two Holey Dollars have emerged with the portrait of Charles III. One is dated 1789 and struck at the Lima Mint. The second is dated 1790 and struck at the Mexico Mint. Given that Charles III died in 1788, these two Holey Dollars have a serious importance.
  • Charles IIII – fourteen Holey Dollars have emerged dated 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794 (2), 1798 (2), 1799, 1800, 1805 (2), 1806 (2) and 1808. Of those only one relates to the Potosi Mint, four to Lima and the balance were produced at the the Mexico Mint.

But the important point to come out of this statement is that NO Ferdinand VII Holey Dollars have surfaced since 1988.

Re-affirming their inordinate rarity.


Ferdinand Holey Dollars have a wonderful story to tell.

Napoleon Bonaparte emerged as the strongman of Europe in 1799 leading his armies across Europe deposing monarchs and dominating the entire continent.

At the time Spain was ruled by the Bourbon monarch, King Charles IV and was an ally of France.

In 1807, Bonaparte’s armies marched through Spain and invaded Portugal.

The alliance between France under Bonaparte and Spain under Charles IV disintegrated the following year when on February 16, 1808, under the pretext of sending reinforcements to the French army occupying Portugal, the French invaded northern Spain.

King Charles IV was pressured into abdicating the Spanish throne in March 1808 to his son Ferdinand VII.

The latter reigned for less than two months.

Both Charles IV and Ferdinand VII were duped by Napoleon Bonaparte into ceding the Spanish throne to Bonaparte’s older brother Joseph who assumed rule of the Spanish kingdom on 6 June 1808.

And while the upper echelons of the Spanish Government accepted Ferdinand's abdication and Napoleon's choice of Joseph as King of Spain, the Spanish people did not. Uprisings broke out throughout the country. 

The Spanish colonial mints refused to acknowledge Bonaparte as the Spanish King and protested by continuing to strike their silver dollars with the legend and portrait of the exiled Ferdinand VII.

It’s politics 101. Played out in the nineteenth century.

By 1813 the French position in Spain became untenable and Napoleon withdrew his troops and released Ferdinand VII from Valencay (France), where he had been imprisoned.

Ferdinand VII returned triumphantly to Madrid and re-claimed the Spanish crown early in 1814.  

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