Jan 092012

A brief history of Australian coins and minting from colonisation to the modern era.

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1800 Currency Proclamation

Coinage is a low priority when Britain establishes the penal colony of New South Wales in 1788. Money circulating in Sydney Town comprises a few English coins (including this 1787 shilling) and a mix of guilders, ducats, rupees, johannas, mohurs and Spanish dollars. Disagreements about the value of each coin are common. In an effort to solve the issue, Governor King issues his famous Currency Proclamation, thereby establishing each coin’s official value.

1800 Cartwheel Penny

The cartwheel penny becomes the first coin officially exported to New South Wales and therefore Australia’s first official coin. Known as a ‘cartwheel’ because of its large size, the copper coin is struck at Matthew Boulton’s groundbreaking steam-powered Soho Mint in Birmingham in 1797. Like other coins listed in Governor King’s Currency Proclamation, it circulates at a value beyond its face value – a ploy aimed at retaining much needed coins within the colony.

1813 Holey Dollar & Dump

As the colony expands, coinage remains in desperately short supply. Governor Macquarie seeks a solution with the import of 40,000 Spanish dollars. Convict forger William Henshall is given the task of removing a central plug and counter stamping the resulting issues. The colony’s first distinct coins are valued at five shillings for the “holey dollar” and 1 shilling & three pence for the “dump”.

1851 Discovery of Gold

Early gold finds are kept quiet on fears of how convicts may react. But Edward Hargraves, who is party to the discovery of gold near Bathurst in 1851, is determined to be feted as a hero for discovering Australia’s first goldfield – and claiming a Government reward. Although later discredited as the person solely responsible, Hargraves’ actions spark Australia’s first gold frenzy.

1852 The Adelaide Pound

Australia’s first gold ‘coin’ is issued to meet the urgent need for currency in South Australia. But there’s a problem. Made by the short-lived Adelaide Assay Office from gold brought back from the Victorian gold rush, it is issued without approval from Britain – and is thus technically illegal. Nevertheless it is backed by the colonial government and used extensively in circulation.

1855 The Sydney Mint

The discovery of gold and its circulation in raw form as ‘money’ prompts the New South Wales Legislative Assembly to make an unprecedented request for an Australian mint. Remarkably, permission to open the first branch of the Royal Mint outside England is granted in 1853. Established in the southern wing of Governor Macquarie’s ‘Rum’ hospital, the Sydney Mint operates between 1855 and 1926.

1855 Australia’s First Sovereign

The Sydney Mint makes sovereign coins with a distinctive design incorporating the word ‘Australia’ to distinguish them from their Imperial counterparts. They are accepted as legal tender within New South Wales only. Fears about the new Mint’s production competence are dispelled however and the quality of Sydney sovereigns sees them declared as legal tender elsewhere, including Britain in 1866.

1872 The Melbourne Mint

Vast gold discoveries in Victoria persuade the British authorities to approve Australia’s second Mint, which begins producing sovereigns in Melbourne in 1872. With both colonial Mints now authorised to strike sovereigns of the same design as London, their output is distinguished by an ‘M’ or ‘S’ mintmark. The Melbourne Mint is also responsible for making Australian circulating coins from 1919, but is closed by 1972.

1899 The Perth Mint

The third branch of the Royal Mint in Australia opens in 1899 following the discovery of large quantities of gold in Western Australia. Like the Sydney Mint and Melbourne Mint it produces gold sovereigns – more than 106 million by 1931. Instead of closure like its elder siblings, The Perth Mint finds new purpose in the modern era under the ownership of the State Government of Western Australia.

1910 First Commonwealth Coinage

The Commonwealth of Australia is proclaimed on 1 January 1901 and under the new Constitution the control of currency is vested in the Commonwealth. British coins continue in circulation until the Government takes steps to introduce distinctive Australian coins under the 1909 Coinage Act. The first Australian florin, shilling, sixpence and threepence are issued in 1910. A year later, the Commonwealth issues its first penny and halfpenny.

1919 Kookaburra Patterns

In 1919, the Commonwealth Government considers replacing bulky copper coins with smaller and lighter issues. Between 1919 and 1921, a memorable series of square-shaped penny and half-penny prototypes are struck, each featuring a kookaburra design. But they’re never officially circulated because of technical problems and resistance from, among others, vending machine operators!

1930 Australian Penny

No pennies are officially ordered by the Commonwealth Government for release in 1930. Nevertheless, a small number made in Melbourne are released into circulation. The 1930 penny is destined to become the best known rare Australian coin and the proof examples, of which there are just six in existence, represent the holy grail of Australian numismatics.

1965 Royal Australian Mint

The Royal Australian Mint is established in the national capital, Canberra – the first mint in Australia not to be a branch of the Royal Mint in London. The Duke of Edinburgh opens its doors on 22 February 1965, a year before the introduction of decimal coinage, for which it is primarily intended. As well as billions of circulating coins, the national mint also makes medals, medallions, tokens and Australian collectable coins.

1966 Decimalisation

On the 14th February 1966, Australia introduces decimal notes and coins, marking the end of its British-style currency system of pounds, shillings and pence. To emphasize Australia’s link with the Crown, it is planned that the major unit will be known as the ‘royal’. But public disquiet compels the Government to change its mind and adopt the ‘dollar’. Initially there are six coin denominations with designs by Stuart Devlin and four banknotes.

1966 Round 50 Cent Coin

The round version of Australia’s new 50 cent coin is short lived. Composed of 80% silver and 20% copper, its intrinsic value soon outstrips its face value. Only ever issued in 1966, it is replaced by a cupro-nickel dodecagonal (12-sided) coin in 1969. Even though vast numbers exist, hoarding the round coin becomes a national obsession because of its bullion value.

1986 Australian Precious Metal Coin Program

In 1986, the Commonwealth Government appoints The Perth Mint to design, make and market Australia’s official precious metal bullion coin program. With series like the Australian Nugget, Kangaroo, Kookaburra and Lunar, The Perth Mint establishes an outstanding reputation as a manufacturer of high-quality precious metal coins for investors and collectors.

2000 Olympic Coin Program

Sydney 2000 presents an opportunity to produce the most significant commemorative coin program in the history of Australia and the Olympic Games. The Royal Australian Mint, The Perth Mint and the world’s foremost coin designer, Stuart Devlin, deliver with an unrivalled 53 gold, silver and bronze coin collection of outstanding quality. Innovative gold and silver releases set new standards in Australian numismatic production.

2012 One Tonne Gold Coin

The record for the largest coin ever made is claimed by The Perth Mint. Created from a mesmerizing one tonne of 99.99% pure gold, the record-breaking Australian Kangaroo legal tender coin is almost 80cm in diameter and over 12cm thick. A proud symbol of Australia’s leading international role in the production, refining and coining of fine gold, it is regularly on public display at the Mint’s exhibition of unique gold objects.





  One Response to “The History of Australian Coinage and Mints”

  1. A great piece, short and precise. Great work!


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