Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Austalasian Coins


The first of Captain Cook's voyages in 1770 marks the beginning of British interest in Australia. The year after Cook's third voyage to Australia in 1773 a penal settlement was founded at Port Jackson, now Sydney, the capital city of New South Wales with a population of nearly two million. Soon after the first convicts arrived, it was felt desirable to encourage free settlers to come to this new country and in consequence a settlement of Freemen was established on the Hawkesbury River in 1802. Other settlements soon sprang up along the coastal region and with the increase in population arose the problem of what to use for money. The answer was, of course, barter and practically any coin that come to the island in trade. In respect of the latter, English, Dutch, Portuguese, Asiatic and Spanish coins were amongst those most generally used. The Spanish eight reales which was current at five shillings appears to have been available in only limited quantities at first. In 1813, however, a consignment of these was received which enabled Governor Macquarie to issue a proclamation ordering that the centres of these pieces should be punched out and that both the resultant `plug' and `ring' should circulate, the former for ls 3d, and the latter for Ss. Thus, the so-called `Holey Dollar' was created. Owing to counterfeiting, an attempt was made to withdraw them in 1822, but in fact it was not until 1829 that they ceased to be current. By that time, the centre plug or `dump' as it is known, was current for only ls ld and the dollar for 3s 3d.

At last the English authorities had realized their monetary responsibilities to the new colony and a small quantity of coin was despatched to Sydney. Although this supply alleviated the difficulties somewhat, the amount was still insufficient, but with the issue of paper money in the form of Bank and private promissory notes; the situation did become a little easier. As we have already seen in both the British and American series, when there is a shortage of small change,private traders invariably take it upon themselves to produce their own token coinage. Australia was no exception and by 1857 the principal currency was in the form of these private tokens. The majority of them are copper pennies weighing on an average half an ounce each, but a number of halfpennies were struck and in most cases they weigh almost exactly half the pennies. In 1860 large quantities of English pennies and halfpennies were imported into the country and a few years later all private tokens were declared illegal.

The Sydney mint was established as a branch of the Royal Mint in London in 1855. Its primary object, together with the mints of Melbourne (established in 1872) and Perth (1899), was to coin sovereigns and half-sovereigns from the gold that had been discovered in New South Wales and Victoria in 1851. The dies were cut in London and shipped to the colony, the first issue of coins being made in June of that year. The designs for this first issue were by James Wyon. The obverse shows the young head of Victoria similar to that used on the British coinage whilst the reverse, instead of the St George and dragon design, bears the word AUSTRALIA with a crown above within a wreath and SYDNEY MINT ONE SOVEREIGN (Or HALF SOVEREIGN) above and below. Subsequently, the St George reverse was used, the mint being denoted by the initial letter (S, P or M) on the ground line below St George. The Sydney mint was closed in 1926 but the mints of Perth and Melbourne still produce coins for Australia.

The production of gold coins did not in any way alleviate the difficulties of small change and until the smaller denominations could be produced in Australia arrangements were made for the Royal Mint in London to supply the necessary coin. Accordingly, orders were placed for 1,000,000 each of florins, shillings and sixpences and 2,000,000 threepences. These coins were dated 1910 and depict the crowned bust of Edward VII on the obverse and the Australian arms with its kangaroo and emu supporters on the reverse. In 1911 the first supplies of copper pence and halfpence arrived from the Royal Mint, together with a further supply of silver-this time bearing the bust of George V.,/P>

By 1916 the necessary alterations to machinery were completed and the first silver coins to be produced in Australia were issued; the copper at this time was being struck at the Calcutta mint. In 1919 the Melbourne mint undertook the production both of the silver and the copper.

Throughout the years a variety of mints have produced coins for Australia. During the Second World War some of the denominations were struck at Bombay, Denver and San Francisco and may be identified by a series of mintmarks.

Only two crown pieces have been struck for the Australian series (1937 and 1938) the latter being the scarcer of the two. On the smaller denominations the designs have remained substantially the same, but four commemorative florins have been produced; in 1927 for the opening of the new Parliament at Canberra; the centenary of Melbourne and Victoria in 1935; the golden jubilee of the Commonwealth in 1951 and the royal visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1954.

New Zealand

As we have already seen, it was Captain Cook who made the first contribution to Anglo-Australian history and it was also Cook who opened the way for trading with the Maori natives of New Zealand. On his second voyage in 1772 Cook presented a number of medals to the Maori chiefs as a token of friendship. Apart from a succession of wars with the white settlers between 1843 and 1870 over land ownership, the Maoris have remained friendly disposed towards Europeans until today they are essential and highly regarded members of the community.

The system of barter was used extensively in New Zealand and included such commodities as tobacco, agricultural implements, pigs, blankets, muskets, etc. Those white people who had decided to settle on the islands managed to run their finances tolerably well by using both barter and those coins of various nationalities that came to the islands in the natural course of trade, English, Spanish-American, French and Indian coins predominating.

In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was concluded between the Maoris and the British by which New Zealand became a British possession. Following the treaty, sterling was officially adopted as the coinage for the islands, but in fact the variety of foreign coins still continued to circulate concurrently with British and it was not until 1933 that coins were produced specially for the colony. Prior to that date, the shortage of coin had become so acute that those private tokens that had been produced in Australia were readily accepted in New Zealand. In 1857 the first tokens were issued by merchants in Auckland and Dunedin; traders in other towns quickly followed suit so that in all some 140 varieties are known. It was not until 1897 that these tokens were finally demonetized and until 1933 the colony had to rely on supplies of British coins, the groat (which had last been produced in 1888) being perhaps the commonest coin to be found in circulation.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand does not possess a mint of her own and all coins produced for the colony are struck at the Royal Mint in London. The obverse design for the new coinage commencing in 1933 was by Percy Metcalfe and the reverse by Kruger Gray. The obverse shows the crowned bust of George V facing left with the legend GEORGE V ICING EMPEROR whilst the reverse designs consist of the coat of arms of the colony on the halfcrown, the kiwi bird on the florin, a Maori warrior on the shilling, a huia bird on the sixpence and carved patu clubs on the threepence. The penny and halfpenny (there is no farthing in the series) were not struck until 1940. The reverse design for the penny shows a tui bird set against a background of kowhai blossom whilst the reverse of the halfpenny depicts a Maori charm known as a Kei-tiki which was usually worn as a pendant around the neck.

There are three crown pieces in the New Zealand series; the first, struck in 1935 to commemorate the Jubilee of George V shows on the reverse Captain Hobson, the first governor of New Zealand shaking hands with the Maori chief Tamati Waaka Nene, referring to the Treaty of Waitangi. Only 1,128 proofs of these coins were struck, some being sold individually at 7s 6d each, whilst others were included in a proof set with the other denominations. The crown was not struck again until 1949 and was intended to commemorate the proposed visit of George VI. Unfortunately, the king became ill and the trip was cancelled; the crowns were, however, still issued. The third crown was struck in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Apart from the three pieces mentioned above, the series offers only one other commemorative coin-the half-crown struck in 1940 to commemorate the centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi.

New Guinea

The island of New Guinea situated to the north of Australia is at present divided into two parts, the western part being a Dutch possession whilst the eastern is divided into administrative districts of Papua and New Guinea. The Dutch section of the island uses the coinage of the mother country but has a special issue of its own notes. In 1884 the eastern section was divided between Britain and Germany, the latter producing for its territory a series of coins consisting of gold ten and twenty marks, silver five, two, one and half marks and copper ten, two and one pfennigs. These were struck in Berlin and bear the denomination and date 1894 (1895 on the gold) within a wreath on the obverse and a bird of paradise on the reverse. The German territory was occupied by Australian forces in September 1914 and in 1920 the Allies entrusted its administration to the Australian government.

The first coins for the territory appeared in 1929, the issue consisting only of pennies and halfpennies. Struck in cupro-nickel, these coins have a centre hole and therefore do not have a portrait. The next issue was made in 1935 when shillings, sixpences and threepences were struck: large quantities of pennies bearing the name of Edward VIII were produced the following year.


The Fiji islands, of which there are 322, are situated about eleven hundred miles north of New Zealand and Suva, the capital, today forms an important refuelling base for airliners flying the Pacific. British interest in the islands began in 1874 when Fiji became a colony of the British Empire but it was not until 1934 that a separate coinage for the islands was introduced. This issue consisted of the silver florin, shilling and sixpence, and cupronickel penny and halfpenny. The two latter have a centre hole and therefore no bust, but the silver coins bear the bust of George V facing left as on the New Zealand coins whilst the reverse of the florin has the coat of arms of the colony, the shilling a native boat and the sixpence a turtle. Recent alterations to the coinage have been the introduction of the twelve-sided threepence in 1947 and the striking of the penny and halfpenny in brass in 1942 and 1943. These latter, together with other denominations dated 1942 and 1943 were struck at San Francisco and Denver due to war-time difficulties; otherwise the coins for the colony are struck at the Royal Mint in London.

Pennies bearing the name of Edward VIII and dated 1936 were produced for Fiji and are not at all rare; they bear no portrait.