Sep 292015

Isaac Newton is undoubtedly one of the most influential scientists of all time. He also spent 30 years running the Royal Mint, then located in the Tower of London.

The late 17th century was a time of crisis for England’s silver coinage. With many hammer-struck coins still in circulation, the problem of ‘clipping’ had become serious.

Clipping is the act of illegally shaving off a small amount of a precious metal coin for profit. The irregular shaped, rimless coins of Newton’s day made them easy to clip without detection.

And with people in continental Europe prepared to pay a high price for silver bullion, the temptation to clip England’s coinage simply proved too great!

Milled edges on coins are often associated with Isaac Newton.

Milled edges on coins are often associated with Isaac Newton.

Newton accepted the position of Warden of the Mint in 1696. At his disposal was “a new invention of rounding the money & making the edges of them with letters or grainings”. When the Government decided to recall all clipped and badly worn coins, he oversaw the replacement program with extreme efficiency.

Complete by the middle of 1698, the ‘re-coinage’ stopped clippers in their tracks. Perfectly round machine-made coins with milled edges made it impossible to scrape off even the minutest piece of silver without being detected.

Like his brilliant scientific deductions, Newton’s coin legacy lives on. Although clipping modern fiat coins made from base metal is largely pointless, milled edges are a useful deterrent to would-be coin counterfeiters.

The collar die.

The collar die.

The need to mill each coin’s edge was eventually replaced by the use of the collar die – a device which surrounds the blank, imparting the edge design into the blank when it is struck.

Today, these serrations also fulfill another useful function by helping blind people distinguish different coin denominations. Examples of this in action include the Australian two-dollar coin which has a mostly smooth rim alternating with small sections of milling, and the one-dollar coin which has a mostly milled rim alternating with small sections of smooth rim.


Sep 232015

Just 18 years old, the colony of South Australia fabricated Australia’s first gold coin on this day in 1852.

Strictly speaking it isn’t a coin, but a coin-shaped ingot or token guaranteed by the colony to be worth one pound.

It came about after an estimated 8,000 men left Adelaide to join the Victorian gold rush – taking with them most of the city’s sovereigns. As the first successful miners began to return with their finds, a means of turning it into coins was quickly required

With the local economy on the brink, the Adelaide Assay Office was hastily established under the Legislative Council’s Bullion Act of 1852. At first it made irregularly-shaped ingots, but on 23 September it began production of 22-carat Adelaide Pounds.

Images courtesy of – click to magnify.

The initial die cracked almost immediately. No example of the type one is known today without some evidence of the die crack. The example pictured was made with the second die cut by local die sinker Joshua Payne. Nearly 25,000 of these ‘coins’ were struck, but not many survive today and most that do have been mounted for jewellery.

The reverse portrays a crown and the year-date 1852 inside a dentilated inner circle with an inscription around the outer circle. Fleur de lis are positioned either side of the word ADELAIDE.

Unfortunately, by infringing upon the Royal prerogative to coin gold, the Adelaide Pound was technically illegal. Its creators felt the time involved in gaining permission from London to establish a mint was too great a risk to the economy. By the time approval was received, production of the Adelaide Pound had ceased anyway thanks to a shipment of sovereigns.

Nevertheless, it was the first ‘coin’ produced in Australia from Australian ore with an entirely Australian design. It is hardly surprising surviving examples are keenly sought by enthusiasts the nation over.


Jul 232015

For such a young nation, Australia is responsible for some seriously sought-after coins. The 1813 holey dollar & dump and the 1930 penny are two of our most desirable rarities. With an equally illustrious status in Australian numismatics, the 1920 Sydney sovereign is another legendary collectable.

Portraying Pistrucci’s famous St George design with a ‘S’ mintmark in the exergue (above the year-date), only three examples of the 1920 Sydney sovereign are known to exist in private hands. It’s Australia’s rarest collectable gold coin and, unsurprisingly, commands a price tag to suit!

£650,000 was needed to secure one of these elusive treasures when it came to auction in London in 2012. A new world-record price for any Australian or Commonwealth coin, the A$1million sum procured it on behalf of a determined Australian collector.

It’s a pure pleasure to gaze upon the 1920 Sydney sovereign in these exquisite images courtesy of rare coin dealer Jaggard’s. In providing one of just three possible opportunities to achieve a complete series of sovereigns made at Australia’s mints between 1855 and 1931, its significance cannot possibly be overstated.

Credit: Images courtesy of © Jaggard’s.


Jul 022015

Target shooting is one of the oldest organised sports in Australia with records showing that musketry was practiced from the very earliest days of colonization.

When Britain entered the Crimean War in 1854, settlers grew apprehensive that regular troops would be withdrawn. Later that year, some of the colonies authorized local volunteer corps, while informal rifle clubs were also initiated around this time.

In 1860 the first official rifle associations were formed in New South Wales and Victoria, quickly followed by South Australia and Queensland.

In the West, club shooting activities had been conducted from the 1850s, notably in the Goldfields and south-western timber region where target competitions became an important means of socializing for itinerant workers.


From The Perth Mint archive: example of the National Rifle Association of Western Australia competition medal, circa 1935.

Amid general concern about the readiness of Western Australia to defend itself, Premier John Forrest convinced the Department of Defence of the need to establish a basic defence strategy involving civilian rifle clubs working with the volunteers.

The National Rifle Association of Western Australia was eventually formed in 1901, holding its inaugural meeting on the 12th July that year.

The West Australian reported in September 1903 that the new Association’s second prize meeting would take place on the Karrakatta range later that year. “ ‘A’ Series matches were open to (a) Members of the Defence Forces of the British Empire; (b) members of the N.R.A. of Western Australia; (c) members of the Commonwealth Police Force”, it said.

The Association was renamed in 1965 to its current title of the West Australian Rifle Association.

Australian marksmen have forged on outstanding reputation in international competition since Donald MacKintosh’s success in the game shooting event at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games. Among a crop of modern day stars, dual Olympic champion Michael Diamond is one of the best known.


Jun 252015

‘Mule’ is the numismatic term to describe a coin struck from dies not originally intended for use together. Australia’s most famous mule is a halfpenny struck in 1916. It is the rarest Commonwealth coin issued for circulation.

In 2000, a number of Australian dollar coins were mistakenly struck using a 10 cents obverse (heads) die. The 10 cents is marginally smaller than the dollar, which meant the resulting mule had a heavier than normal rim on the obverse.


Mule obverse courtesy of Downies.

Error coin collectors soon drove prices up and a scramble to find the rogue pieces ensued, particularly in Perth where many of the dollar/10 cents mules were released. Finds were subsequently reported in other parts of the country too.

Estimates vary considerably as to exactly how many were issued – perhaps 6,000 at most. Although highly unlikely to appear in change anymore, a 2000 mule dollar would make an exceptional find. A decent example could be worth up to several hundred dollars. The very best examples on the other hand have been known to command thousands!

Maybe it’s worth glancing over the next dollar coin you pull out of your pocket or purse?


May 272015

Many collectors are fascinated by piedforts (pronounced pee-ay-fore), unusually thick and heavy coins that take their name from French words meaning ‘heavy weight’.

French monarchs from the 12th century are known to have bestowed treasured piedforts on visiting dignitaries. At about double the thickness and double the weight, the coins served as powerful physical reminders of the richness of the kingdom and the skill of its artisans.

French coiners also made piedforts as patterns, or trial pieces. This activity began in England under Edward I (r. 1207 – 1307), the patterns’ extraordinary thickness distinguishing them as original test models. Thought to have been made in London by master engravers, they would have been distributed to regional mints common at that time where the design could be copied.


With its extra thick planchet, a high relief coin from The Perth Mint is reminiscent of a traditional ‘piedfort’.

According to the Royal Mint, a sixpence of 1588 was the last English piedfort under this tradition, although they continued to be made across Europe as prestige pieces until the mid-seventeenth century.

Modern commemorative piedforts are struck for collectors, their extra thickness making them a particularly satisfying keepsake for many of those absorbed by non-circulating legal tenders issues. Interestingly, some dealers refer to Perth Mint ‘high relief’ coins as piedforts because of the extra thick planchet these specialised releases require.