In Come the Dollars, In Come the CentsIn come the dollars, in come the cents,
to replace the pounds and shillings and the pence.
Be prepared for changes when the coins begin to mix,
on the 14th of February, 1966.
Sung to the tune of the famous Australian ballad 'Click Go the Shears', this jingle heralded the introduction of decimal currency in Australia. Three years earlier, the decision to introduce dollars and cents had been approved by the Australian Government. The dollar as the unit of currency was not an automatic choice, other unsuccessful contenders, seriously considered for the name included the austral, merino and royal.
The United States of America, the first nation to introduce decimal currency, took ten years to finally work out its dollars and cents system, established in 1792. By 1875, all of Europe, including Russia, South America and Japan had converted to decimal monetary systems. Britain got to the brink of decimalisation in 1847 with the introduction of the florin - one tenth of a pound. It was to be another 124 years - 1971 - before the difficult pounds, shillings and pence system was finally killed off.
In Australia, the decimal system was brought to the attention of Governor Philip Gidley King in 1803 by visiting French explorer Nicolas Baudin. While a proposed issue of coins for 20, 50, 100 and 1,000 farthings is mentioned in the Official Records of New South Wales, there is no evidence that it was seriously considered. With the exception of Governor Brisbane's experiment with the Spanish dollar between 1823 and 1826, the British system was to remain entrenched in Australia through federation in 1901 and for another 65 years until 1966.
Australia's parliamentary records show that a number of unsuccessful attempts were made to generate interest in a decimal currency system. In 1901, George Bertrand Edwards got ageement to the establishment of a select committee to look into the matter. They recommended a decimal system based on a sovereign equal to 1000 mils. Despite their report being adopted by the House of Representatives in 1903, nothing happened. Support for the change fell away with a change of government in 1905, and with Edwards' death in 1910, so died any remaining interest in the proposal.
The ultimately successful push for decimal currency in Australia began in 1958 when the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, made an election promise to investigate its possibilities. The investigation committee which was eventually established, reported back in 1961, having considered 5 different decimal systems: £ - mil, £ - cent, 10s - cent, 8/4d - cent and 5s - cent. The 8/4d - cent scheme would have provided for an exact conversion from the £-s-d system but none of the existing denominations would match logical decimal denominations (eg. the shilling would become 12 cents, a rather strange decimal denomination, were it to have been released).
The 10s - cent scheme was the preferred choice and in 1963, the name dollar for the major unit was formally accepted.
The decision to change over to decimal currency provided a challenging opportunity to design a completely new series of coins incorporating typically Australian motifs. The pre-decimal series, built up piece-meal over 54 years, did not represent a family of designs, nor did they adequately reflect uniquely Australian themes.
A 1-2-5-10 denomination sequence was chosen on the basis that it was believed to represent the best combination to make up any given amount with the least number of coins.
The Australian Government mounted a full scale operation to ensure that the new designs would be the best possible, from the point of view of both artistic design and considerations of minting techniques.
The obverse (or 'head') of the coins presented few problems. The preparations for the introduction of a new coinage coincided with the approval by Queen Elizabeth for a new effigy to be used accompanied by a simplified inscription.
After preliminary investigations, the next step in the preparation of the new reverse designs was the appointment of a panel of leading fine art and coining experts to manage the process. Six leading designers were commissioned to prepare alternative designs.
The unanimous view of the panel, the six designers, and most other commentators at the time, was that the reverses should consist of an Australian motif and a large numeral indicating the number of cents. This recommendation implied that 'AUSTRALIA' and the date, which appear on the reverse (or 'tail') side of pre-decimal coins, would be transferred to the obverse on the new coins. A criticism which had been levelled at earlier Australian coins was that their value was not immediately apparent to people unfamiliar with them. For example, the pre-decimal series in use at that time did not possess a single numeral indicating value. The use of large numerals in the reverse designs were to be of great advantage to blind and impaired eyesight people as the numerals could be distinguished by touch. The numerals also made it much easier for migrants and tourists to get a quick understanding of the coins.
The inscription on the obverse presented some difficulties. In the first place, the nature of the reverse designs required that the identifying word 'AUSTRALIA' should now be included in the inscription. Secondly, it is traditional and desirable, although admittedly not strictly necessary, for each coin to bear a date. Thirdly, the new effigy of the Queen takes up a larger proportion of the outer rim effectively requiring the inscription to be broken up into two sections.
A New Mint in CanberraA stockpile of 1 billion coins was required for Australia to make the transition from the British Pounds, Shillings and Pence system to the Decimal system of Dollars and Cents.
To meet this and anticipated future Australian coinage requirements, a new mint - the Royal Australian Mint, was built in Australia's Capital City - Canberra. This was the first Australian mint not established as a branch of the Royal Mint in London.
A seismic refraction survey was conducted in 1956 to investigate the foundaton conditions at a site on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and King Edward Terrace in Canberra near the Department of Treasury. Suitable foundation rock, capabale of withstanding vibrations created by large coin presses, was found only at uneconomic depths. Of even more concern, tests showed that a fracture zone existed nearer to the ground surface. The site finally selected was a few kilometers away in the Canberra suburb of Deakin. The mint was officially opened on 22nd February, 1965 by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The first decimal coins, officially released on the 14th February, 1966, consisted of six denominations, a round silver 50 cent piece, three copper-nickel coins - 20 cent, 10 cent and 5 cent - and two bronze coins - 2 cent and 1 cent.
All the 50 cent pieces of 1966 were struck at the Canberra Mint. Other mints were required to help out to build the stockpile. The London mint contributed 30 million of each of the 5 cent, 10 cent and 20 cent coins. The mints at Perth and Melbourne assisted by producing 1 and 2 cent coins. Only Canberra struck all denominations and the mintages, in comparison to some of the pre-decimal yearly averages, are amazing - 146.6 million 1 cent coins, 145.2m 2 cent, 45.5m 5 cent, 11m 10 cent, 28.2m 20 cent and 36m 50 cent coins.
The Fifty Cent MythMuch has been written about the glamour piece of the new coins - the 50 cent piece. It remains the only, and likely to be the last, circulating decimal coin to have been issued in Australia with a silver content (80 percent). All other pieces have been either bronze or copper-nickel (many non-circulating, precious metal issues have been subsequently released to collectors at a premium above their legal tender, face value).
The Royal Australian Mint in Canberra struck over 36 million 50 cent pieces before rising silver prices halted production. A quarter of a million pieces, held at the mint when the directive to cease production was announced, never saw the light of day. They were duly melted down. Since that time a gradual recall and melting down of all pieces which make their way back to the mint has occured, at a hansome profit to the Government.
However, many million remain in existence as hoarding them has become a national pastime. They remain a very collectible item in uncirculated condition, but are now regarded as no more than a bullion value coin in lesser grade. Each coin contains approximately one third ounce of silver. The value of the coin continues to generate confusion among the general public. Today, they are worth around $3 each. During the silver boom of the early 1980's, their intrinsic value reached highs of $11 to $15, much healthier than the prices of today.
In 1981, a long strike at the Canberra mint resulted in a further call for outside help, this time the Royal Canadian Mint and the new British mint in Wales helped out. At the time, the Canberra mint had little comment to make about the involvement of the overseas interest. However, the news soon got out - the September 1982 issue of the Australian Coin Review offered the proof.
An Australian 1981 20 cent piece was uncovered which had been struck on a scalloped blank. The blank was of the same weight, composition and dimensions as that used for the Hong Kong $2 coin. As this coin was struck at the Royal Mint in Wales, it could be rightfully assumed that Australian coins had in fact been struck there as well. Later annual reports of the Canberra Mint confirmed that the U.K. mint struck nearly 271.5 million coins in 1981, including the entire Royal Wedding 50 cent piece issue, and large quantities of each of the other 5 denominations.
The Canadian mint was reported as having struck 50 million of each of the 5 cent and 20 cent pieces while the Perth mint struck 65.3 million 2 cent coins.
For convenience of transportation and counting, most early decimal issues were packaged in Royal Australian Mint roll wrappers by special machines. The rolls bear a 'Royal Australian Mint' inscription along the side which should not be confused with 'Reserve Bank' rolls which were simply re-wrapped circulating coins with little numismatic value. Some exceptions to this exist. Coins minted overseas did not arrive in distinctive wrappers and sometimes appear in uncirculated condition in Reserve Bank wrappers. There are, for example, no R.A.M. wrapped Royal Wedding issue 50 cent pieces as the entire production was struck in the U.K.
A $1 coin was introduced in 1984 and a $2 coin in 1988 to replace the extremely short lived currency notes of the same denominations. In each case the changeover was rapid and the notes, while still legal tender, very quickly disappeared. The new coins are aluminium-bronze - 92% copper, 6% aluminium and 2% nickel providing a long wearing, lustrous golden finish. The new reverse designs were:
In 1990, the Australian Government announced the withdrawal of 1 cent and 2 cent coins because of the gradual decline in the worth of the small denominations - it had become more expensive to produce and distribute each coin than the coin was worth. While the coins are no longer minted, they remain legal tender. In commercial cash transactions, the final total is now rounded to the nearest 5 cents. Mint records show that by early 1999, only 34.4% of all 1c and 2c coins minted had been returned for smelting.
Since its official opening on 22 February, 1965, the Royal Australian Mint has produced over 11 billion circulating coins and is currently capable of producing approximately 2 million coins per day on a single staff shift.
Modern RaritiesThe demand for circulating coins has dropped steadily since the early 1980's due mainly to the wider availability and acceptance of credit cards. As a result, the Royal Australian Mint has not only stopped making bronze coins, but has reduced production of others. An unexpected side effect of the withdrawal of 1 cent and 2 cent coins, as from February 1992, was that a large volume of other coins surfaced and made their way back to the banks, particularly 5 cent and 10 cent coins. This phenomenon has been called the 'money box effect', caused by many people being prompted to empty their money boxes on bank counters and handing in all their 'loose change' gathered over sometimes extended periods of time.
That the Australian Government and the Royal Australian Mint were not prepared for the changed demands is evident in the production of 1983 and 1984 twenty cent coins. Over 55 million of the former, and almost 28 million of the latter were held in storage for a number of years. A small number of rolls reached the light of day before word got out that almost the entire mintage of 20 cent coins for the two years had been melted and exported as base metal cupro-nickel bars.
The only practical way to obtain these coins is through the collector series of proof and mint set issues.
In 1985, the 5 cent coin was not issued for circulation creating a run on mint and proof sets of that year - the only source of the coin. The days of building a complete collection from shiny new coins obtained from the local bank branch were gone. It would not be until 1993 (long after 1c and 2c coins had left the stage) that all circulating coins would be issued in the same year - even then, the 20 cent mintage was only 1.5 million coins and the 50 cent not many more.
By 1986, demand for new circulation coins within Australia had dropped to zero. Earlier year's production runs, combined with the huge amount of coinage already in circulation proved more than capable of meeting economic demand. As a result, only 1986 Peace Dollars were minted in quantity. The six lower denomination coins (1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent) were released only in mint and proof sets. Unlike the previous year, collectors were aware of the situation and took steps to secure their requirements early. As a result, the collector sets of 1986 have not appreciated in value to the same extent as the 1985 issue.
Since then, all circulation denominations have missed production runs in various years. The reserve capacity of the Royal Australian Mint in recent years has meant that there is no need to stockpile coins and production runs can be scheduled as demand emerges. The following table lists the coins not released for circulation and available only in mint and proof sets:
In 1991, the Royal Australian Mint introduced a new mintage concept - mint your own coin - where a coin operated press striking $1 coins was made available to the public. Despite the 100% mark-up in price, the practice proved to be very popular with visitors and tourists, and has become a fixture at the mint and at agricultural shows throughout Australia where a small mintmark denoting the city (Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Brisbane) now appears on the reverse of dollar coins struck in this way.
Numismatic Collector IssuesAustralia now produces three categories of coins:
You will very rapidly build a small fortune from a large one in this way, but it does make the point that these pieces, unlike medallic issues, do have a legal value. Some collectors resent this NCLT trend arguing that the pieces are no more than glorified medals.
The initial foray into this market by the Royal Australian Mint had its problems. The 1966 proof set was housed in either a dark blue wooden-framed box or a light blue metal-framed case. The coins were exposed to the atmosphere and a perfect set without any toning in now very difficult to acquire.
The withdrawal of the 50 cent piece then put paid to any plans for sets to be issued in 1967 or 1968. In 1969, clear plastic acrylic cases were used. The material had a tendency to emit corrosive vapours during the ultrasonic sealing process which stained or toned the coins. The process was rectified for later 1969 proof sets when a more inert type of plastic was used. Until the mid-1970's, demand for the sets was only luke-warm - it was possible for collectors visiting the mint to buy 'back-copies' of most sets.
Collector demand slowly picked up and the mint seemed only too happy to increase production limits. By the early 1980's, despite huge mintage figures exceeding 100,000 sets - ten times the figures of the early sets - demand was great enough to ensure quick sell outs. The bubble was about to burst. Huge numbers of sets were being salted away as investments, creating an apparent shortage in the marketplace. By the second half of the decade, it was realised that far more of the later sets existed than were necessary to meet normal collector demand - all collectors who wished to own a set already had one. The inevitable downward price spiral as no new buyers were found meant that investors quickly discovered that their hoards were worth far less than they had anticipated. It was not until well into the 1990's, with strictly imposed limited mintages in place, that the proof series regained its lost support in the collector community.
The economy version of the proof set - the Uncirculated Mint Set - has been popular with collectors from its beginnings in 1966. A number of differently packaged sets were released in that first year, presumably to gauge collector reaction.
Small plastic wallets became the standard packaging for Mint sets until 1984 when the coins were sealed in a colourful see-both sides fold-out card. The first dollar coin was released too late to be included in the set so it was distributed separately, sealed on its own card.
In 1993, Baby Gumnut Mint sets were first released. The sets were specifically designed to be given as a memento at the birth of a child. Their popularity was such that the mint has released proof versions of the set since 1995.
In 1988, a new concept - Masterpieces in Silver - was introduced which has seen the release, each year, of a set of exquisitely crafted proof coins in Sterling Silver. The 1991 set, containing silver examples of each of the eight circulation coin types (including the last 1 and 2 cent pieces) is a true masterpiece.
In 1992, the series moved away from circulation coin types to commemoratives, in that year celebrating the women of the Royal Family. A gold version of the set was also released. Since 1993, the series has concentrated on themes connected with the people, events and pastimes that made Australia what is is today.
Perth Mint Bullion CoinsThe Perth Mint is internationally recognised as one of the world's most dynamic and innovative producers of gold, platinum, silver and palladium coinage. Originally founded as a branch of the British Royal Mint, the Perth Mint was established to provide a refining facility close to the goldfields and also to mint much needed coinage for Western Australia's rapidly growing population.
Until it opened in 1899, all the gold that was unearthed in Western Australia was shipped out of the colony, either to the mints in Sydney and Melbourne or to the Royal Mint in London. The Premier of the day, Sir John Forrest, was adamant that at least some of the wealth being dug from the ground should be used to the benefit of the state. He put a plan to the British Government that it open a branch of the Royal Mint in Perth to refine the gold from the goldfields and turn it into sovereigns and half sovereigns.
The Lords Commissioners of the Treasury in London agreed to the proposal and Forrest raced into action. After a construction period of three years, on June 20, 1899, Forrest pressed the button setting the coining presses in motion and the Governor, Sir Gerard Smith declared the mint open.
The Perth Mint continued to mint sovereigns and half sovereigns for the next 32 years until Britain went off the gold standard in 1931.
In 1970 the Perth Mint became a statutory authority of the Western Australian government. Subsequently, it was part of a redevelopment program and in the mid 1980's, the Australian Precious Metals Coin Program was begun, under agreement with and on behalf of the Australian Government.