Coins and Australia - A Short History of Australian Coins - Articles on Australian coins

You are: Home » Australian coins » Articles » A Short History of Australian Coins

A Short History of Australian Coins

By Richard Goodstein    |   Sunday, 25 September 2005

The following content comes from the Richard Goodstein personnal website, which not longer exist since 2018. To keep this information available to the public and for a perpetuity reason, we reproduced it here.

English coins arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. Selected coinage of India, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands also became legal tender in New South Wales after a Government proclamation in 1800. The first distinctive Australian coins were the Holey Dollars and Dumps of 1813, which were produced by cutting the centers from Spanish Dollars. The outer rings were then over stamped as five shilling coins (Holey Dollars) and the inner portions over stamped as 15 pence coins (Dumps). English currency became the official currency of the Australian colonies after 1825.

Many traders and merchants issued unofficial Australian coins, or tokens, during the gold rushes of the 1850s. Adelaide Pound gold coins issued by the Government Assay Office of South Australia in 1852 were never officially authorized by the British Government. Founded in 1855, the Sydney Mint was Australia's first official coinage mint. The earliest Australian gold coins struck at Sydney from 1855 to 1870 had a unique Australian design and these are known as Sydney Mint issues. After 1870, the Sydney Mint struck gold coins of a standard British design. Mints were later opened in Melbourne (1872) and Perth (1899) for the striking of Imperial gold sovereigns and half-sovereigns.

After Federation in 1901, authority over currency, coinage and legal tender passed to the new Commonwealth Government. Australia's first silver coins in 1910 featured an obverse portrait of King Edward VII and were struck at the Royal Mint, London. Australian copper coins first appeared in 1911, the coronation year of King George V. The earliest silver coins struck in Australia were those produced by the Melbourne Mint in 1916. Production of copper coins commenced at both the Melbourne and Sydney Mints in 1919. Minting of gold sovereigns in Australia ceased in 1931, but other pre-decimal denominations were issued until 1964. Australian crowns (five shilling coins) were only minted in 1937 and 1938.

Australia converted to a decimal system of currency in 1966 with the new One Dollar equal in value to the old Ten Shillings. Australian decimal coins issued into circulation are normally struck at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. Opened in 1966, the Royal Australian Mint also produces a range of numismatic coins and collector items. These include year sets of the circulation coinage, special commemorative coins and bullion coins struck in both silver and gold. Australian coins year sets are released in both Uncirculated (standard strike) and Proof (premium strike) versions. A Baby Coin Set, with coins in either Uncirculated or Proof condition, is a good way for family and friends to celebrate a new baby's birth year.

The Perth Mint is renowned worldwide for premium quality minting of non-circulating legal tender coinage. Popular precious metal issues of the Perth Mint include the Gold Nugget, Silver Kookaburra and Platinum Koala coins. Downie's are official agents for the Royal Australian Mint and Perth Mint in both Australia and in North America. In addition, Downie's are also official agents for the British Royal Mint and a number of other prominent world mints in Australia.

History of the Dollar

The Australian dollar was introduced in 1966, not only replacing the Australian pound (long since distinct from the Pound Sterling) but also introducing a decimal system. The Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies wished to name the currency "the Royal", and other names such as "the Austral" and "the Koala" were also proposed.

Due to Menzies' influence, the name "Royal" was settled upon, and trial designs were prepared and printed by the printing works of the Reserve Bank of Australia. The unusual choice of name for the currency proved unpopular, and it was later shelved in favour of "Dollar".

On February 14, 1966 the Australian Dollar was introduced at a rate of two dollars per pound, or ten shillings per dollar.

Monetary history

In 1910 an Australian currency was first introduced by the Labor Government of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher - the Australian pound consisting of twenty shillings each consisting of twelve pence. The Australian pound was on the Gold Standard and was equal in value to pound sterling. Prior to this, pound sterling was used in conjunction with banknotes and bills of credit issued by private banks. Coins were first introduced in 1910.

In 1919, the pound sterling was removed from the gold standard. When it was returned to the gold standard in 1926 the chosen gold price unleashed deflationary pressures.

In January 1931, the Labor Government of Prime Minister James Scullin devalued the Australian pound by 25 per cent against pound sterling as an emergency measure during the Great Depression. £1 sterling became worth £1 5s. 0d. Australian (AUD$2.50). While this devaluation no doubt removed some of the deflationary pressures introduced five years earlier it would still have been disruptive.

In 1948, when the United Kingdom devalued the pound sterling against the U.S. dollar, Australian Prime Minister and Treasurer Ben Chifley followed suit so the Australian pound would not become over-valued in sterling zone countries, with which Australia did the most trade at the time. One Australian pound went from US$2.80 to US$2.24.

On February 14, 1966, a decimal currency, known as the Australian dollar, was introduced after years of planning. £1 became $2, ten shillings became $1, and one shilling became ten cents. Amounts less than a shilling were converted thus:

  • ½d. = 1c
  • 6½d. = 5c
  • 1d. = 1c
  • 7d. = 6c
  • 1½d. = 1c
  • 7½d. = 6c
  • 2d. = 2c
  • 8d. = 7c
  • 2½d. = 2c
  • 8½d. = 7c
  • 3d. = 2c
  • 9d. = 8c
  • 3½d. = 3c
  • 9½d. = 8c
  • 4d. = 3c
  • 10d. = 8c
  • 4½d. = 4c
  • 10½d. = 9c
  • 5d. = 4c
  • 11d. = 9c
  • 5½d. = 5c
  • 11½d. = 9c
  • 6d. = 5c
  • 12d. = 1 s. = 10c

In 1966 following the introduction of the Australian dollar the value of the national currency continued to be managed in accord with the Bretton Woods gold standard as it had been since 1944. Essentially the value of the Australian dollar was managed with reference to the value of gold, although in practice the US dollar was used.

In keeping with Australia's move to a metric system the value of the new Australian dollar was equivalent to one gram of gold.

In 1971 the U.S. government discontinued the practice of managing the value of the U.S. dollar with relation to the value of gold and from this point onward Australia slowly loosened its usage of U.S. dollar as a means of measuring value. However for more than a decade it continued to peg to the U.S. dollar using a moving peg.

In 1983, the Australian government "floated" the Australian dollar, meaning that it no longer managed its value by reference to the US dollar or any other foreign currency. Today the value of the Australian dollar is managed with almost exclusive reference to domestic measures of value such as the CPI (Consumer Price Index).

In 2001, the value of one Australian dollar went below 50 US cents for the first time. As of Feb 2005, the Australian dollar is worth about 79 US cents. In 1966 the Australian dollar was worth about 980 milligrams of gold. As of Feb, 2005, the Australian dollar is worth 57 milligrams of gold.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.