Two priceless coins on special public display at the Mint

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Two coins, a Sovereign and Half Sovereign, one of only 4 existing sets in the world and the only one owned by an Australian, will be on a special display at the Mint until January 2004. The two coins are valued at over three-quarters of a million dollars. The Royal Mint and the British Museum hold the other three sets.

The two coins, produced 150 years ago in 1853, were the first coins designed officially for production in Australia that was then going to be the new Sydney Mint which opened in 1855. These first 4 sets of coins were produced at the Royal Mint in the UK to test the suitability of the proposed design for coining in the Sydney Mint.

The discovery of gold in the colony of New South Wales brought with it great economic benefits. One of these was to be the establishment of a branch of the Royal Mint in Sydney, the first time a branch of the Mint was set up outside Britain. In 1853, after the decision to open a new mint in Sydney was made, the Royal Mint in London set about producing a series of patterns to test designs that were to be used for minting in Sydney.

Only 4 sets of the coins were ever produced, the other three remain in museums and the two coins on display at the Mint is the only set in a private collection. The coins are from the well-known private 'Quartermaster Collection' and have been kindly loaned to the Mint and the loan arrangements were facilitated by the well-known coin collector and dealer Mr Barrie Winsor.

The 'Sydney Mint Patterns' as these coins are now called are a very important part of Australia's numismatic history. The reverse design (the design on the 'tails' side of the coin) was markedly different to previous Imperial sovereign designs, the first time ever a 'colonial' slant was ever given to the design on a Sovereign. It was also uniquely Australian, with the words 'Australia' and 'Sydney Mint' prominent on the design. The different obverse and reverse designs were a deliberate measure to differentiate the Sydney sovereign from Imperial sovereigns.

The designer of the Sydney Mint Pattern was James Wyon, who was a member of the famous Wyon dynasty of engravers. The Wyons were not renowned for the strength of their constitution and in 1860, James was placed in a mental hospital. As there was no sign of recovery, he was pensioned in April 1861 and died, still in asylum on 15 June 1868.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Sydney Mint Sovereign Pattern the mint produced a special modern day collector version of the coin. All 10,000 of these coins sold out from the Mint within 4 weeks.

The Mint is open, free of charge to visitors between 9 am and 4 pm, Monday to Friday and 10am to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday (except Christmas Day and Good Friday).

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Sovereign coin - Obverse Sovereign Obverse
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Sovereign coin - Reverse Sovereign Reverse
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Half Sovereign coin - Obverse Half Sovereign Obverse
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Half Sovereign coin - Reverse Half Sovereign Reverse
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