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Australian Coins

History of Australian Coins

Currency and coins were not used in Australia prior to the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, when the British established their Crown Colony at New South Wales. The colonists had no mints or official coinage of their own and were forced to use whatever coins they could find, British or foreign. Some colonists brought coins with them when they arrived on the island, but mostly they obtained these coins by trade with ships arriving in Australia. Coins from England, the Netherlands, Spain, and even India circulated frequently. This wide range of currencies made life difficult for the Australians, and so in 1800 Governor King declared official conversion rates for foreign coins. Known as the “Proclamation Coinage”, he announced British values for all non-British coins used in the colony.

While these conversion rates made it simpler to use multiple currency systems simultaneously, the fact remained that the total quantity of coins available was insufficient to meet the colonist’s needs. 

What Are Australian Holey and Dump Coins?

In an attempt to remedy this problem, in 1813, Governor Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish dollars. The governor employed a convict to punch out the centers of the coins, seeking a way to prevent the coins from leaving the colony quickly. The man tasked with cutting the coins, William Henshall, had been banished to the Australian penal colony for forging coins, and so was a natural choice for the assignment. The two parts of the coins circulated separately: the centers were known as “Dump” Dollars (worth 15 pence) while the outer rings became “Holey” Dollars (worth 5 shillings). A decade later, in 1825, the British government declared British currency the only legal currency in Australia, and the Holey Dollars and their Dump counterparts were abandoned.

How much is an Australian Holey Dollar worth?

Holey dollars sell from $10,000 to $500,000 depending on their condition. Rare holey dollars often sell at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How much is an Australian Dump worth?

The value of an Australian Dump coin varies by condition of the coin and the year minted, and starts at $5,000 for a lower graded coin up to $25,000 for very fine grade.

What Were the First Australian Coins?

Even though the British government banned the use of foreign currency in their colonies, they did not provide the Australian colonists with new coins to carry out their day-to-day business. In 1849, a local New South Wales grocer, Annand, Smith & Co., took matters into their own hands and ordered tokens from a private Birmingham mint. The practice soon caught on; a coin press was delivered to the colony, and companies began minting copper tokens on their own, mostly valued at 1 Penny or ½ Pence. Many tokens copied the Britannia reverse of British pennies, and nearly all contained the name of the issuing company in the legends. Since companies in England had been allowed to issue tokens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (to alleviate a shortage of small-denomination coinage), the authorities allowed Australian companies to do the same. However, many of the issuing companies folded and could not back the value of their tokens, so in the 1870’s the Australian government ordered that the production of these tokens be ceased. All remaining tokens were sold to the British government in return for coins of equal face value; the British melted the tokens and reminted them, making a profit in the process.

What Were the First Australian Gold Coins?

Extensive gold reserves were discovered in Australia in the 1840’s. The Adelaide Assay Office began stamping this gold into ingots marked with their weight and fineness in 1852, and began minting “Adelaide Pounds” later that same year. The goal of minting these coins was twofold: to create an acceptable form for the gold to be exported and sold abroad, and to create coins sufficient for daily use in Australia. Relatively few of these coins were ever minted, however, because within a year British authorities had sent word that the Assay Office had no authority to issue currency.

British Colonial and Commonwealth Coinage

Following the closure of the Adelaide Assay Office, the British government finally recognized the need to create a comprehensive coin system in Australia, as well as the necessity for a mint on the continent. Three branches of the Royal Mint were opened in Australia – one in Sydney in 1855, another in Melbourne in 1872, and the last in Perth in 1899. At long last enough coins and enough denominations existed in Australia to meet the needs of the growing population.

Australia federated as an independent country in 1901, and while a decimal system of currency was considered the new Parliament decided to remain with the existing British monetary system of pounds, shillings, and pence. In 1965 the Royal Australia Mint opened in Canberra (not to be confused with the three Australian branches of the Royal Mint of London).

Australia converted to a decimal currency in 1966, and their official currency is now the Australian Dollar.

Value of Modern Australian Commemorative Coins and Bullion

In the modern day the Australian Mint has created some extremely popular commemorative and collector issues. Examples include the bullion series featuring native animals such as kangaroos, koalas, and kookaburras; the “Nugget” series valued in fractions of an ounce of gold; and an annual series commemorating each year of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Most of Australia’s commemorative and bullion types are produced at the Perth mint, which is now owned by the state of Western Australia.

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