1966 FIFTY CENTS
The 1966 silver 50 cent coin is not the rare piece that many people believe it to be. The coin was issued for circulation in great quantities (over 36 million were struck). In late 1966, rising silver prices caused the Canberra Mint to stop production of the coin. Over quarter of a million pieces on hand at the time were subsequently melted. Since then, a recycling program has seen many million more silver 50 cent coins recalled and melted down. However, millions still remain in existence as hoarding of the coins is a national pastime.
At the peak of the silver boom in 1980 when silver reached over $50 per ounce, the bullion value of the coin exceeded $15. The subsequent collapse in the price of silver has led to some confusion as the current bullion value (and actual value for examples in less than uncirculated condition) has fallen to around $2.
The fifty cent was intended as a prestige coin to mark the inception of decimal currency. For this reason, it was struck in a richer silver than had been used in the previous 20 years. Despit Treasury warnings that it was unlikely that the .80 silver composition could be maintained in the face of rising world silver prices, and fears that the coin would fade out of circulation simply because the public would not use it, the Federal Treasurer, Harold Holt, and the Cabinet insisted that its issue proceed.
In less than 12 months, it was clear that both circumstances had occurred. Hoarding the coin became a national pastime. The public were extremely reluctant to part with any which came into their possession. The 1966-67 report of the Royal Australian Mint makes comment on this and also disclosed that the coin had proved difficult to strike.
Obverse and reverse design imbalances caused light strikes on the obverse unless extremely high coining strike pressures were used. This significantly reduced the life of the dies, particularly the reverse. A modification to generally lower the relief of the obverse design was undertaken but, before the new dies reached the coining presses, production of the coin had ceased.
On 20 March, 1968, the Federal Treasurer, William McMahon, advised Parliament that the silver content of the coin had reached 76c and that it was being progressively withdrawn from circulation.
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