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Melbourne Mint sovereigns 1932-1934

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Although gold coins stopped circulating in Australia during World War I, the Melbourne Mint continued to strike gold sovereigns - by the late 1920s the mintages were low and by 1931 when the last sovereign was struck, the mintages were even lower. 1932 marked the end of sovereign production throughout the British empire, with only the Pretoria Mint striking sovereigns in that year. Like the Perth Mint though, the Melbourne Mint also received 1932-dated sovereign dies, though neither mint are known to have struck any 1932-dated sovereigns. In 1932 the Melbourne Mint received seven 1932 sovereign reverse dies (p48, Mullett, Gold Coinage and Refining at the Melbourne Mint, 1992), but the Melbourne Mint also received seven 1933 sovereign reverse dies in 1933 (p48, Mullett, Gold Coinage and Refining at the Melbourne Mint, 1992). While the receipt of 1932-dated sovereign dies is not surprising - they were prepared and sent to the other two mints that had produced sovereigns in 1931 - the receipt of 1933-dated sovereign dies is surprising, as Great Britain had abandoned the gold standard in 1931, and the Melbourne Mint had not struck any sovereigns after 1931.

The Melbourne Mint received 1934-dated sovereign dies in 1934 as well, though on this occasion only four dies were received (p48, Mullett, Gold Coinage and Refining at the Melbourne Mint, 1992). The reason for 1934-dated sovereign dies is known however: the Melbourne Mint had specifically requested them to strike sovereigns for the centenary of the state of Victoria in 1934 (Eigner, https://www.drakesterling.com/news-wire/post/the-1934-melbourne-sovereign). While the Royal Mint was reluctant to have sovereigns struck, it was conceded that laws still required sovereigns to be struck on demand (perhaps explaining the production of 1933-dated sovereign reverse dies). The Melbourne Mint confirmed receipt of the four dies on 26th April 1934 (Eigner, https://www.drakesterling.com/news-wire/post/the-1934-melbourne-sovereign). There are conflicting reports of when the dies were destroyed - according to Sharples, four sovereign reverse dies were destroyed in December 1934 (Eigner, https://www.drakesterling.com/news-wire/post/the-1934-melbourne-sovereign), while Mullett states that all sovereign dies in stock at the Melbourne Mint were destroyed in April 1934 (p48, Mullett, Gold Coinage and Refining at the Melbourne Mint, 1992). This apparent conflict is difficult to reconcile as both men had access to the Melbourne Mint's records. Perhaps all sovereign dies in stock were destroyed earlier in April, prior to the arrival of the 1934-dated sovereign reverse dies towards the end of April. If all obverse dies had been destroyed prior to the arrival of the new reverse dies, this would explain why no 1934 Melbourne sovereigns appear to have been struck, even though the Melbourne Mint went to some effort to acquire appropriate dies. This would also explain the destruction of a further four sovereign reverse dies in December 1934 - the exact number and type received at the end of April 1934.

Mullett's records show no 1932 Melbourne sovereigns, 1933 Melbourne sovereigns or 1934 Melbourne sovereigns as having been struck (p48, Mullett, Gold Coinage and Refining at the Melbourne Mint, 1992) and while the records are not completely authoritative, the lack of any such coins seems to prove them right.


1909 Australian pattern florin

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Although Australia had become its own country in 1901, an Australian coinage was apparently not the first priority, with concrete action only being taken in 1909.

According to the Royal Mint (IBSCC, Australia Pattern Florin 1909 (Silver) in Counterfeit Report December 1979, No. 263, December 1979):

On the 15th June, 1909, the Colonial Secretary received a cable form the Governor General of Australia asking him to contact the Royal Mint about the preparation of dies for a proposed issue of distinctive Australian florins, shillings, sixpence and threepences. The designs specified in the cable were, for the obverse, the Royal effigy and, for the reverse, a map of Australia with the word, "Australia", superimposed. On the 23rd June the Royal Mint received Treasury approval to prepare the dies and sketch of the proposed reverse designs was sent to the Colonial Office the next day. AS the same time the Royal Mint informed the Colonial Office that it was proposed to use the standard crowned effigy and the inscription, "King and Emperor". On the 8th July the Colonial Secretary received a cable from the Governor General approving the Mint's proposals. By the 6th August, 1909, the florin matrices had been completed reverse punches were almost ready.
It was on the 6th August that a message was received by the Royal Mint from the Representative of the Australian Government in London to suspend the work pending reconsideration of the form of the Royal Style and Titles. Towards the end of September the Australian Government agreed to a proposal by the British Treasury that the inscription should be same as that on the Imperial coinage. At the same time, on the 25th September, the Colonial Secretary received another cable from the Governor General, asking for the substitution of the Australian Coat of Arms for the map. The Royal Mint accordingly prepared new designs, which received the King's approval early in October.
There remain in the Royal Mint Museum a matrix, punch and die for the florin reverse superseded in September 1909, plus an electrotype of florin size, prepared from these tools.

1909 Australian florin pattern reverse
1909 Australian florin pattern reverse
1909 Australian florin pattern reverse
1909 Australian florin pattern reverse

The single known electrotype seems to have remained largely unknown - it was pictured in the September 1964 Australian Coin Review, and rose again to prominence when it was forged by David Gee (whose fake used the wrong obverse design).

Images provided by Royal Mint Museum


1920 Melbourne Halfpenny

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Some older Australian coin catalogues make mention of a pattern 1920 bronze Melbourne halfpenny (p64, Skinner, Renniks Australian Coin and Banknote Values, 1989). The records themselves are unclear - Mullett certainly mentions the Sydney Mint striking 1920-dated halfpennies, though he doesn't state the source of the dies or whether the Melbourne Mint struck any (p3, Mullett, Australian Coinage An Account of Particular Coins, 1991). According to Sharples, the Sydney Mint received its 1920 halfpenny dies direct from London (p14, Sharples, Australian Coins 1919 to 1924 in Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia, July 1985). Interestingly, he also notes that in preparation for the striking of 1921 halfpennies, the Sydney Mint sent a pair of specimen halfpenny dies to the Melbourne Mint for guidance on the production of master dies. This was done while the Sydney Mint had 1921 halfpenny dies on order from the Royal Mint in London (p14-15, Sharples, Australian Coins 1919 to 1924 in Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia, July 1985), so presumably the specimen dies sent were dated 1920. This situation could explain the existence of a 1920 Melbourne halfpenny. While the Museum Victoria collection (incorporating the Melbourne Mint collection) has no examples, this is probably not surprising as coins would have had no special significance, and were struck in 1921 with 1920-dated dies - merely test coins produced from obsolete dies.

While the halfpennies dies used at the Sydney and Melbourne Mints were identical, the usage of dies from the Sydney Mint would make identification of such patterns even more difficult. An example was reportedly sold in Noble Numismatics' July 1994 auction as lot 1484. It is not photographed and presumably the provenance is the only proof that the coin was struck in Melbourne and not Sydney.


1890 Great Britain shilling varieties

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While Davies' book records no varieties of 1890 shillings (p62, Davies, British Silver Coins Since 1816, 1982), two different reverse varieties have been since been discovered. On the usual coin (Davies 988) the cross pattee is narrower than the orb on which it sits. On the newer reverse the cross pattee is wider than the orb on which it sits and the arms are low enough to almost touch the pearls on the arches. As with many of these varieties, the reason for the change is unknown, though in the case of Jubilee head shillings, it was the fifth and last reverse variety used in seven years.

1890 Shilling (Davies 988) reverse
1890 Shilling (Davies 988) reverse
1890 Shilling (Davies 988) obverse
1890 Shilling (Davies 988) obverse

It is not clear in what proportions the two varieties appear though it would appear that neither coin is rare. An example with the new reverse was sold as part of the Peter Davies collection in 2009 for £75 (https://www.londoncoins.co.uk/?page=Pastresults&auc=124&searchlot=1224&searchtype=2).

Images provided by Museum Victoria under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International


1920 Sydney Sovereign

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The 1920 Sydney sovereign is one of the rarest circulating sovereigns in the sovereign series. There has been much speculation about its rarity. Although mint records showed 360,000 coins as being struck - not many, but not an overly low amount either - there are only a handful of examples known. Conventional wisdom was that almost all of the mintage was melted down at some point in the 1920s or 1930s, along with many other sovereigns after World War I.

The sale of The George Collection of sovereigns in 2014 attempted to shed new light on the matter, with research finding all sovereigns struck at the Sydney Mint in 1920 were most likely dated 1919, and that prominent New South Welshman Jacob Garrard had specially ordered a small number of 1920S sovereigns to celebrate his golden wedding anniversary in 1920. The specially ordered sovereigns were to be given to his children, and possibly himself and his wife (https://www.sterlingcurrency.com.au/blog/news-research/australian-gold-coinage/the-1920-sydney-sovereign-the-greatest-gold-rarity/).

More recent research by Howard Hodgson suggests that the previously believed story of mass-melting of sovereigns after World War I is indeed correct (p28, Hodgson, The 1920 Sydney Sovereign A Centenary Review in Australasian Coin and Banknote Magazine, March 2021). He concluded that Jacob Garrard did likely obtain a small supply of 1920S sovereigns, and that this supply likely accounts for most or all known surviving specimens. Also of note is that Hodgson discovered that descendants of Jacob Garrard have in their possession two previously unaccounted for 1920S sovereigns (p29, Hodgson, The 1920 Sydney Sovereign A Centenary Review in Australasian Coin and Banknote Magazine, March 2021). With five previously known examples, this brings the total known number of 1920S sovereigns to seven, with possibly more unaccounted for examples in the possession of other Garrard descendants. In spite of this, the 1920S sovereign still remains the rarest sovereign in the series.