May 292014
 

Today is the birthday of Benedetto Pistrucci, creator of one of the world’s most highly revered gold coin designs.

Pistrucci

Bust of Benedetto Pistrucci

Born in Italy on 29 May 1783*, Pistrucci moved to England in 1815 where he became Chief Medallist at the Royal Mint.

Under the laws of the day, foreigners were technically ineligible for the top job. However, in the words of the Mint Master, his skills “place him above all competition”.

Pistrucci’s reputation in London soared with the creation of a wax model of St George in the ‘Greek style’ for aristocrats Lord and Lady Spencer.

On joining the Mint, he created designs for Britain’s Great Recoinage of 1816, suggesting St George and the Dragon for the new gold sovereign valued at one pound.

Pistrucci’s design showed St George as a Greek horseman mounted on a Parthenon-style horse slaying a dragon. The new coin made its appearance in 1817 after Britain’s victory at Waterloo.

The result was a masterpiece of numismatic art, a design combining such grace and dramatic impact that it now ranks as one of the best loved and most enduring of all British coin designs.

Australia boasts a connection with his iconic reverse. It was struck millions of times on sovereigns made at the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth Mints before 1931.
Quarter sovereign coinToday’ the British Mint continues to strike the design on magnificent gold coins such as this 2014 Quarter Sovereign struck from 22-carat red gold. Pistrucci would undoubtedly be extremely proud to know his masterpiece still commands such admiration and respect.

(*In the course of our research we found some sources quoting Pistrucci’s date of birth to be 24 May. Others we discovered have the year of birth as 1874, but this is now considered to be incorrect. We apologise if any inaccuracy is reflected in this article).

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May 282014
 

At the end of their working lives in 1990, 15 furnaces were removed from the original Melting House at The Perth Mint.

Ironically, they ended their days in yet another furnace, which was used to extract particles of embedded gold from their crushed remnants. The process recovered an astonishing amount of yellow metal worth roughly a quarter of a million dollars!

For nine decades the Melting House was at the centre of the smelting, refining and casting of gold into ingots and for the production of sovereigns.

It was a difficult and perilous place, where a splash of molten gold was an ever-present danger to the men who worked there. In summer, with all 15 furnaces in operation, they regularly endured temperatures in excess of 55⁰C.

Perth Mint

The Perth Mint Melting House circa 1960.

Gold Pouring Demonstration

Today, visitors can get a feel for what it must have been like. Despite the installation of auditorium seating, the room retains much of its original character, complete with hulking gantries and industrial–sized pulley systems.

Perth Mint gold pourA presentation area occupies the wall where the old furnaces once stood side-by-side. At its centre is a single, gas-fired furnace which roars noisily as its temperature climbs towards 1,300⁰C – more than enough to melt gold.

In low-light that emphasizes the drama, a Kevlar-clad presenter highly-practiced in the art of gold pouring cautiously retrieves a crucible from its molten interior. The crucible contains 6 kilos of bright-orange liquid gold, which he skilfully pours into a bar-shaped mould. As the gold begins to cool, the presenter dunks it into a barrel of water, which emits a fierce hiss on contact.

The result is a solid bar of pure gleaming gold.

Amazingly, this same gold has been melted every day (bar public holidays), seven days a week for more than 20 years – testament to gold’s imperishable nature. Meticulous attention to detail means virtually none of the original gold has been lost during the course of 40,000 pours!

Like the old furnaces, however, crucibles gradually absorb minute quantities of gold. Each crucible is used in the demonstration for just two weeks, after which  it ends up at the The Perth Mint’s modern refinery complex where $200 worth of gold can be recovered for restoration to the original pool.

There’s another remarkable fact the presenters love to reveal during the presentation. During its 90 years as a working Melting House, atoms of gold literally floated to the ceiling where they accumulated in soot. In 1993, the room was scrubbed prior to opening as an attraction. From the dirt and debris, the gold recovered was valued at an amazing…… well, why not come along and hear for yourself?

For more details of when you can see the amazing spectacle of a Gold Pouring Performance at The Perth Mint, click here.

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May 272014
 

Available from today, this stunning three coin set celebrates six mythical horses that hold a unique place in lore and legend – the Hippocamp, Kelpie, Slepnir, Unicorn, Qilin and Pegasus.

Horses of Lore and Legend coinsColoured imagery of the horses is meticulously reproduced on 1oz coins each struck by The Perth Mint from 99.9% pure silver in proof quality.

Just 1,500 of these Horses of Lore and Legend 1oz Silver Proof Three-Coin Sets will be released. Each set is housed in a high-gloss black presentation case within an illustrated shipper, and is accompanied by a numbered Certificate of Authenticity.

Full details here.

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May 262014
 

The Perth Mint is reversing its previously stated position and will now restrict the number of Poseidon 2014 2oz Silver High Relief Coins to one per existing retail customer.

In recent days it has become increasingly clear that this coin, which has a maximum mintage of just 1,500, will be highly sought-after.

Unauthorised publication of a Poseidon coin image at the weekend increased enquiries at the Mint today with collectors expressing concern they could miss out if purchases remained unrestricted.

Under the one-per-customer policy, we are confident that more collectors will now get the opportunity to purchase the coin at issue price from the Mint.

The Poseidon 2014 2oz Silver High Relief Coin will be available on The Perth Mint website from 12.01am 3 June 2014 (AWST).

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May 222014
 

An extraordinary event in the history of Australia occurred on this day in 1851. In a bold step, the Government of New South Wales made the official announcement of the discovery of gold.

Before 22 May 1851, colonial authorities had hushed up such news for fear of its effect on convicts. When William Branwhite Clarke found gold in the Blue Mountains 10 years earlier, for example, Governor Gipps told him: “Put it away, Mr Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut.”

Edward Hargraves, a man with a flair for publicity, was more difficult to keep quiet. When his party found gold in 1851 at a place in New South Wales they named Ophir, Hargraves rode to Sydney to press the Colonial Secretary into publicly recognising the feat.

OrphirBluff

Ophir Bluff, where gold was first found in Australia.

The official announcement sparked a gold frenzy. “A complete mental madness appears to have seized almost every member of the community. There has been a universal rush to the diggings,” the newspapers reported.

The race to find more deposits was on and just six months later gold was uncovered in neighbouring Victoria in what turned out to be enormous quantities at Ballarat and then Bendigo.

As men abandoned their jobs in Australia and headed for the mine sites, news spread far and wide. A huge new influx of migrants began arriving, many fresh from the Californian gold rush. In 1852 alone, more than 350,000 immigrants disembarked on Australian shores and pretty soon their numbers outstripped the existing convict population.

As well as English, Scots and Irish, newcomers included Americans, French, Italians, Germans, Poles and Chinese as Australia took on a distinctly cosmopolitan air.

Panning for Gold

Gold field towns sprang up with stores, hotels and workshops all servicing the requirements of this huge number of miners and their equipment.

The incredible wealth created by gold would soon be enough to transform Melbourne from a straggling colonial town into one of the richest cities in the world and the second largest in the British Empire!

The impact of gold was felt in many social, cultural and political ways. During the Eureka Rebellion of 1854, Victorian miner’s fought against the unfairness of the Miner’s Licence. Their success (at the cost of over 20 lives) was seen as a key event in the development of Australian democracy.

The ‘mateship’ exhibited by 19th century gold ‘diggers’ in their defiance of authority was reflected in stories about Australian troops at Gallipoli in 1915, by which time these characteristics had become fundamental to the emerging sense of an Australian national identity.

In short, gold was a strong driving force in Australia’s transformation from giant open-air prison into a progressive, independent nation with outstanding potential.

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