Agricultural societies developed in the 19th century to encourage the development of new farming techniques and celebrate the activities and achievements of rural communities. Annual shows emerged as key forums for the exchange of ideas and arenas in which their hard work and skill was acknowledged and rewarded.
From early in their history, agricultural and pastoral associations sought to raise standards by encouraging farmers and graziers to compete for prizes in the form of inscribed medals. When the three year-old Sydney Mint added a screw press to its coining presses in 1858, Australia at last had reliable machinery to make medals appropriate to standards required by colonial governments, educational institutions, learned societies, the agricultural sector and others.
In A History of Medal Production at the Sydney Mint 1858-1926, author Susie Davies classifies agricultural medals as one of the Mint’s six main stylistic genres. “Australian agricultural medals tended to have an obverse depicting a farmyard or an agricultural scene, all similar in composition and style. The reverse… usually comprised a wreath, a beaded circle close to the edge, or a border which contained the society or association’s title.”
The Perth Mint is privileged to be the custodian of several agricultural society medals dating from this period. Featuring an image of a horse, bull, ram and ewe together with a wreath of fruits and wheat arching above a farm-yard scene, the Peak Downs Pastoral & Agricultural Society medal is a classic example.
Undoubtedly, such designs reflected British interpretations of rural life. This worked well for colonial medallists at this time as they sought to characterise agriculture as a fruitful and prosperous activity undeterred by Australia’s difficult and unfamiliar environments.
When a particular society did not possess sufficient funds to have its own dies prepared, stock medals were available like this one (left) portraying two farm horses. The reverse bears the letters ‘RC SC’, identifying Robert Capner, Sculptor, a Brisbane die sinker who engraved dies from the 1870s for a large number of Queensland medals that were struck at the Sydney Mint. As far as we can deduce, it represents Capner’s close copy of a design originally engraved by English medallist Joseph Moore.
In time, prizes at agricultural shows became rosettes and ribbons, leaving these historic medals as fascinating records of rural life and the determination to achieve progress on the land. As such, there is no doubt they represent unique items of Australian agricultural heritage.