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Australia Sydney Mint Type I

1856  Full Sovereign reverse 1856  Full Sovereign obverse

1856 Full Sovereign

Reverse Designer:L. C. Lyon Obverse Designer:James Lyon Size:22mm Weight:7.99g Edge:Reeded Composition:91.67% Gold
8.33% Silver


Sales History


Following the discovery of gold in Sydney, sovereigns were minted at the Sydney Mint from 1855 and continued until 1916. Prior to the discovery of gold, Australian colonies were reliant upon coins minted in Great Britain as these were the only coins recognised as having legal tender status (Reserve Bank of Australia, 2005) . The 1850s Gold Rush affected not only the mintage of coins but also sudden population growth, particularly in Victoria. In turn, this demanded sudden developments in government administration to manage standard utilities, land reform, communication and transport (Reserve Bank of Australia, 2005) . Proposals for the establishment of a Sydney branch of the Royal Mint started in 1851, these were met with some resistance from gold buyers and banks in Sydney, which profited from the transfer of gold from Australia to London for the purpose of minting coins (Melbourne Museum, 2016) . But in 1853, an order was eventually granted for the Sydney branch, and by 1855 it was in operation (Sydney Living Museums, 2016) .

The Sydney Mint was set up in the southern wing of the hospital that had been part of Governor Lachlan Macquarie's building program. The hospital, finished in 1816, was initially set up to treat convicts; it became known as the 'Sidney Slaughter House' because of its notoriously poor conditions (Sydney Living Museums, 2016) . The southern wing then became a military hospital in 1823, and the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary in 1842 (Sydney Living Museums, 2016) . The Sydney Mint contained offices, a bullion office, and a factory where it minted gold sovereigns and half sovereigns; in 1916 it began to mint commemorative medals, and copper and silver coins (Sydney Living Museums, 2016) . In 1915, due to the economic difficulties of the First World War, Australia left the Gold Standard but returned in 1925. In 1929, the Australian Government established the Commonwealth Bank Act, which required all holdings of gold by banks and the public to be sold to the Commonwealth Bank (now the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)) in exchange for notes (The Perth Mint Australia, 2016) . Such restrictions lasted until 1976 (The Perth Mint Australia, 2016) . The Reserve Bank of Australia's 2005 auction of gold coins was a significant event in which a substantial amount of the RBA's gold coin holding was made available to collectors. Coins with great historical and numismatic value were retained in the Bank's Museum of Australian Currency Notes or moved to the Royal Australian Mint's National Coin Collection (Macfarlane, I, 2005) .

The first circulation sovereigns struck at the Sydney Mint were dated 1855 and 1856. During those two years close to 1.5 million sovereigns were produced. The Type I obverse, designed by James Wyon, features the filleted bust of Queen Victoria facing left with the date below. The legend reads VICTORIA D: G: BRITANNIAR REGINA F:D:. This obverse design is unique to these two years and the early 1853 pattern, and is known as the filleted head; the Type II obverse shows a wreathed bust.

Type I obverse (this type) 1853 pattern, 1855-6: Queen Victoria's portrait wears a fillet in her hair. Type I obverse (this type) 1853 pattern, 1855-6: Queen Victoria's portrait wears a fillet in her hair.

Type II Obverse (1855-70): Queen Victoria's portrait wears a wreath and her hair is in a knotted braid. Type II Obverse (1855-70): Queen Victoria's portrait wears a wreath and her hair is in a knotted braid.

The reverse,designed by Leonard Charles Wyon, bears the Sydney Mint banksia wreath design surrounding AUSTRALIA, and positioned below a crown with the legend SYDNEY MINT ONE SOVEREIGN encircling the design. Both the reverse and obverse show a thin rim and toothed denticles. This was the only time a colony would ever deviate from the imperial shield design, but it was short-lived with the Sydney Mint reverting to the imperial design in 1871.

This issue is no doubt the biggest challenge for type set collectors with both years being very scarce. Unlike the Type I Sydney Mint Half Sovereigns - for which the 1855 is highly prized, and the 1856 an affordable coin for the type set collector - the Type I Sydney Mint Sovereigns are both scarce though still affordable starting at the $2000 range for an average circulated example free of significant faults.

While coming from a lower mintage, the 1855 turns up far more frequently than the 1856. Despite this, realised prices have consistently shown that collectors pay similar prices for both dates. This disparity is most likely due to type collectors who seek the first date of each type for their type set collections. The 1856 is the scarcest circulation Sydney Mint type sovereign with probably fewer than 3000 pieces available. Both dates are available in mint state, but they are extremely scarce in AU50 or better.

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