Aug 202014
 

Now part of The Perth Mint’s historical collection, this Prize Medal was issued by Australia’s oldest University.

Established in 1850, the University of Sydney was a trailblazer for higher education in colonial Australia.

Sydney University Prize Medal

University of Sydney Prize Medal

With the end of convict transportation to New South Wales in 1840 and the arrival of more and more free-settlers, many felt the need for a local university had become vital.

Influential colonist William Charles Wentworth, for example, believed that a university, secular and open to all, was essential for the growth of a self-governing Australian society. As a result of Wentworth’s efforts, a committee of the Legislative Assembly reported on the best means of instituting and maintaining at public expense a University in Sydney “for the promotion of literature and science”.

In an eloquent parliamentary speech, Wentworth stated his belief that it should enable “the child of every class to become great and useful in the destinies of his country”, and that “it would be the fountain of knowledge at whose springs all might drink, be they Christian, Mahomedan, Jew, or Heathen.”

Operating on the basis of these principles, the University of Sydney broke with the traditions of Britain’s ancient universities by admitting students on academic merit rather than on the basis of religion or social class. In 1881, it also became one of the earliest universities in the world to admit women.

By 1900 the University was developing rapidly as a result of generous public donation and increased government funding. The well-established medallion making service of the Sydney Mint would have been ideal for the production of prize medals formally recognizing academic excellence among its expanding student cohort.

About the Medal

Struck in bronze, the University of Sydney Prize Medal was engraved circa 1900 by Allan Wyon, a member of the celebrated dynasty of British coin and medal makers.

Its obverse portrays the original University crest of 1857 with the Latin motto SIDERE MENS EADEM MVTATO, most commonly translated as “the constellation is changed, the disposition is the same”.

Uninscribed, its reverse features an open olive wreath and the words PRIZE MEDAL.

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Jul 132014
 

One of the beauties of coins and medallions is their ability to preserve fascinating moments in history forever and this one held in the Perth Mint’s historical collection is a prime example. It celebrates the investiture of 17 year-old Edward as Prince of Wales on 13 July 1911.

1911_POW_investiture_medal
Since 1301, when King Edward I of England imposed his infant son on the Welsh as their new prince, the title ‘Prince of Wales’ has been given to the eldest son of the British monarch. The location for the investiture of the 19th Prince of Wales in 1911 was Caernarfon Castle, one of Edward I’s ‘iron ring’ of fortresses built to secure his annexation of Welsh territory 600 years earlier.

The investiture ceremony itself (watch British Pathé footage here) was without precedent. The young Prince was the first to address the Welsh people in their native tongue and among those to pay their respects that day was a group of Druids.

As we know, Edward was never crowned King. His reign lasted only 325 days. But the “wild enthusiasm” of the huge crowd that gathered outside the castle walls on that perfect summer’s day offered no portents of the later crisis.

For the medallion, prolific Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John portrayed the Prince three-quarters left in his investiture robes with a coronet. The bust is surrounded by the inscription ‘Investiture of Edward Prince of Wales’.

The words are repeated in Welsh on the other side around a rugged depiction of the castle walls. Reflecting the warm conditions, strong beams of sunlight are seen in the background. Other design details include the Prince’s plumes and the Welsh dragon.

Less than 5,500 of these historically important medallions were made in London from silver and a very rare 129 gold versions are also reported to have been created.

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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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Mar 282014
 

Graded by NGC, the Benchmark Collection stands as the most significant set of Australian pre-decimal coinage ever assembled.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation® (NGC®) has certified the superb Benchmark Collection, a complete set of Australian pre-decimal coins. The collection includes a number of finest known examples and important rarities as well as several previously undocumented varieties.

The Benchmark Collection stands as the most significant set of Australian pre-decimal coinage ever assembled. Mark Duff of Strand Coins in Sydney, Australia, carefully compiled the collection over a period of 25 years, drawing coins from many of the most important collections of Australian coins.

“NGC had previously graded a number of my clients’ most important and valuable Australian coins and I have long been impressed by their accuracy and consistency, and their enthusiasm to expand the knowledge of this series,” says Duff. “NGC was the only choice to certify the Benchmark Collection.”

Sixpence

1916M sixpence – NGC MS68

Among the many highlights of the Benchmark Collection is the 1916M sixpence graded NGC MS 68. The finest NGC-certified Australian sixpence of any date, this impeccable specimen traces its pedigree to the important Parkhill Collection.

Remarkably, the sixpence series also includes three examples graded NGC MS 67: the 1917M, the 1934 and the 1936. All three specimens are the finest known of their date.

The Benchmark Collection’s run of florins is similarly notable for its quality. The 1914H and 1915 florins, both graded NGC MS 65, are the only Mint State examples of their dates to be certified by NGC. The 1915H in NGC MS 67 is the finest certified by four grade points, while the 1923 in NGC MS 67 is the finest certified by three grade points.

Other significant florins in the Benchmark Collection include the 1911, 1912 and the ex-Parkhill 1919—all graded NGC MS 65 and either the highest graded or tied for the highest graded. The 1934-35 Victoria & Melbourne Centenary florin graded NGC MS 65 is also noteworthy for its superior details.

The shillings are led by the 1915H in NGC MS 65, which exceeds the second-highest certified example by a full six grade levels. It is considered to be the most challenging issue in the Australian pre-decimal series.

The core of the shilling set was originally sourced from the famous Jerome Remick Collection but only the 1911 (NGC MS 65), 1914 (NGC MS 65), 1918 (NGC MS 66), 1922 (NGC MS 66) and 1933 (NGC MS 63) shillings from that set remain. The Benchmark Collection 1912 shilling in NGC MS 65, the 1926 shilling in NGC MS 65 and the 1927 shilling in NGC MS 66 are also worthy of mention.

The Benchmark Collection identifies several previously unknown varieties, including two distinct types of 1939 Kangaroo Reverse halfpenny: one with a double foot in the Y in HALFPENNY, the other with a single foot. The double foot variant is the rarer of the two and is represented in the Benchmark Collection by an NGC MS 65 BN example. Tied for finest certified for the date, this attractive specimen was once owned by Reserve Bank Governor H.C. Coombs.

The collection also includes the enigmatic 1916I Mule Halfpenny, which features a 1916-dated Australian halfpenny reverse muled with the obverse of an India ¼ anna. Approximately 10 examples are believed to have survived and the famous “Koschade specimen” in the Benchmark Collection is only the second example to be certified by NGC. It is graded NGC AU Details.

Also of note is the 1923 halfpenny graded NGC MS 62 BN, which is the only Mint State example of this date to be certified by NGC.

The penny set is anchored by two varieties of the famous 1930 penny, both graded NGC XF 45. The first variety features the so-called “London die” obverse and is known by just three examples. Another key date, the 1925 penny, is the highest graded at NGC MS 65 BN.

The Benchmark Collection features the rare 1946 penny with the distinctive “K.G.” initials, which is thought to be an experimental strike from the Melbourne Mint on dies that were prepared for but never sent to the Perth Mint. The lone NGC-certified example of this issue, it is graded NGC MS 64 RB.

After certification by NGC, Duff created NGC Registry sets to showcase the Benchmark Collection. “The online NGC Registry allowed me to share these incredible coins with numismatists around the world,” says Duff.

“The Benchmark Collection is unparalleled in its scope and boasts many outstanding Australian rarities,” says NGC Vice President Ken Krah. “We are very pleased that Mr. Duff chose NGC to certify this fantastic set.”

“These coins represent such an important period of Australian coinage history,” adds Jay Turner, NGC Finalizer. “It was great to see that history in one complete set.”

An online image gallery of the Benchmark Collection is posted to the NGC website under the Galleries section. To view the NGC Registry sets of the Benchmark Collection, click here.

Credit: This article originally appeared on the NGC website.

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Mar 252014
 

The Perth Mint has in its possession an undated Royal Society of Western Australia Kelvin medallion. The medallion features a portrait of The Right Honourable William Thomson, Lord Kelvin OM GCVO PC PRS PRSE, and the inscriptions ROYAL SOCIETY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA and KELVIN 1824 – 1907.

The Lord Kelvin medallion, or the Medal of the Royal Society of Western Australia as it is known today, was first awarded in 1924 and is now a biennial award which recognises a scientist or scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to science in the State.

Kelvin

Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) was a mathematical physicist and engineer born in Belfast in 1824, who began attending tertiary classes from the age of 10 at Glasgow University where his father was a Professor of Mathematics. He wrote his first scientific paper at the age of 16, and went on to attend Cambridge University before returning to Glasgow University as a Professor of Natural Philosophy, a post he held for 53 years.

Lord Kelvin is best known for his work on the laws of thermodynamics and the invention of navigational and electrical measuring instruments. In 1848, he proposed an absolute temperature scale now known as the ‘Kelvin scale’, which determined the exact value of absolute zero. He was also responsible for formulating the second law of thermodynamics, and had a career working as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor. He was appointed the Director of the Atlantic Telegraphy Company in 1856. In this role he succeeded in installing a telegraph cable under the Atlantic Ocean in 1866, and was knighted for his efforts by Queen Victoria on 10 November 1866.

_____________________

“I have no satisfaction in formulas
unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”

William Thomson, October 1884
_____________________

Kelvin was also an enthusiastic yachtsman and from 1870 he spent many summers aboard his yacht, the ‘Lalla Rookh’, inventing marine tools to improve navigation and safety, including the development of a machine to predict tide levels worldwide, and a mariner’s compass more accurate than any other in existence at the time.

Kelvin became a Lord in 1892, taking the name ‘Kelvin’ after the River Kelvin in his beloved Glasgow, and remained an international celebrity until his death in 1907. He was buried at Westminster Abbey not far from where Sir Isaac Newton lies at rest.

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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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