Andrew Crellin

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.

Apr 152014
 

WavyBaseline20cThe 1966 wavy baseline 20 cent coin is counted among Australia’s rarest decimal coins issued for circulation. Although 58.2 million 20 cent coins were struck dated 1966, very, very few of these feature what collector’s describe as a ‘wavy baseline’.

The way to identify the wavy baseline 20 cent coin is to look at the bottom section of the “2″ on the tails side. The top and bottom edges of the base of the “2″ on all standard 20 cent coins are straight, while on the 1966 wavy baseline 20 cent coin, the upper edge of the base of the “2″ has an obvious wave to it.

This seemingly minor, yet quite distinct difference really sets this coin aside from all of the other coins injected into the Australian economy following the introduction of decimal currency on February 14th, 1966. Well-circulated coins dated 1966 can still be found in change nearly half a century later, whereas the 1966 20 cent with the wavy baseline is very seldom seen in any condition at numismatic auctions.

Wavy_Baseline_comparison

Coins relating to the introduction of decimal currency are hugely popular with the general public – scores of the round 50 cent coins have been hoarded, many thousands of proof and mint sets from 1966 were sold also. Very few collectors will have such an exclusive and intriguing memento relating to the introduction of decimal currency as this however.

Just what the cause of this design difference is not yet clear – debate is still underway as to whether the wave is due to one or two dies being engraved slightly differently to all others, or whether another explanation might be appropriate.

It is interesting to note online discussions of a design anomaly on several coins in the USA that may or may not be relevant to the 1966 wavy baseline – those coins are known as having “wavy steps” or “trails”.

US numismatists that have studied these coins in great detail advise that such errors come about when dies are being created:

“When a blank, conical die is placed in the hubbing press a huge amount of pressure is applied to it. This effectively transfers the image that is on the hub (either master hub or working hub), through compression, to the die. Without atypical conditions occurring horizontal movement between the hub and the die is not produced and the result is a normal image being transferred to the die. However, at times faults do occur and the results lead to an imperfect image transfer.”

The trail die and wavy step errors seen on US coins are far, far less obvious than the wavy baseline seen on the 1966 20 cent, so this explanation may well be a red herring. Regardless, I expect that there will be a lot more investigation in the coming months into the technical cause of the design difference on this exclusive and fascinating memento from the heady days of the introduction of decimal currency to Australia.

First published by Sterling & Currency
For sale: TWENTY CENT 1966 Wavy Baseline Choice Unc

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Jan 022014
 

This enigmatic medallion is the first in a unique set of three – they are the only medallions struck by an Australian Mint prior to 1931 that commemorates the Mint, as opposed to an event or occasion.

Although the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth Mints each struck a small number of medallions commemorating a range of important events, only these three Sydney Mint medallions relate to the Mints themselves.

According to research published by John Sharples, Numismatic Curator at the Museum of Victoria, this medal was “…issued in 1901 to publicize the Sydney Branch of the Royal Mint.”

We can imagine that the selection process for the designs to be used on a medallion intended to advertise the design expertise and production quality of the Sydney Mint would have been very carefully thought through. Consideration of the design elements either side bear this conclusion out.

1901SydneyMintMedallionobv

Obverse: Example of the 1901 Sydney Mint Medallion held by The Perth Mint.

OBVERSE DESIGN: The obverse design of Queen Victoria shows her wearing a diadem (a small ornamental headband, coronet or crown) and a veil. The legend “VICTORIA REGINA” runs around the perimeter.

This particular portrait of Victoria was designed by Leonard Charles Wyon – the designer of the famous portrait seen on the Type II sovereigns of the Sydney Mint. The only other Australian numismatic item to feature this particular portrait of Queen Victoria was the Egypt Medal – awarded to Australian soldiers that served in the Sudan War between 1882 and 1889.

REVERSE DESIGN: The basis for the reverse design on this medallion was first seen on the British 1825 proof crown of King George IV. In what is regarded as a standard work on the subject of British silver coins (The Silver Coins of England), the British numismatist Edward Hawkins offered the following comment about this design: “This reverse is beautifully executed by Merlen… These pieces are exceedingly beautiful, but, though dies were prepared also in 1828 and 1829, none were actually issued for currency.” [1]

Several minor additions were made to Merlen’s original design for the reverse of this medallion – a small depiction of the Tower Mint at London can be seen to the left of the crown at the top, while a rose can be seen to the right of the crown.

1901SydneyMintMedallionrev

Reverse: a small depiction of the Tower Mint at London can be seen to the left of the crown at the top – a clear signal that the medallion was an official product of a branch of the Royal Mint, articulating all of the expectations of quality and expertise that history might bring.

The inclusion of an image of the Tower Mint was a clear signal that the medallion was an official product of a branch of the Royal Mint, articulating all of the expectations of quality and expertise that history might bring.

The French motto “Dieu et mon droit” is seen on a scroll below the shield. Kearsley’s Complete Peerage, published in 1799, translates this to mean “God and my right hand”. This motto refers to the divine right of the monarch to govern, and is said to have first been used by King Richard the Lionheart as a battle cry, as well as an official motto of battle. It was then adopted as the royal motto of England by King Henry V in the 15th century.

The exact date of Merlen’s death is not known, however it is believed that he passed away in either Paris or Brussels in or around 1850. Leonard Charles Wyon is known to have died at his home in London in 1891 – as this medallion is believed to have been struck in 1901, it is therefore clear that the dies were prepared well after the death of both of the designers involved.

The two subsequent medallions issued in this series feature the same reverse design, however feature the portraits of King Edward VII and King George V respectively. Further research will undoubtedly inform us as to the reasons for which these rare, impressive and attractive medallions were struck.

Just what we should make of the fact that only one type of medallion was struck during the reign of each monarch remains to be seen. One such medallion, struck in silver and featuring the portrait of King George V, was offered for sale by Noble Numismatics as part of the John Chapman collection in July 2008. This medallion was described as “inscribed around edge ‘A.M. Le Souef’.” Albert Malet Le Souef was the last Deputy Master stationed at the Sydney Mint – his association with this medallion indicates that while the Sydney Mint medallion with the portrait of Victoria may well have been struck to act as an advertising medium, if that is the case they were clearly an exclusive advertising medium, one also presented to important dignitaries involved with the history of the Sydney Mint.

Further research is sure to shed more light on the rarity and purpose of these enigmatic medallions.

First published by Sterling & Currency

[1] Forrer; Leonard, “Biographical Dictionary of Medallists”, Spink and Son, London, 1909, p Vol IV, p40.

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Jun 242013
 

The 1918 Perth half sovereign is truly an enigmatic coin – five decades had passed from the date it was made before Australian collectors were able to even confirm that it existed. From the time the first known example was photographed on page 5 of the April 1967 edition of the Australian Coin Review magazine, the exact number struck has been the subject of conjecture. Just what happened to these tiny gold coins once they left the Perth Mint’s premises has also been a burning question for many decades.

Several Reasons For Uncertainty Over the Mintage

The primary reason many numismatists have questioned the official 1918P_Sovereignmintage figure is the fact that although the Royal Mint prepared half sovereign dies dated 1918 for the Perth Mint, curiously, no half sovereigns were actually struck at the Perth Mint during that calendar year. Further to that, the Perth Mint Die Register shows that the Royal Mint in London prepared half sovereign dies dated 1920 for the Perth Mint, and also that half sovereigns were struck at the Perth Mint in 1919 and 1920.

A small comment in the Pocket Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes states that “dies dated 1919 and 1920 were prepared”, however the Die Register at the Perth Mint does not confirm this. No half sovereign reverse dies were received at all at the Perth Mint during 1919, the Die Register does not indicate that any 1919-dated half sovereign reverse dies were received at all, even if the Royal Mint did prepare them. The Perth Mint Die Register confirms existing knowledge that 1920-dated half sovereign reverse dies were received at the Perth Mint, although they did not arrive until March 3rd, 1920.

In the normal course of business at any branch of the Royal Mint, such a series of facts would strongly indicate that half sovereigns dated 1920 were struck at the Perth Mint, and that none were struck dated 1918. Today’s collector market of course instinctively knows that this is not the case, and that a different story must apply.

The pressures imposed upon the Perth Mint staff by World War I meant that the standard practice of the Deputy Master personally observing that all dies used were destroyed at the end of the calendar year were not followed to the letter. Correspondence between the Deputy Master of the Perth Mint and the Deputy Master of the Royal Mint in London on May 7th 1920 shows that the half sovereigns struck at the Perth Mint during 1919 and 1920 were actually struck with dies dated 1918. According to Deputy Master Campbell, this unorthodox measure was necessary once “the confusion caused by the war was experienced, and it was realised how serious the cessation of coinage in wartime would be. The half sovereigns in question were coined at the urgent request of the Commonwealth government…”

Further research into the Perth Mint’s archives is required to find out exactly why the Commonwealth Government might have made an “urgent request” for what was a relatively small quantity of half sovereigns.

We can be assured that no half sovereigns dated 1919 or 1920 were struck at the Perth Mint due to a handwritten note attached to the letter from Deputy Master Campbell referred to above: “P.S. Dies telegraphed for in November 1919 were not received until March 1920.” A further letter written by Deputy Master Campbell to Deputy Master Cawston on May 14th 1920 stated that: “I note that the Pyx Jury has expressed an opinion against the continuance of the practice, and I have given orders that in future the defacement of the previous year’s reverse dies must be carried out immediately after the New Year.”

The above statements indicate that unless the Perth Mint half struck half sovereigns between March and December 1920, no half sovereigns dated 1919 or 1920 could ever have been struck at the Perth Mint. The Perth Mint Die Register however shows that each of the then pairs of half sovereign dies used to strike half sovereigns in January 1920 were either cracked or “sunk” (damaged beyond repair by coming into contact with each other) during that production run – no half sovereigns of any date at all are struck after that batch of dies was declared unfit for use by Perth Mint staff. This information should now be conclusive evidence that no half sovereigns dated 1919 or 1920 were ever struck at the Perth Mint.

The Exact Mintage Figure of the 1918 Perth Half Sovereign

The exact mintage figure for the 1918 Perth half sovereign has long been the subject of conjecture, however correct interpretation of archival records at the Perth Mint indicate that the mintage can be calculated as being 219,988 coins:

1919 – 113,572 coins struck (This figure was recorded on page 6 of the Annual Report of the Perth Branch of the Royal Mint for 1919. At this stage, it is known that these coins were struck during December 1919 – the exact dates in December over which this production took place is yet to be determined.)

1920 – 106,416 coins struck (This figure was recorded on page 10 of the Annual Report of the Perth Branch of the Royal Mint for 1920. 40,020 coins were apparently struck on January 21st 1920 and 66,396 coins were struck on January 29th 1920. Despite this, the Die Register shows that these coins were struck between January 17th and January 24th, production ceased when the last dies were rendered unfit for operation.

Total Mintage – 219,988 coins.

What Happened to the 1918 Perth Half Sovereigns Once They Left The Perth Mint?

Experienced collectors of Australian gold coins will be well aware that this figure is far higher than the market rarity of this coin might suggest. Just what happened to the 219,988 half sovereigns struck by the Perth Mint between December 1919 and January 1920 once they left the Perth Mint’s premises is a question that has puzzled collectors for many decades.

It is known that in April and May of 1919 alone, some £2,000,000 in gold sovereigns was exported from Australia to India, as part of a broader policy by the British Government to concentrate gold reserves in London, while at the same time supporting the Indian export trade.

As the 1918 Perth half sovereigns were struck between December 1919 and January 1920, it is clear that they could not possibly have been included as part of that outward consignment of gold coins. It is also known that on March 6th 1919, the Gold Producers’ Association was incorporated with the approval of the Commonwealth Government. This Association was formed to obtain additional revenue for the Australian gold mining industry by selling Australian gold overseas, where they were able to obtain a premium over the amount ordinarily obtained in Australia.

Numerous other exports of Australian gold coins occurred during this period however – just where the 1918 Perth half sovereigns were dispatched to is a question that will surely be satisfied with further research. In the meantime, page 6 of the Royal Mint Annual Report for 1919 states that “A considerable amount of the coin and bullion produced at the Perth Branch has, it is understood, been exported in the interests of the Gold Producers’ Association. This includes the whole of the half-sovereigns produced and the whole of the “Gold Bullion for Export.”

Just whether the Commonwealth Government expressly requested that a certain quantity of gold intended for export should be coined into half sovereigns, as opposed to sovereigns or even small ingots, remains to be determined. If the Commonwealth Government did not make this express request, just why Perth Mint staff chose to prepare that quantity of gold in the form of half sovereigns over the other forms mentioned also remains to be determined.

The answer to these questions may shed further light on why the vast majority of the 1918 Perth half sovereigns have never seen the light of day. Whether they were also shipped to India, and remain to this day deep in the vaults of an Indian temple such as this one at Padmanabhaswamy, or whether they were shipped to Great Britain or the United States with the vast majority melted down as soon as they arrived, we are yet to find out.

What is known is that the first example of this coin made its appearance on page 5 of the April 1967 edition of the Australian Coin Review magazine. Australia’s National Coin Collection, stored at and managed by the Royal Australian Mint, also acquired two examples around September 1967. An examination of the available numismatic auction records from the 1970′s shows that 1918 Perth half sovereigns were very rare indeed until perhaps the mid to late 1970′s. A small article in the Australian Financial Review newspaper dated March 29th 1979 breathlessly discussed the auction of a significant collection of gold coins by Downie’s of Melbourne on March 15th & 16th. The description for lot 678 reads as follows:

“Although a few have been unearthed in the last few years, the total number known probably does not exceed 25. A great rarity and internationally important. A little softly struck on St George knee otherwise good EF.” Much was made in the AFR of the vendor achieving $775 for the sale of this coin, as well as of the “…$2,800 it had cost its owner Bill Johnson when the coin was rare.”

While such a significant percentage drop in value was perhaps newsworthy to a degree, the price realised perhaps was not – various auction results for this coin between 1975 and 1981 indicate that it had traded at anywhere between $445 and $1,600. Although significantly lower than $2,800, $775 sits comfortably within that range.

Despite and perhaps because of the unanswered questions surrounding it, the 1918 Perth half sovereign remains a fascinating, historic and desirable coin. It is sure to remain of interest to Australian coin collectors for many decades to come.

First published by Sterling & Currency

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Dec 172012
 

Nearly 60 years before The Perth Mint began striking official coinage on Western Australian soil, some of the earliest banknotes printed in Australia were issued by the Western Australian Bank.

Established on 23 June 1841, the WA Bank was founded by a group of influential pastoralists and merchants including George Shenton and Edward Hamersley.

As shareholders in the Bank of Western Australia, formed in 1837, they had been unhappy with the board’s decision to amalgamate with the Bank of Australasia.

The first branch of their rival WA Bank was located at the eastern side of the intersection of St Georges Terrace and Pier Street – now the location of St Andrew’s (Uniting) Church.

It received strong support from local depositors. In fact, it was so successful that the Bank of Australasia was forced to withdraw from the west in 1845.

WA Bank’s first issue of notes was on 24 June 1841. These notes are known today by collectors as the “Type One” variety, and were composed by a local printer in black ink on one side only. The paper stock used was extremely light, even when compared to other notes from the pre-Federation period.

Western Australian Bank 1844 Unissued One Pound.
More information:
Sterling & Currency.

By the end of the year, some 1,800 of these notes had been issued, a figure that had risen to 4,000 by January 1844.

Several hundred unissued examples of the “Type One” WA Bank £1 note were marketed by the well-known coin dealers Downies. They were presented in a coloured cardboard album that contained a range of background information on the bank and the notes, and was decorated by a number of contemporary watercolours of the Swan River Colony.

Downies’ literature stated that “From records, it is possible that up to 650 of these notes exist in original and uncancelled condition. However, experts believe the number surviving may well be as little as half of that number.”

At the WA Bank’s half-yearly meeting on 10 January 1844, the directors announced that: “A supply of new Notes, of a more durable character and from an engraved plate, is also daily expected, to supersede the neat but temporary note in type, which has hitherto been in circulation.”

These “Type Two” notes were engraved with an oval containing a swan, the title of the bank and “Established 1841” at the top. As part of the design, the word Perth appeared in the side borders and they were issued here until 1 November 1860.

It must have been a sad day for many Western Australians when in January 1927 the 84-branch WA Bank was acquired by the Bank of New South Wales, marking the end of a local institution “that had so long identified with the life and fortunes of this state.”

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Sep 242012
 

The instinct to collect runs deep in many of us – collecting is a compulsion that can’t always be explained clearly, let alone be controlled by rational thought.

Behavioural psychologists believe that some people collect in an effort to remember and relive their past. Coins and notes can be an effective means of achieving this.

The time when a child is first given the opportunity of sharing the responsibility of buying a household item regularly consumed by their family is important from a developmental point of view – this small increase in independence marks just one of the phases of growth from child to adult, and can have very strong memories associated with it.

Coins and notes can act as a strong reminder of the prices that everyday items such as newspapers, milk or even a bus ticket used to command. Such figures can be seared into the memory of a child. Once the child becomes an adult and sees or holds a tangible item that links them to those events from their childhood, it can evoke a range of nostalgic memories.

I have clients who remember a parent or older relative using a certain coin or note in a particularly important purchase from their childhood, whether it was for something as mundane as a ticket to the cinema, or for something as significant as a new electric appliance. Such strong memories have driven these collectors to acquire a range of coins or notes, so they can share the stories of their importance with their children and grandchildren.

I’ve also had clients share stories of a particular coin or note that had been lost or stolen during childhood. Once they’d gained the financial means of being able to do so, many felt compelled as an adult to finally acquire an example of the item – in so doing giving themselves a powerful sense of completion and satisfaction.

The reality, of course, is that there are as many different reasons for collecting as there are collectors and collections. But the desire to connect with the past drives a desire in some of us to collect old coins and notes that we’re seemingly quite powerless to resist!

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.

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Jun 282012
 

It had been known since 1851 that the gold being mined in Australia was of greater purity than that standard in London, and furthermore that the natural alloy in which it was found included a predominance of silver. This was rather different to the copper alloy that the Royal Mint used to harden the gold it used when producing sovereigns.

This fact was borne out by the Royal Mint’s “Trial of the Pyx” in 1856, which showed that the Sydney sovereigns surveyed included on average 0.02% more gold than the London standard required. Although the percentage of silver in the alloy used for sovereigns at the Sydney Mint was higher than that used in London, the cost of the technology employed in extracting it in 1855 did not make it financially viable to do so.

The fact the amounts of extra gold and silver in each Sydney Mint sovereign was extremely modest did not prevent them from being coins of choice with hoarders around the globe. Anecdotal stories of Asian merchants, French peasants and Chinese traders (among others) preferring Sydney sovereigns to those from London abound in the historical literature.

Francis Boyer Miller – A Pioneer in Gold Refining

Francis Boyer Miller was one of two full-time assayers employed at the Sydney Mint, his brother was a non-resident assayer to the Royal Mint in London, and also Professor of Chemistry at King’s College, London.

Francis Miller’s technique for extracting the silver involved the use of chlorine gas: the “Miller Process” involves blowing a stream of chlorine gas over and through a crucible filled with molten impure gold. Impurities in the gold form chlorides before the gold does and these insoluble salts are removed from the melt by skimming the surface.

This process was so effective at extracting additional gold that the Royal Mint paid a bonus of £2,000, being for the exclusive rights to use his process in Victoria. To put this royalty in context, Miller had an annual retainer of £100 when he joined the Sydney Mint in 1853.

Miller patented his process in London in 1867, and conducted a range of experiments at the Sydney Mint throughout 1868 in order to prove the commercial viability of the process.

Evidence of the gradual introduction of Miller’s process can be seen in the characteristics of many sovereigns struck at the Sydney Mint in 1868.


Mint-state sovereigns struck from the natural Australian alloy prior to the introduction of Miller’s process generally have a bright, straw-yellow patina, often with hints of green.

When compared to sovereigns struck earlier in 1868, the first Australian sovereigns with the precise Royal Mint standard of purity exhibit a distinctly warmer, rose-coloured patina.

It is interesting to note that the Royal Mint correspondence registers from this period yield concerns that the higher proportion of silver was causing the Sydney sovereigns to wear thin in an untimely manner.

It is perhaps ironic that Francis Miller’s research into the chlorine refining process determined that the softness in design being observed in London was not due to wear, but actually by the minting technique – a slight “flow” of metal tended to smooth out Victoria’s portrait.

Although Miller’s research could not support any argument there could have been against the continued use of the designs unique to the sovereigns of the Sydney Mint, as his refining process now meant that there was complete metallurgical uniformity across all sovereigns issued by each of the branches from 1868 onwards, which ultimately led the Secretary of State for the Colonies to conclude that:

“My Lords see no reason why coins struck at the Sydney Mint should not bear the same design as those issued from the Mints in London and at Melbourne ; and they will therefore be willing to submit to Her Majesty an Order in Council, giving effect to the wishes of the Government of New South Wales in this respect.”

The 1868 Type II Sydney Mint sovereign is therefore a true turning point in Australian numismatics – not only are some the last sovereigns struck with the “native Australian alloy”, they are also the first that can unequivocally be said to be struck to the exact same specifications as those issued by the Royal Mint in London.

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.