110 Years of the Australian Penny

1919 Penny

Exploring the 1919 Penny - YouTube

Hi, my name is Graeme and today I’m going to be talking to you about the 1919 penny.

The 1919 penny was the first Australian penny minted on Australian soil. Although Australian pennies had been made for the newly federated nation since 1911, they were all minted at the Royal Mint in England or India. For this reason, the 1919 pennies, with the reverse design by Blakemore and the obverse of King George V by Mackennal, are special.

1919 pennies are great examples of the subtle variations between coins made at different mints. While historic mints would often place ‘mintmarks’ on coins made at their facility (such as a small ‘M’ for the Melbourne Mint, or ‘S’ for the Sydney Mint), it is also possible to speculate where a coin was made by deciphering very small differences in the dies used to strike them. The 1919 penny has three different variations that can be distinguished by the location of small beads around the scrolls on the reverse. The first variety has no dots, the second has a dot above the top scroll and a dot below the lower scroll (called a double dot variation), and the third features a single dot below the lower scroll. These variations happened as a result of the dies being sourced from different locations: the London Mint, which were considered completed dies; the Melbourne Mint, which were cloned dies based on the London dies; and the Calcutta Mint in India, which were half-finished, unhardened dies completed by the Melbourne Mint before production.

While coin collectors have attempted to work out which dot pattern denotes which Mint, it is highly likely that, due to high demand, the dies ended up being passed back and forth between the Sydney and Melbourne Mints, making this quest futile.

While they’re not particularly rare, 1919 pennies can still fetch a collector more than $1000 depending on condition.

Join us next time as Sally introduces the 1930 penny.

1930 Penny

Exploring the 1930 Penny - YouTube

Hi, my name is Sally and today I’m going to be talking to you about the 1930 penny.

If you ask a coin collector, “what is the rarest Australian coin?”, they would likely say the 1930 penny. While not technically correct, 1930 pennies are prized possessions amongst collectors.

Known as ‘the coin not meant to be struck’, they were minted during a tumultuous time – in the middle of the Great Depression. Because of the economic recession, in 1930, the Commonwealth decided not to place any orders for new pennies – yet, some were made.

It is estimated that there are 1500 in existence and there are a number of theories as to how they came to be. One theory actually suggests that a tour guide from the Melbourne Mint made the pennies for visitors to take home as a souvenir. Their mystery and rarity makes them worth a pretty penny. A proof version once belonging to the British Museum sold at auction for $1.15 million AUD in 2019.

With the Mackennal effigy of King George V on its obverse and the minimalistic Blakemore reverse, the 1930 penny is one of Australia’s most iconic coins and is worth a whole lot, both in historic and monetary value.

Join us next time when Amy introduce you to Australia’s actual rarest coin – the 1945 penny. 

1945 Penny 

Exploring the 1945 Penny - YouTube

Hi, my name is Amy and today I’m going to be talking to you about the 1945 penny.

The title of Australia’s rarest penny, while many think it’s the 1930 penny, actually goes to the ones made at the Melbourne Mint in 1945. Featuring Thomas Humphrey Paget’s effigy of King George VI and the jumping kangaroo reverse, only four pennies were produced at the Melbourne Mint that year. This is because they were test pieces for new master tools – they were made to ensure the tools were accurate before they were sent to the Perth Mint and used to produce over 10 million pennies that were needed for that year.

Telling the difference between Melbourne Mint and Perth Mint 1945 pennies is rather easy – the Perth Mint versions have a dot after the Y in PENNY on their reverse, while the Melbourne Mint pieces do not.

Before you start digging through your collections: unfortunately, all four Melbourne Mint 1945 pennies are accounted for. Two of the pennies have been auctioned off to private collectors – one of which sold for $250,000; one is in the Museum of Victoria Collection; and one is held in the National Coin Collection at the Royal Australian Mint.

Join us next time as Graeme talks to you about his favourite coin – the 1956 penny.

1956 Penny

Exploring the 1956 Penny - YouTube

Hi, my name is Graeme and today I’m going to be speaking to you about the 1956 penny.

The 1956 penny isn’t all that special in historical or monetary terms, but it certainly holds a special place in this narrator’s heart – 1956 is the year I was born. Like other pennies made since 1938, the reverse of the 1956 penny features a leaping kangaroo in full flight. Its obverse features Mary Gillick effigy of Queen Elizabeth II, the first of our current monarch.

Like most pre-decimal coins, not all of the 1956 pennies were made at the one mint. In 1956, the labour was split across the Melbourne and Perth Mints – and you can tell the difference. In the numismatic world, you can usually tell the difference between one Australian mint and the other by one of them having a small dot next to ‘Y’ in ‘PENNY’. Except, in 1956, both the Melbourne and Perth varieties have this feature. The way to tell them apart is actually a little bit harder to see: around the outside of the penny, on the obverse, there are a number of small ‘beads’. The Melbourne obverse features 120 beads and the ‘I’ in ‘GRATIA’ and ‘ELIZABETH’ is aligned in the centre of one of these beads. The Perth obverse however, only has 116 beads and both the ‘I’ of ‘GRATIA’ and ‘ELIZABETH’ sits between two dots.

With just under 26 million coins made between the two mints, the coins are worth anywhere between $3 in circulating condition and over $300 in proof condition.

Join us next time as Georgina takes you through the many designs on Australian pennies.

1911-1964 Penny Designs

Exploring the Australian Penny Obverses - YouTube

Hi, my name is Georgina, today I’m excited to show you a few interesting changes that were made to Australia’s pennies throughout their pre-decimal era.

Between 1911 and the changeover to decimal currency in 1966, the Australian penny featured five different obverses (‘heads’) and two reverses (‘tails’).

The first Australian pennies were made during the reign of King George V. Designed by Bertram Mackennal, his effigy is quite a regal one, complete with a crown. It graced the face of our coins between 1911 and 1936. The Latin legend along the outside of the coin states, “George the Fifth, by the Grace of God, King of all the Britain’s, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India”. On the reverse of the coin was the W. H. J. Blakemore design featuring the words ‘ONE PENNY, COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA’ and the year of production.

In 1938, King George VI ascended the throne, bringing in a new effigy for our obverse but also a new reverse. George VI’s effigy is similar to his father’s but not identical. Instead of the ‘BRITT’ denoting ‘Britains’, it was shortened to a simple ‘BR’. This effigy was designed by Thomas Hugh Paget. More excitingly however, 1938 also saw the introduction of the famed ‘Kangaroo’ reverse, designed by George Kruger Gray. This kangaroo made the pennies quintessentially Australian and this design was used on the penny until the decimal changeover to decimal currency in 1966.

In 1949, while the monarch did not change, the legend around the outside of the George VI obverse did.  Because India gained independence from the British empire in 1947, ‘IND:IMP’ or ‘Emperor of India’ was no longer an appropriate part of the legend. This was taken out and the ‘F:D’ symbolising ‘Defender of the Faith’ extended to ‘FIDEI DEF’ in order to make the legend look the same length at a glance.

In 1953, Elizabeth II was crowned as queen. Her effigy was designed by Mary Gillick and was the last new effigy before the introduction of decimal coinage. That said, the legend around the outside of the coin changed once in 1959. When the obverse was first introduced, the legend stated ‘Elizabeth II, By the Grace of God, Queen’. The problem was that the legend left out the ‘F:D,’ which stood for ‘Defender of the Faith’. There was massive public outcry at the release of the designs, including questions in parliament, newspaper stories and an angry Anglican clergy. To ensure the monarchy itself was not upset, Prime Minister Menzies made sure the legend was fixed on the 1954 commemorative florins made for the royal visit that year, then that it was rolled out to the rest of the coins, including pennies, from 1955 onwards.

Looking at this series of coins, can you notice a pattern? Or maybe the pattern seems interrupted?

Throughout the history of coins in both Britain and Australia, each new monarch faces a different way. You can see this between George VI, who is facing left, and Queen Elizabeth, who is facing to the right. But, George V faces to the left. This is because there was another monarch between the two Georges – Edward VIII – but he abdicated before they were able to make coins with his effigy on them. Not wanting to forget him, Britain made the choice to continue as though we had made coins with his face on them, and made George VI face to the left.

On behalf of myself, Sally, the two Graemes and Amy, thank you for joining us and learning about some of our favourite pennies.