Mar 232016
 

The penny is easily the most collected of all Australian coins. First circulated in 1911 for the new monarch, King George V, it was one of six new Commonwealth denominations to replace British coinage from 1910. Today it holds a sentimental place in the heart of everyone that lived in the days before dollars and cents. In 1911 it gave citizens of the young Australian nation every reason to be proud.

1911Australian_Penny

A Royal Comrade of Australians

Although Australians have warmly regarded each British monarch since George III, George V (r. 1910 – 1936) seems to have held a special place among them.

A young Prince George first visited Australia when he was just 15, while serving with his older brother Albert as midshipmen on a Royal Navy vessel that patrolled the sea lanes of the British Empire. While on his journey home from Australia in 1881, Prince George wrote in his personal diary:

“After England, Australia will always occupy the warmest corner of our hearts.”[1]

When extracts from the young prince’s diary were published in 1902, it inspired a groundswell of affection and loyalty in Australia.

Prince George next visited Australia in 1901 to open Parliament House in Canberra, stopping over at the Perth branch of the Royal Mint during the tour. With his continued gestures of support for Britain’s colonies and Australia in particular, the new King was described in 1910 by one newspaper as being no less than:

“A Royal Comrade of Australians…not only their own King, but one who has intimately identified himself with their life, their struggles, and their aspirations, and has proved his title to be regarded as a comrade — as indeed, one of themselves.”[2]

The shiny new pennies of 1911 were a direct and official link to the popular monarch, offering Australia’s public the first opportunity to see their new King on their own coinage.

Sir Bertram MacKennal – Australian Cultural Hero

The King’s effigy was the work of Bertram MacKennal, the first Australian artist to be knighted.

Born in Melbourne in 1863, MacKennal rose to prominence in London from the mid 1890s. He designed the memorial tomb to King Edward VII, as well as a number of other projects for Britain’s royalty and social elite. By 1910, under the patronage of George V, MacKennal had become one of the most successful civic sculptors of his era.

Despite living so far from the country of his birth, MacKennal maintained close links with Australia. He designed a number of important Australian public sculptures – the cenotaph at Martin Place in Sydney, a monument to King Edward VII in Adelaide, a monument to Queen Victoria in Ballarat, as well as the famed Springthorpe memorial in Melbourne to name just a few.

“At the seat of the Empire there is no exclusive privilege more jealously guarded than that of designing the coinage of the realm,” declared the press. No wonder, therefore, Australians throughout the Continent were reported to be “expressing their gratification at the fearlessness of the king in conferring so great a distinction upon Mr Bertram MacKennal…”[3]

Many Australians took the appointment not only as the ultimate recognition of his ability as an artist, but also as a de facto acknowledgement of the entire Australian nation.

Above illustration:

The image portrays an archival-standard strike of Australia’s 1911 penny, struck for the express purpose of officially recording the start of the production of Australia’s first Commonwealth pennies. The exact number of such specimens is unknown – just two examples are confirmed to be in private hands, while one more is held in the numismatic collection of Museum Victoria. The first example of this coin to be made available to collectors via Australian auction was not seen until April 2006, when it sold for $30,000.

Sources:
[1] Newnes; George, “T.R.H. The Prince and Princess of Wales”, William Clownes and Sons, London, 1902, p72
[2] KING GEORGE & QUEEN MARY. (1910, December 8). Guyra Argus (NSW : 1902 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174452059
[3] KING GEORGE & QUEEN MARY. (1910, December 8). Guyra Argus (NSW : 1902 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174452059


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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Mar 162016
 

This medallion in The Perth Mint historic collection portrays Matthew Flinders, an exceptional navigator and explorer who made remarkable contributions to the European discovery and naming of Australia.

Born on this day (16 March) in 1774, Flinders joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15. Between 1791 and 1793 he served as a midshipman on a voyage to Tahiti under Captain William Bligh, who later became Governor of New South Wales.

Flinders’ first sailed for the colony himself in 1795 where he explored Botany Bay and George’s River with his close friend, George Bass. In 1798/9, the pair famously circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land in the sloop Norfolk, proving it to be an island. The strait separating the future Tasmania from the mainland was named in honour of Bass and the largest island in Bass Strait would be named Flinders Island.

Flinders-medal

Recognising Flinders’ outstanding abilities, the British Admiralty in 1801 gave him command of Investigator, a 334-ton sloop, in which to chart the whole Australian coastline – large parts of which remained a mystery to European explorers.

In an extraordinary incident while sailing along the unknown southern coast, he sighted the French corvette Le Géographe under Captain Nicolas Baudin. Despite deep hostility between their two nations, Flinders boarded his rival’s vessel where their meeting was reported as cordial. The location is known as Encounter Bay.

Despite Investigator’s increasing unseaworthiness during the epic voyage, Flinders became the first commander to circumnavigate the continent then comprising New South Wales and New Holland.

Subsequently he was subject to extraordinary misfortune. In 1803 he boarded HMS Porpoise under the command of Lieutenant Fowler, bound for England. But the ship grounded and sank on the Great Barrier Reef. With superb skill, Flinders navigated the ship’s cutter 800 miles back to Sydney and arranged for the rescue of the marooned crew.

His second attempt to return home was even more fraught. Once again he found himself in command of a ship in poor condition, making it necessary for the Cumberland to put into the French controlled Isle de France (Mauritius) for repairs. With Britain back at war with her European neighbour, the suspicious French governor thought he was a spy and detained Flinders indefinitely – delaying his journey by more than six years!

Flinders eventually arrived home in 1810 and set to finalising his journal A Voyage to Terra Australis for publication. Ignoring the terms New South Wales and New Holland, he declared a preference for ‘Australia’ so that the whole of the Southern Land could be known by one name in a manner similar to “the names of other the great portions of the earth.”

On 19 July 1814, the day after the book was published, Matthew Flinders died of kidney failure, aged 40. He never knew his recommendation of ‘Australia’ was formally adopted by the Admiralty a decade later after having consistently been used by no less a figure than Governor Macquarie.

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Jan 222016
 

The 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail from Portsmouth, England on 13 May 1787. Aboard were more than 1,300 colonists, including approximately 730 male and female convicts from Britain’s overcrowded prisons. The expedition was under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, who had accepted instructions from the British Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, to establish Britain’s first colony in Australia.

The ships began arriving in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788, which 17 years earlier had been charted by Lieutenant James Cook. Despite Cook’s indication that the land was suitable for cultivation, Phillip quickly determined that the area would not support a settlement. Within days the First Fleet moved north to Port Jackson, anchoring at Sydney Cove on 26 January.

By the 100th anniversary of Phillip’s landing in 1888, the population numbered almost three million and the first centenary of white settlement was celebrated with enormous enthusiasm. In a forerunner of Australia Day, most capitals declared Anniversary Day a public holiday with fireworks, banquets, regattas and other festivities taking place throughout each colony.

Medal making was an important way of recognizing progress and prosperity, which had developed in leaps and bounds since the discovery of Australian payable gold in 1851. In Sydney, the colonial government jumped at the chance to commemorate important achievements and historic events – none more significant than the arrival of Phillip’s mission.

W.J. Amor produced the dies for this bronze medal struck at the Sydney Mint – which was following the established tradition of medal making at its venerable parent, the Royal Mint in London. Distributed to “prominent citizens” as part of official celebrations in 1888, the medal is now a prized part of The Perth Mint’s historic collection.

1788Medallion

The obverse portrays a familiar symbolic figure of ‘Australia’ (Britannia) seated with a sailing ship and lighthouse in the background. The word ‘Australia’ appears above the main image; beneath it can be seen the initials GR (King George III – reigned 1760-1820) separated by a crown, and the momentous date of the settlers’ arrival.

The reverse depicts the Arms of New South Wales within a wreath of native flora headed by a crown and the monogram VR. The motto ORTA RECENS QUAM PURA NITES translates to recently risen how bright thou shineth.

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Dec 232015
 

Before the invention of coins, people around the world used a diverse range of objects as money.

Different societies invested such objects with fixed values in order to provide a more flexible means of exchange than straightforward barter.

Useful things that acquired monetary value at certain times have included Indian almonds, Scandinavian dried fish, and Mexican cacao beans.

[A throwback to those days of old was the use of rum as a form of currency in early New South Wales where there was very few coins.]

The path to finding the best form of money was long and riddled with trial and error, because as this infographic demonstrates, all these wonderful and sometimes weird objects were ultimately unsuccessful as money.

Look below for this fascinating insight into some of the world’s strangest currencies through time!

Courtesy of: The Money Project

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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.

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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 www.sterlingcurrency.com.au – 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.

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