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Recent Articles 9-Nov-2022

The Australian One Cent

Walter Eigner The Australian One Cent is a keenly collected series owing to its attractive design and relative affordability. It was first issued in 1966 and continued as a regular issue until 1991. Due to its popularity, the coin was re-issued in 2006, 2010, and 2016 as part of collector sets.

Cleaning Coins

Walter Eigner Cleaning coins is one of the most divisive issues in coin collecting though most of the contention stems from a misunderstanding of the problems with cleaning coins. Dealers typically advise new collectors that cleaning will devalue their coins then they go ahead and happily sell cleaned coins.

Rare Pre-Decimal Coins

Anna Fhaumnuaypol Pre-decimals are coins that everyone, whether you are a collector or just starting out, usually have in their collection which have the potential to truly worth a lot of money. It represents a very interesting look into the past since when it was first introduced in Australia in 1910.

1942 and 1943 Bombay Mint Copper

Anna Fhaumnuaypol During wartime, the demand for pennies and half pennies increased immensely due to pay requirements of Australian and American forces within Australia. However, the availability of metals, especially copper and silver used for coins, was in shortage due to it being used for the war effort for munitions. Moreover, people were continuing to hoard silver and copper coins in money boxes for fear of instability resulting in banks running out of coins to function their day-to-day routine.

Collecting Old Australian Coins

Walter Eigner Collecting old Australian coins provides a fascinating glimpse into Australia's history through its circulating coinage. While there is a general impression that old coins are too expensive for new collectors to collect that couldn't be further from the truth. For just a few dollars you could obtain a later year mint-state pre-decimal coin, and for less than the cost of a modern proof set you can purchase a George V (1911-1936) pre-decimal coin.

The case for certified coins

Walter Eigner The debate on certified coins vs uncertified coins has been going on in Australia since PCGS first reached the mainstream Australian market back in 2008. While today most Australian coin collectors favour PCGS graded coins, a recent incident has reaffirmed the importance of and buying certified coins and valuing them first, especially when buying on-line.

Valuing Old Coins

Walter Eigner By far the most common question we get asked is "what is my coin worth?" Perhaps you found a few old coins which is why you're here reading this article. Maybe you're a seasoned collector already looking to get more precise values for your coins than the printed catalogues can offer. Perhaps you're an investor looking to value your coin portfolio. This guide will cover all of that.

The Silver of Edward VII

Walter Eigner Although Australia had been a nation since 1901, it wasn't until 1910 that her first official coins were produced. While the Melbourne mint was producing sovereigns and half sovereigns at the time, these were technically Imperial British coins. The first coins issued specifically for Australia were struck in silver and of the denominations threepence, sixpence, shilling, and florin. These featured the Australian Coat of Arms on the reverse and the crowed bust of King Edward VII on the obverse.

Sydney Mint Half Sovereigns

Walter Eigner The discovery of gold in the colony New South Wales in 1851 prompted a surge of immigration among prospectors seeking wealth in the new colony. This lead to the production of half sovereigns in Sydney as of 1855. Only 3.3 million half sovereigns were produced from 1855 to 1869 resulting in individual years being very scarce and valuable. To add to this, the high bullion content of Sydney mint half sovereigns, which were alloyed with silver, compared with their British counterparts, which were alloyed with copper...

Half Sovereigns of the Sydney Mint (1853 - 1869)

Walter Eigner 10-Sep-2019


The discovery of gold in the colony New South Wales in 1851 prompted a surge of immigration among prospectors seeking wealth in the new colony. While the lands were resource rich, the colony lacked the facilities to monetise the gold and the process in sending the gold to London for monetisation was slow and expensive. To help resolve this, on the 19th of Dececmber 1851 the Legislative Council of New South Wales petitioned Queen Victoria to establish a branch of the Royal Mint at Sydney RMINTCORREP. This would allow gold found in Australia to be issued into full and half sovereigns without having to be transported from the colony. The gold sovereigns and half sovereigns issued by the Sydney mint from 1855 to 1870 were not intended to be legal tender and as such were given a uniquely Australian design with AUSTRALIA stamped across the middle and SYDNEY MINT across the top - this was to differentiate them from the British sovereign RMINTCORREP - this however did not mean that the mint could not strike coins for Great Britain with proposals to produce Imperial copper coinage at the Sydney branch as early as 1865 COPPERREPORT and Imperial gold half sovereigns and sovereigns produced from 1871. The Sydney mint thus opened in 1855 in the rear of the Rum Hospital, situated on Macquarie Street in the Sydney CBD.

3.259 Million half sovereigns were struck in Sydney from May 1855 to 1869 RMINTREPORT and while this already yields a low average mintage of under 300,000 per year, their scarcity is further augmented through extremely low survival rates. Approximately 60 examples dated 1855 survival from the 21,000 mintage, a rate of about 1 in 350 - this design was limited to 1855-56 so the different design encouraged hoarding; indeed later years (1857-66) have survival rates of about 1 in 550. This leaves most years with survival rates from the mint hundreds to low thousands making them very scarce and highly collectible. The low survival rate is in part due in part to their role as a medium of exchange but also due to having a gold-silver alloy which meant that their intrinsic value was one penny per sovereign in excess of the Imperial sovereign, and thus were often sent to Great Britain to be melted. RECOIN

Mintage figures were poorly kept by the Royal Mint Sydney for this period, for example, as can be seen from figure MINTAGES, mintages were not reported for the years 1862, 1864 and 1866 while half sovereigns bearing these days were certainly struck, it is most likely that the counts for subsequent years included the missing figures with the 1866 dated pieces having been struck in 1867 and 1869.

Two distinct obverses were used for this type, the first being the Filleted Bust, or Type I Sydney Mint which features the bust of Queen Victoria with her hair tied into a filleted bun. The Type II or Wreathed Bust features the bust of Queen Victoria with her hair tied up with an oak wreath. The first type was struck from 1855 to 1856 while the second type from 1857 to 1869 though as mentioned above no pieces are dated after 1866. The Type II was also struck in 1855 and 1856 as patterns and a small number of 1855 dated Type II pieces were struck for circulation though these are extremely rare. Both obverses feature the legend: VICTORIA D. G. BRITANNIAR: REGINA F:D, Latin for Victoria, by the grade of God, Britain: Queen, Defender of the Faith.

Type I - Filleted Bust

The first business strike half sovereigns struck at the Sydney Mint were dated 1855 and 1856. Rather than using copper to harden the metal as the Royal Mint did, the Sydney Mint used silver. The reverse design featured a banksia wreath tied into a bow surrounding the word AUSTRALIA; these are positioned below a crown with the legend SYDNEY MINT and HALF SOVEREIGN encircling the entire design. This design was short-lived with the Sydney Mint reverting to the imperial shield design in 1871.

The first two years featured the filleted bust of Queen Victoria designed by James Wyon and is known as the Type I design. This design was replaced in 1857 by the wreathed bust of Queen Victoria or Type II design, designed by cousin Leonard Charles Wyon, son of William Wyon, engraver of the standard Young Head bust used since 1839. Patterns of the L.C. Wyon design were struck dated 1855 and 1856 with the 1855 dies used for business strikes, most likely in 1857 prior to being overdated to 1857.

Excluding varieties, overdates and the exceedingly rare 1855 Type II, the key date of the series is undoubtedly the 1855. The 1855 dated Type I half sovereign is very rare being survived by approximately 55 to 60 examples. The 1860 is also rare with an estimated 200 to 250 surviving examples.

The Sydney mint series is marked by low survival rates, likely due to the gold-silver alloy giving them a higher intrinsic value than their face value making it profitable to melt them down for their metal content. This gold-silver alloy continued for the entire series despite official protests to the Colonial Treasurer by Sydney based chemist Charles Watt with the Mint Master arguing that the extra value from the silver content was a decided advantage.

Out of the Type I series, only the 1856 can be readily acquired with lower grade examples being reasonably common and higher grade examples having survived through the Indian hoard. Survival rates of the 1855 are higher than the rest of the series at about 1 in 400 due to being a known rarity for much of its existence. This has meant that examples have survived regardless of condition thus leading to a higher proportion of problematic examples surviving when compared to the rest of the series which saw problem coins melted over the years. Despite the higher survival rate, the tiny mintage of just 21,000 has meant that the survival count is nonetheless very low.

Some 1856 half sovereigns were struck from a reworked 1855 die and can be identified by sharp corners on the 6 consistent with the 5 punch a tiny dot after the date as per figure 18565ODHALF. Although the dot's location matches that of the 1855's dot, it is typically smaller due to die wear and it is entirely possible that the dot may have been filled or worn away prior to the retirement of the die. Further research is required to determine if 1856/5 overdates exist without the dot.

In addition to these, some 1856 half sovereigns were struck with a simpler reverse made from a reworked pattern die. The positioning and count of the berries are different along with the general shape of the design and a number of other minor features. These can easily be identified by a missing berry above L of HALF on the reverse and only 1 berry before the H of HALF like in figure 1856ALT compared with the standard reverse in figure 1856STD.

In addition to the 1855 and 1856 issues, four pairs of 1853 dated pieces were struck at the Royal mint London in order to seek approval for the colony’s Sydney mint design. Three of these pairs now exist in museums with the last in private hands.

562GoodVGFineVFEFaUNC 563GoodVGFineVFEFaUNCUNC 564GoodVGFineVFEFaUNCUNC 565VGFineVF 561Proof

Type II - Wreathed Bust

The Type II series was introduced in 1857 but as with most of the early Sydney mint issues, demand exceeded that which the mint could produce and due to the slow and expensive method for ordering replacement dies from London, the mint engaged in many improvised techniques for extending the life of the dies.

Due to the low pressure needed to strike gold coins, dies were more likely to wear out than crack and consequently the Sydney mint instead re-punched letters into the dies in order to extend their working life. This has resulted in a number of issues having re-punched letters, sometimes using the incorrect letter in place for example with the 1858 REG as RFG or SOVEREIGN as SOVRREIGN errors.

In addition to re-punching letters, dates were also overdated in order to continue using the obverse dies beyond their original date. The first overdated piece of the Wreathed Bust series was in 1857 when the 1855 pattern die bearing the L.C. Wyon bust of Queen Victoria was repunched with a 7 over the final digit in the date to produce a new 1857 die. These can be identified by the loop of the 5 protruding one of the right hand side of the base of the 7 as in figure 18575ODHALF.

In addition to these overdates, a very small number of 1855 half sovereigns with the L.C. Lyon obverse are known to exist and considering the very low survival rates of the era, it should be considered no small feat for any to survive unless they were struck in higher quantities, probably around the 1000 mark. These were most likely struck in 1857 prior to the overdating of the die. That being said, due to the low survival rates only three have survived, of which only two are in private hands and the other residing in the Museum of Victoria. These should not be confused with the 1855 Type II pattern which although struck from the same obverse die, was struck to proof quality with a cameo finish.

Despite the high mintage of the 1857 of 537,000, the low survival rate has meant a probable survival count fewer than 2,000 pieces. With the date having been possible to source through bullion lots up until the late 1990s, very low grade or problem examples were often melted and thus the grades of the surviving examples tends towards a bell curve with the peak at around the VG to Fine level.


The 1858 is probably the most common date in the series, continuing to service the high demand to monetise gold from the early gold rush dates and to produce a circulating high denomination coin for the colony. Like the 1857, the Sydney mint ran into problems with the working life of dies and consequently resorted to re-punching digits onto the dies. While most of these just resulting in the doubling of letters, there are two known examples of where the wrong letter was punched into the die; the first and most well known is the SOVRREIGN error. In this error, the first E of SOVEREIGN on the reverse was re-punched on the die with the letter R by mistake as in figure SOVRR. Very few examples were struck with this error and even fewer had survived as the die was subsequently re-punched with the correct letter E. Having been discovered relatively early in Australian collecting history by the late Barry Sparkes in year 1994 (confirm), the error has become very popular and is now highly sought after.

A more recently discovered error, the REG as RFG error which saw the E of REG re-punched with an F instead of an E as in figure RFG, does not attract as much demand due to a lack of awareness resulting from its only recent discovery. It is nonetheless scarce though just how scarce they are remains to be seen.


The 1859 half sovereign exists as both a standard issue and an 1859/8 overdate. Both the year and its overdate seem to turn up far less frequently than the mintage implies, particularly in higher grades and some strike weakness is common to the year. The overdate is scarce though a lack of awareness of the issue may indicate many more unidentified examples exist. The issue can be identified by the bottom right-hand corner of the 8 bulging out of the 9 as in figure 18598ODHALF.

At least one 1859/8 overdate half sovereign has been slabbed by NGC at MS61 and sold at the HAG auction in January 2012 for USD 10,925.


Type II - Wreathed Bust (cont)

The 1860 is the key date of wreathed bust, after the 1855 and excluding the varieties. Current estimates put the survival count at about 200 to 250 pieces making it very scarce, particularly above the VF level in a problem-free state. A number of AU grade pieces are known though these are very scarce and given the disproportionate number of very high grade surviving examples, it's reasonable to suggest that at least one high grade hoard had surfaced.

In Mar 2002 Noble Numismatics sold an 1860/59 overdate half sovereign, said to be from Spink Australia sale 30 (lot 1439). Unfortunately the lot was not illustrated and no further examples have been sighted so we could not adequately confirm its existence.


The 1861 is generally considered one of the easier half sovereign years though one should not underestimate how difficult the issue can be to source in higher grades. An 1861/0 overdate exists and it is perhaps the best known overdate in the series and the only Sydney mint overdate identified at the Reserve Bank of Australia sale with four of this type sold being through the sale and about a dozen others have appeared on the market. Ironically, the more common overdates sell for a greater premium than the scarcer types - this is due to the awareness that the frequency of appearances supply. The overdate is identified by the presence of the ring of the previous 0 on the right of the 1 as in figure 18610ODHS, while this can be faint on weakly struck or worn pieces it does match up perfectly with the 1860 perhaps justifying the premium this overdate carries over other overdate years where the overdate may not be as obvious.

An addition to the overdate, an interesting variety discovered by a Western Australian collector has surfaced bearing the reverse of the reworked pattern matrix used previously in 1856 except dated 1861. These can be identified by the same means as the 1856 alternate reverse type in figure 1856ALT except with the wreathed bust on the obverse and dated 1861. These are extremely rare and only two have surfaced thus far.


Mint records do not show that any half sovereigns were produced in 1862, despite this they are certainly known to exist. It is likely that the high mintage figure of 558,500 quoted for 1863 also includes coins dated 1863. This would also conform to the low survival counts of the two dates, both of which are very scarce in any grade. No varieties are noted for either year.


A similar situation occurred in 1865 with only a mintage figure of 282,000 having been recorded. It is likely that the mintage figure includes both issues dated 1864 and 1865 as the branch mint in Sydney did not report any coins struck in 1864. The 1864 comes in an interesting variety where the 1 of the date is replaced with an I or Roman 1 as the variety is often called as can be seen in figure ROMAN1. These are very scarce though at least one choice example is known slabbed by PCGS at MS63. The standard date is shown below in figure ARABIC1 for comparison.


Although mint reports show that no half sovereigns were struck at Sydney in 1866, these are certainly confirmed to exist and it would seem that the 62,000 struck in 1867 and the 154,000 struck in 1869 were dated 1866. This brings the total mintage of the issue to 216,000. The 1866 is quite scarce, particularly in high grades with very few examples surfacing at the AU level and above. The date is often seen with a soft central strike, a byproduct of re-using the flatter dies likely intended for the year's proof strike.


Proofs of this type were struck dated 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1866. Three pairs of 1855 sovereign and half sovereign were struck though the half sovereign die was later used for commercial strikes. A similar set of 1856 pairs were also produced. Proof of record strikes were struck in 1857 along with their sovereign pair while a pair of 1866 proofs were discovered in the 1970s in London having been struck as part of the Sydney mint's display at the inter-Colonial Exhibition of 1866 and the International Exposition in Paris of 1867.

566Proof 567Proof 568Proof 584Proof

The Sydney mint series was the first official coinage to bear the country's name AUSTRALIA proudly on the reverse and represents a challenge to any collector, particuarly if sought in higher grades. While most dates are fairly affordable in low grades and only tending towards a small premium above bullion value, they are all generally quite scarce, particuarly the varieties and can still require a significant degree of patience to complete.


Legislative Council (1853). Royal Mint: Australian Mints: Copy of Treasury Minute dated March 22nd, 1853. Melbourne: VIC.: John Ferres, Government Printer Melbourne. Legislative Assembly (1863). Extraction of Silver from Coined Gold. Sydney, N.S.W.: Thomas Richards, Government Printer. Legislative Assembly (1865). Issue of Copper Coinage from Sydney Mint. Sydney, N.S.W.: Thomas Richards, Government Printer. Royal Mint (1871). First Annual Report of The Deputy Master of the Mint. London, U.K.: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode.