With the discovery of payable gold in 1851, Australia needed a way in which to convert its new-found riches into durable and portable wealth for colonial citizens. The first step in this journey was the establishment of a local mint.
Amid hot competition between New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, the former emerged triumphant in its bid to host the first overseas branch of the Royal Mint. The enabling legislation passed the British Parliament in 1853 and the Sydney Mint opened in the south wing of the old ‘Rum’ hospital on 14 May 1855.
Official backing to strike sovereign and half-sovereign gold coins in Australia came with major provisos. Initially at least, the coins would be legal tender only in the colonies. The colonial versions would also bear a non-standard design in order to prevent damaging the status of London-made coins should anything go wrong. In other words, the Sydney Mint was going to have to prove itself.
The very first Sydney sovereign was struck on 23 June 1855. Its reverse was akin to William Wyon’s design for British shillings – in essence an open wreath below a crown. Created by his eldest son, Leonard Charles Wyon, the face of the Sydney Type I sovereign, however, possessed several unique characteristics that made it unmistakably ‘Australian’.
SYDNEY MINT above the crown announced unequivocally that this was not a London-made coin. As if the point needed further emphasis, the inscription AUSTRALIA appeared under the crown! Unlike its renowned British counterpart, which displayed no denomination at all, the Type I also included ONE SOVEREIGN (or ONE HALF SOVERIGN) at the foot of the design.
Customising the original Sydney sovereign reverse to read PERTH MINT, our modern adaptation pays tribute to this important part of Australia’s numismatic history. Like the original coin, it is struck from 91.67% pure gold (22-carat) and weighs 7.9881 grams. With its shiny proof quality finish, strict limited mintage of 1,500, and superb presentation packaging, the annual release for 2016 is a prestigious addition to any coin collection.
As it turned out, British concerns about the new Sydney Mint’s ability to produce sovereigns to their exactingly high standards were unfounded. The Australian-made coins have never been faulted, and by 1871 the Sydney Mint was permitted to strike the same design as the Royal Mint. The same rule applied to the Melbourne and Perth branches (opened in 1872 and 1899 respectively), the latter continuing the tradition for supreme quality to this day.