Coins have been used for many centuries, in many countries around the world. They have come in many different shapes and sizes, and have been made of many different metals. So, what exactly makes something a coin? Simply, a coin is an object, usually metal, of standard size and weight, used as a form of money. It can be traded, spent or saved. This coin is a replica of a circa 350 BCE Greek Tetradrachm from the National Coin Collection.
What is a Coin
A Rich History
Coins of Ancient Lydia
In approximately 610 BCE in Ancient Lydia (occupying the land we now know as Turkey), anvils and hammers became some of the first tools to strike coins as the Royal Australian Mint does now. A blank piece of metal would be forced into the anvil’s crevice, which had a negative (reversed) image carved into it. The hammer would strike the blank, leaving this image on one side and the hammer’s square on the other. The resulting coins were known as Lydian half starters.
Coins of Ancient Greece
Ancient Greeks later (around 500 BCE) adopted a process of using two dies, one for the obverse (front) of the coin, and one for the reverse (back). Blanks were heated, softened and then placed between the two dies (one of which was struck by a hammer to press the dies’ image into the finished coin). This is a replica of a circa 400 BCE Greek Tetradrachm from the National Coin Collection.
Chinese Cast Coins
In approximately 350 BCE, the Chinese started to produce round coins through a process of pouring molten metal into a mould, where it then cooled. Two noteworthy features of these coins were a spike on the edge where the mould had an opening (these were cut and then filed off) and a square hole in the middle. At that time, people believed the earth was square shaped, and that coins could ward off evil spirits. The round edge of the coin was said to symbolise heaven surrounding the earth. This is a Chinese cast coin from the National Coin Collection.
In 289 BCE, Rome made its first coins, which were crude, heavy-cast bronze. In Roman society, coins often had meanings or used imagery and inscriptions to convey ideas (such as eagles for victory). To this day, coins are often used to celebrate events or people who are special to society, as the Royal Australian Mint’s many commemorative coins show. This is a hammered coin from the ancient Roman Byzantine empire from the National Coin Collection.
The Influence of Britain
Australia’s coins are most directly influenced by Britain, which first used coins under Roman rule until the power of Rome dissolved in 400 CE. Coins were later reintroduced to Britain from Europe, and became such a valuable trading item that Henry II accepted coins in lieu of a citizen’s 40 days of annual military service. This was paid using a coin known as the solidus, which is why we now have the word ‘soldier’.
Coins in Australia
Australia’s coinage has had a rich and varied history since European settlement. For more information on the nation’s coin story, check out our Australian coin history page. This 1927 Florin was created to commemorate the opening of Parliament House, Canberra (now Old Parliament House) as the seat of Government.