Feb 292012

A counterfeit 1923 half penny surfaced at the most recent Perth Numismatic Show, reminding me that this is one of Australia’s most important and rarest pre-decimal coins. Untold for decades after its issue, the story behind the coin’s rarity is a fascinating one.

1923 Royal (Branch) mint records indicate that 1,113,600 half pennies were struck in Sydney, while none were struck in Melbourne at all. But research by John Sharples, the Museum of Victoria’s Numismatic Curator, has proven that the coins struck in Sydney in 1923 were actually dated 1922. The elusive 1923 halfpenny was, after all, struck in Melbourne!

The saga began on July 10th 1923 when the Commonwealth Treasury placed an order for 480,000 half pence. Three pairs of dies were prepared to do the job, but one of these was returned “for further work”. Given that around 80,000 sovereigns were being produced from a pair of dies during this period, two pairs of dies would surely have completed far less than a third of the total required. Why were so few dies ordered?

Although Treasury had issued pence since 1919, 1923 was the first year it had requested half pence from Melbourne. Coincidentally, it was also the first time that Melbourne was permitted to assist in producing dies for the full range of Commonwealth denominations.

Melbourne was now able to re-punch partially blank master dies with the final digit required for that year – for example, a reverse die dated “192_” was sent from London, to which a “3” or “4” was manually added. In true colonial style, it seems the mint was keen to demonstrate its skill in minting this latest denomination at the British Empire Exhibition in London. As the exhibition was to be held in 1924, the most impressive display would surely have been a complete set of coins dated 1924. A set of unmatched coins (ie: one which included a half penny dated 1923) would not have anywhere near the same visual impact.

To put this enthusiasm in context, each of the Australian mints faced an uncertain future in the 1920’s. Demand for sovereigns eased with declining gold production, and competition for Commonwealth coinage contracts was also evident. In short, the Melbourne mint would have been keen to demonstrate any ability or initiative that would help stave off an inevitable closure, or give it a leg up over Sydney and Perth.

Keeping this in mind, perhaps the 1923 dies were used merely for testing. Varying striking pressures (the upper and lower limits of power required to achieve strong design detail) would have been firmly established by a trial run. Once it was finished, the limited number of 1923 dies would have provided the perfect excuse for them to request 1924 dies. This was the date required to complete the 1924 London Exhibition set, and as they would have now had the machinery at appropriate settings, it could be produced to a degree of quality easily acceptable internationally.

The 1923 half pennies may have then been thrown aside, to be issued at a later date together with the next production run. Quite predominant hairline cracks (far greater than on the majority of Commonwealth coinage) indicate that the dies were subjected to great stress during production.

Their existence would not have been recorded in official figures, as this would certainly not have been correct mint procedure. The last thing mint staff would have wanted was for their superiors to become aware of the “short-cuts” they had taken to attract recognition – in fact this would probably have been a major black mark against them in their tussles with the Sydney and Perth mints.

For many years this coin slipped through the cracks of Australian numismatic history – perhaps it should be known as the coin that never was! It is only due to avid collectors in later years that we are even aware of it today.

Andrew Crellin’s numismatic career began at The Perth Mint. Subsequently he spent over a decade in Sydney with two of Australia’s leading numismatic dealers. In that time he wrote two acclaimed books on Australian numismatics, appraised The Perth Mint’s archival collection and was nominated to the position of Secretary of the Australasian Numismatic Dealer’s Association. Back in Perth, his company Sterling and Currency specialises in Australian coins and banknotes, from the Holey Dollar of 1813 through to the modern coin sets.

Feb 272012

The latest Australasian Numismatic Dealer’s Association (ANDA) Coin Show is on in Perth next weekend.

The event takes place at Burswood on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 March.

The Perth Mint is issuing two Coin Show Specials, including a 2oz Coloured Dragon silver coin for the exclusive show price of $172.00. Just 1,000 of these coins will be released. (Download ANDA’s promotional pdf).

Opening times, admission fees and a list of coin dealers attending the Show are available on the official ANDA website.

ANDA is a professional body representing individuals and businesses that deal in rare coins and banknotes throughout Australasia.

Feb 232012

Dame Nellie Melba, Australia’s first international celebrity superstar, died this day, 23 February, 81 years ago in 1931.

As historian Rebe Taylor has said: Our first true A-lister mobbed by fans and intimate with royals was an opera singer. Soprano Dame Nellie Melba earned more for a single performance – $250,000 in today’s money – than any other artiste in the world. Raved and gossiped about everywhere, she had the voice of an angel and a diva’s taste for the outrageous.”

Despite living and touring overseas for lengthy periods, her love of Australia never diminished. In 1924, during a farewell concert at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, she movingly pronounced: “For all that Australia has done for me, for all the beauty that she has shown me, for all the love she has offered, I wish to say, thank you from the bottom of my heart… I never was prouder than I am tonight to be an Australian woman.” [Moya McFadzean]

She died of septicaemia, resulting from facial surgery (a face-lift) performed in Europe. The Australian Dictionary of Biography sums up the stunning effect of her tragic demise. “ …the obituaries read as though for the passing of a monarch. ‘Is it too much to say’, asked the Argus, ‘that she was the greatest Australian?’; in Canberra parliamentarians stood with heads bowed to honour her memory.”

Thousands lined the streets of Melbourne to pay their last respects as her funeral procession passed by. Among the mourners at the service were politicians, royal representatives, religious leaders and other high-ranking members of Australian society.

Today is a great day to reflect on Dame Nellie’s legacy and her iconic status, which was recognised by The Perth Mint in 2011 with this beautiful pure silver anniversary tribute, which you can acquire by clicking here.

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Feb 212012

The 1930 penny is easily Australia’s most forged 20th century coin. Amateur and professional counterfeiters alike have turned their hand to producing this popular Australian icon, and many collectors have been deceived over the years.

Given the potential risk involved, prospective buyers are advised to become aware of the basic points to look for when determining a coin’s authenticity. As with any numismatic issue, there are certain characteristics of the design, strike and wear which are unique to the 1930 penny. Once these are learned and identified, much of the risk related to buying a 1930 penny is reduced.

1930 Penny Quick Reference Guide

Obverse: Two different obverse dies were used in the production of 1930 pennies, each with unique identifying characteristics. Nearly all known examples were struck with what is known as the “Indian” obverse die; our research indicates that just two 1930 pennies struck with the “London” obverse die have been sighted.

The first step in authenticating a 1930 penny is to determine which obverse die was used to produce it: if a 1930 penny has the “London” obverse, chances are at least 1,500 to 1 that it is a forgery. Independent authentication of any 1930 penny struck with the “London” obverse die should be obtained.

The “Indian” die can be identified by examining how the legend aligns with the outer beading: the final upstroke in the “N” of “OMN” sits neatly in line with an outer rim bead, whereas the same point on coins struck with the “London” die align between the outer rim beads. The colon following “IMP” is consequently aligned between two beads, rather than in line with one as on the “London” die.

Reverse: Only one reverse die has been observed for this coin – that struck from the “London” master die. The letters in the word “AL” in “AUSTRALIA” are aligned in line with the beads of the outer rim, and the letters “IA” in “AUSTRALIA” are between the beads of the outer rim.

Date: 1930 pennies are often forged most obviously through the alteration of the date. The zero in the date of a genuine 1930 penny will exhibit a fat and wide “0”, while most forgeries tend to show a more elongated and narrow “0”. Any visible evidence of tampering with the coin, such as a slight difference in surface colour or any scratch, dent or mark around the date should give cause for caution.

Although this guide contains much more about counterfeit 1930 pennies than a layman would know, it can never be enough to guard completely against counterfeits and forgeries. If you are looking to buy or sell a 1930 penny, ensure you deal with a member of the Australasian Numismatic Dealer’s Association (ANDA), who are experienced dealers bound by a strict Code of Conduct.

Andrew Crellin’s numismatic career began at The Perth Mint. Subsequently he spent over a decade in Sydney with two of Australia’s leading numismatic dealers. In that time he wrote two acclaimed books on Australian numismatics, appraised The Perth Mint’s archival collection and was nominated to the position of Secretary of the Australasian Numismatic Dealer’s Association. Back in Perth, his company Sterling and Currency specialises in Australian coins and banknotes, from the Holey Dollar of 1813 through to the modern coin sets.

Feb 172012

Our flagship coin program, Discover Australia, kicks off in 2012 with five stunning silver proof coins celebrating iconic Australian animals – goanna, whale shark, green & gold bell frog, kookaburra and red kangaroo. Animals are portrayed on the coins amid scenes representing the Kimberley, Ningaloo Reef, Blue Mountains, Murray River and the Outback.

To start collecting these limited coins, click here.

Feb 142012

On this day, 14th February 1966, Australia introduced decimal notes and coins, marking the end of its British-style currency system based on pounds, shillings and pence.

In the lead up to the introduction of decimal currency there was a concerted program to educate the public. This included extensive media coverage, including the famous ‘Dollar Bill’ campaign:

The subject of decimal coinage in Australia had been debated since Federation. The Decimal Currency Select Committee deliberated from 1901 to 1904 and recommended decimalisation based on a sovereign consisting of 10 florins.

Despite powerful proponents, it was decided that the move would put Australia at odds with Britain, which stood firmly against decimalisation. Even so, when the Commonwealth Government became responsible for the production of silver coins a few years later, it deliberately excluded the half-crown in order to make any future transition to decimal coinage easier.

Many Australian soldiers came into contact with a system of decimal coinage while fighting on the Western Front during World War I. Public opinion in Australia moved significantly ahead of Britain, but the Commonwealth Government still preferred to take its lead from London.

It was not until the 1959 Decimal Currency Committee reported decisively in favour of change that the attitude of Australian legislators shifted. As a consequence of the uncertainty created by its appointment and inquiry, the Committee urged the Commonwealth Government “to announce its decision at the earliest practicable date.”

In 1963 it was decided that Australia’s decimal currency should be based on a 10 shilling/100 cent system and that the major unit would be called the Royal.

Many would have preferred a more Australian sounding title. Indeed, names like the Emu, Koala, Digger, Oz, Boomer, Roo, Kanga, Kwid and Dinkum emerged as a result of a public naming competition.

Then Treasurer Harold Holt explained that the more conservative choice emphasised Australia’s link with the Crown. But the public wasn’t so easily convinced, and three months later the Government was compelled to change its mind and adopt the name Dollar.

The decision to decimalise the currency provided a perfect opportunity to design a completely new series of coins featuring Australian motifs. A limited competition was held among six designers, including Geelong-born sculptor and goldsmith Stuart Devlin, whose images of native fauna famously won the day.

DID YOU KNOW: The Perth Mint played an important part in preparations for the introduction of decimal coinage, striking nearly 105 million 1 cent and 2 cent pieces in 1965. By 1983, it had manufactured a staggering 829 million 2c coins and 26 million 1c coins.


  • The silver 50c coin was replaced by a cupro-nickel 12-sided coin in 1969.
  • The $1 coin was introduced in 1984 to replace the $1 note.
  • The $2 coin was introduced in 1988 to replace the $2 note.
  • The 1c and 2c coins were withdrawn from circulation in 1992.
ABC Radio National (Sunday Extra – 12 February 2012)
“How Australia changed old money for new”

Writer and social historian Robin Robertson takes us back in time with some amusing anecdotes of how the population felt about decimalisation.
LISTEN NOW at ABC Radio National