Australian Commonwealth Coinage

Welcome to a series of web pages which have nothing to do with computers. Here you will find a fair amount of information on Australian pre-decimal coinage, with an emphasis on die varieties. What you will not find is any estimate of coin values. There are printed catalogues which do a far better job of that than I possibly could. Instead what you'll (eventually) find is information about each and every variety of every coin in the Australian Commonwealth series. This is intended to be a reference site. Enjoy, and visit often.

Decimal Coinage

Some curiosities from Australian decimal coinage
1966 twenty cent
Recently added or modified pages
2/12/111911 threepence
1944 & 1945 florins
1943 florin Added mintmark position variety
1909 florin - Updated narrative
Errors - added "wrong planchet"
Clipped planchet error
1926-1931 counterfeit florins
1944-1948 pennies
1920 penny - updated again 15/7/03
1934 sixpence

Direct links to some important varieties:

1962 "double-nose" penny
1953 Melbourne penny "long 5, different 3"
1955 Perth penny with closely-spaced fives
1922/1 overdate threepence
1916 halfpenny mule
Direct links to some other interesting topics:
Early colonial coinage (Proclamation Coins)
Internment Camp tokens
The 1930 penny
Cleaning and preservation of coins
Contents of this web page:
A short history of Australian Commonwealth coinage
The monetary system of Australia prior to 1966
General characteristics of Australian pre-decimal coins
Grading of Australian coins
Varieties and errors
Catalogue of Australian Commonwealth coins
The rarest circulation coins
Taxonomic nomenclature
Miscellaneous stuff
Other numismatic web pages

These web pages deal with Australian pre-decimal coinage which was issued from 1910 to 1964 by mints in London, Birmingham, Bombay, Melbourne, Sydney, Calcutta, Denver, San Francisco and Perth. The coins of this era exhibit a wide range of die variations and are of more than usual interest to the serious collector.

I would like to dedicate these pages to John Dean whose little book "The 1965 Australian Coin Varieties Catalogue" introduced me to the notion that coins of a given denomination and year are not necessarily all alike.

History of Commonwealth coinage

Before federation, the British colonies on the Australian continent used a variety of coinage, promissory notes and tokens as currency. Some gold coinage, sovereigns and half-sovereigns, had been produced in the Royal Mint branches in Sydney and Melbourne but from earliest times there had been a lack of small-denomination coins. In 1898 the British government granted permission for the colonial governments of New South Wales and Victoria to strike silver and bronze coins in the branch mints of Sydney and Melbourne but it was not until well after federation that the decision to proceed was announced. The local mints in Sydney and Melbourne had been employed in the striking of gold sovereigns and half-sovereigns but were not prepared to cope with the new currency and for the first few years Australian coins were ordered from the Royal Mint in London.

With the outbreak of World War I the Royal Mint found itself unable to meet the demand for Australian coinage in addition to its other commitments and in 1914 and 1915 some of the production was sub-contracted to the mint of Heaton & Sons in Birmingham. By 1916 the Melbourne branch mint was equipped for the striking of silver coins and so it assumed that task but bronze coins were struck in Calcutta branch mint as well as at the Heaton mint. In 1919 the first pennies were struck in Melbourne and the first halfpennies were struck in Sydney.

For more on the history of Australian currency, you might find something in web pages of the Tasmanian Numismatic Society, the Australian Numismatic Society , the Royal Australian Mint and the Perth Mint. Failing that, there are historical notes in many Australian coin catalogues as well as my own notes on the coinage of the Australian colonial settlements.

The monetary system of Australia prior to the introduction of decimal currency

Before 1966 Australia used a monetary system directly inherited from Britain. The principal currency unit was the pound (£) which was divided into twenty shillings each comprising 12 pence. Monetary amounts less than a shilling were expressed with the suffix 'd' so that threepence would be written 3d and fivepence halfpenny would be written 5½d. For larger amounts, the denominations were separated by virgules or slashes. "Fifteen and six" (meaning fifteen shillings and six pence) was written as 15/6 but amounts comprising even shillings had a dash in place of the zero so "one shilling" was written as 1/-rather than 1/0. The principle was extended to larger amounts. For example, "Six pounds four and twopence halfpenny" was written as £6/4/2½, "one pound ten [shillings]" as £1/10/- and "Ten pounds" as £10/-/- or simply £10. Finally, "two pounds and tenpence" would be written as £2/-/10 and rarely, if ever, as £2/0/10.

Penny is singular regardless of usage. When talking about individual coins, the plural is pennies but for monetary value, pence is the plural so two pennies have a combined value of twopence. Penny amounts were always spoken and spelled as a single word, "elevenpence" rather than "eleven pence". "Twopence" was always pronounced "tuppence" and "threepence" as "throopence" ("oo" is as in "book"). Finally, "halfpenny" was never pronounced as written but always as "haypnee" (and sometimes it was actually written as "ha'penny").

General characteristics of Australian pre-decimal coins

Compared with many other countries, Australian pre-decimal coins are somewhat unusual in that the reverse is the more definitive side of the coin. For example, all Australian Commonwealth coins have the date on the reverse whereas in the U.S.A. the date is on the obverse. Australian coins are invariably packaged and displayed with the reverse more prominent than the obverse. (The decimal coins in use since 1966 have the date on the obverse, diminishing the importance of the reverse side.)

It is extremely common for the obverse of Australian coins to show more wear than the reverse, particularly on the silver coins. For this reason, you will often see coins with grades such as F/VF and EF/aU whereas grades such as EF/VF are most unusual.

The George V coins had high-relief designs and on uncirculated coins some parts of the design were higher than the rim. This had two effects. Firstly, the higher points wore quickly and the wear profile provides a wealth of grading markers. Secondly, there was a tendency for the early coins to show "weak strikes" on certain features. This is particularly noticeable on the pennies where the N in ONE is directly behind the highest point of George V's effigy and on the early shillings and sixpences where the headband of George's crown is often ill-defined. For the same reason, the Federation Star above the shield on the reverse of the silver coins is often somewhat flat. The effect is that some coins can appear worn, even though they are uncirculated.


The grading of Australian coins follows standards somewhat different from those of the U.S.A. which has adopted a numeric grading system. So far attempts to introduce a parallel system in Australia have not been met with enthusiasm. For some views on the matter check out the following links:

The Tasmanian Numismatist, May 1977
Klaus Ford's grading guidelines
Errors and Varieties

One of the principal objectives of the minting process is to produce coins which are identical for any given denomination and year. If coins were of random design then there'd be no way to distinguish a forgery from a genuine coin and public confidence would be undermined to the point where coins would be useless as a medium of exchange. The cost of the raw materials is typically less than the face value of modern coins and so anyone with access to those materials and the machinery to process them would be able to issue tokens purporting to be coins. With uniform designs, the forger's task is more difficult in that the official design must be replicated exactly; this is something that mints do but which is not so easy for a forger to achieve.

Despite the objective of complete uniformity, variations do occur. From a numismatic standpoint this is quite fortunate because a completely uniform currency is rather boring.

Varieties can originate from just about any stage of the minting process but can be divided into two groups, errors and die varieties.

Errors are the result of defects in planchets (blanks) or of misadventure during the coining process. Most errors are filtered out by post-strike inspection but occasionally an error coin gets missed and passes into circulation. Error coins tend to be unique and many collectors value them for their rarity. Some examples of errors are available for viewing.

Die varieties, as the name suggests, arise from differences in the dies used to strike coins of a particular denomination and year. A common variation is the addition of a mint mark to a basic design to designate a particular mint as the source of a coin. Mint marks are small, do not really affect the overall design and so do not diminish the mint's goal of uniformity. Other variations can be much more subtle.

Some die varieties may be classified as errors and may arise during die or punch preparation or during minting. The latter group includes die filling (where metal from a planchet remains in an incuse portion of the die, lessening or obliterating all or part of a relief feature in subsequent strikes), die breaks (where a relief portion of a die breaks off, altering the shape of a feature in subsequent strikes) and die cracks (where a die starts to disintegrate under the stress of repeated strikes and creates an irregular, raised feature on subsequent strikes).

One example of an error occurring during die preparation is that of doubling. Die and punch preparation for Commonwealth coinage typically requires multiple impressions in the hobbing press and if the die or punch shifts slightly between strikes then you can get the effect shown here on the obverse of this 1943 halfpenny.

There are many other faults which can occur. A die can be damaged during coining. For example, if a blank fails to feed into the coining press, the obverse and reverse dies can come into direct contact with each other. This is known as a die clash and affects coins struck thereafter until the damaged die is retired. A hard inclusion in a blank can damage the surface of a die, causing a "blob" or "egg" on subsequent strikes.

Although the minting faults described above are technically errors, the fact that the faults are faithfully reproduced on many coins elevates them to the status of varieties, albeit minor ones.

Major die varieties arise from fundamental differences in the dies used to strike coins. Sometimes there are different master dies used for the coins of a given year, and sometimes there are variations in the working dies produced from any one master die. Whatever the origin, die varieties are propogated onto thousands or millions of coins. Unlike errors, die varieties represent systematic variations and are the subject of considerable interest.

Much research on the master die varieties of Australian pre-decimal bronze coinage has been undertaken by Paul Holland whose summary article enumerating the obverse and reverse die pairings in Australian pennies can be found in the library of the Australian Numismatic Society.

Variations in working dies most frequently arise when some minor feature such as a mint mark is added by hand rather than go through the trouble of producing a (derivative) master die. You might also like to check out my own observations on the mintmark variations of the 1942 Perth penny along with Paul Holland's explanation thereof.

I do not collect error coins but that is not to say that I dismiss errors as in any way unworthy of collection. The collection and study of error coins is simply a somewhat different endeavour from that which I have undertaken. For the variety enthusiast there is much to be learned from a study of error coins. The two fields overlap to a considerable degree and a study of errors yields much insight into the minting process.

Die variations and their importance

The following lists die varieties in order of decreasing importance. The ranking represents my own opinion so feel free to disagree.

Master die type
A change in master die type represents a variation in the design of a coin. Sometimes the design change is really obvious, such as the shift from lettered reverse to the kangaroo reverse on the 1939 halfpenny. Other variations may be much more subtle, such as the London and Calcutta obverses on the George V pennies.
Mint mark
Identifies the mint at which a coin was struck. Often this is the sole distinguishing feature.
Coin struck with a die bearing traces of an earlier date. (See separate discussion.)
Date numeral shape and/or position
A very common practice in die preparation was to use a partial-date working punch to make coining dies to which the remaining numeral(s) were added by hand. For small mintages this was considered more practical than making a derivative master die and then a new working punch. The shape of a numeral may vary depending on which particular tool the engraver used and the position of the hand-punched feature on every working die is likely to be slightly different from its peers although the differences may be microscopic. Collectors and numismatists have tended to be dismissive of these variations but in my opinion they are important. Conceivably, a diligent collector with the means to distinguish these slight variations could identify each working die and associate any given coin with a particular die.
Mint mark position
Mint marks were frequently added by hand to working dies and so are subject to the same sorts of variation as for date numerals.
Re-entered features
Sometimes a working die may be worn or weakly formed but not so badly as to justify discarding it. The engraver may decide to enhance a letter or numeral by re-punching it and sometimes traces of the old feature are visible.
Doubled (or tripled) dies
When preparing a die from a puncheon in a hobbing press, more than one strike may be necessary. Between strikes the die is removed from the press for annealing and has to be realigned with the puncheon for the ensuing impression. The realignment is done by hand and if it is not exact, traces of an earlier impression may be visible, offset slightly from the later impression. Usually such dies are never put into service but there have been a few instances where the fault has apparently been unnoticed or ignored.

The foregoing remarks apply to Australian Commonwealth and earlier coinage. The modern, hydraulic hobbing press used at the Royal Australian Mint for today's coinage can produce a die or punch in a single pressing.

The grain of the metal in die steel runs perpendicuar to the coining surface. While this yields a die resistant to compressive deformation, there is a tendency for the die to split. It is a bit like hitting the end of a piece of wood with a hammer. Eventually the die may disintegrate altogether but meanwhile the crack produces an irregular raised feature on hundreds or thousands of coins.

Modern dies are made of sintered alloys with isotropic grain, less prone to cracking even when used on the harder materials comprising modern coins. Nevertheless, cracks can and do occur.

Small features on dies such as mint marks and serifs can become filled with metal from the coin blanks, thereby obliterating or diminishing part or all of the feature.
A hard impurity in a blank can dent the surface of a die and subsequent coins will show a relief image of the offending speck.

Note on overdates:

(The information formerly presented here has been expanded and now comprises a separate web page.)


Australian Commonwealth coins were minted in seven denominations. The gold coins listed here are not considered Commonwealth coins; they were actually British coins minted in Australia.

£1 (sovereign) until 1931
10/- (half sovereign) until 1918
5/- (crown) 1937 and 1938 only
2/- (florin) from 1910 until 1963
1/- (shilling) from 1910 until 1963
6d (sixpence) from 1910 until 1963
3d (threepence) from 1910 until 1964
1d (penny) from 1911 until 1964
½d (halfpenny) from 1911 until 1964
The rarest circulation coins

The following table shows the rarest coins struck for circulation in Australia between 1910 and 1964.

1920 London obverse penny with dot over lower scroll. 4 specimens known.
1916 halfpenny with Indian quarter anna obverse. 5-7 specimens known.
1931 penny with Calcutta obverse and London reverse. Often described as "Indian die, dropped 1 variety". Fewer than 20 specimens known.
1922/1 overdate threepence. Fewer than 1000 specimens, mostly in low grades.
1930 penny with Calcutta obverse. Roughly 1500 specimens in existence now.
1923 halfpenny. Probably about 15000 coins minted. Most of the 1923 issue was struck with dies dated 1922. Number in existence now is much smaller.

A taxonomic nomenclature for Australian pre-decimal Commonwealth coins

Throughout the catalogue some odd-looking notations appear such as in the table just above. They're manifestations of an attempt to develop a simple, convenient, catalogue-independent shorthand notation for Australian Commonwealth coins which I offer for public scrutiny.

Odds and ends

Under construction is a page speculating on the origin of letter shape variations on the reverse legends of George V pennies. Remember that this is not a finished work.

Finally ...

What is this coin?


As far as possible I have relied on my own observations in the compilation of these web pages. However I have learned much from the writings of others and have been guided by their works. The following comprises both a bibliography and a list of references.


JNAA: Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia
JANS: Journal of the Australian Numismatic Society
RANS: Report of the Australian Numismatic Society
John Dean, The 1965 Australian Coin Varities Catalogue, Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, 1964
Robert L. Clarke, The Coins and Tokens of British Oceania (5th ed.), Malter-Westerfield, San Clemente, 1971
John Gartner, The Australian Coin Catalogue, Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, 1964
Dion H. Skinner, Renniks Australian Coin and Banknote Guide (4th ed.), Renniks & Co, Unley, 1966
Dion H. Skinner, Renniks Australian Coin and Banknote Guide (10th ed.), Skinner & Warnes, Salisbury Heights (South Australia), 1976
Paul M. Holland, Australian Penny Varieties: A New Classification Scheme in JANS, 1993
W. J. Mullett, The Sydney Mint in JANS, 1993
W. J. Mullett, Notes on Australian Pre-Decimal Coinage in JANS, 1994-1996
Paul M. Holland, A Classification Scheme for Die Type Variations in Australian Halfpennies in JANS, 1994-1996
Paul M. Holland, Variation of Die Types of Australian Pennies 1937-1964 in JNAA volume 8, 1995
Paul M. Holland, Australian Penny Master Die Types in RANS volume 61 number 1, 1998
Paul M. Holland, Master Die Types of Australian Halfpennies in JNAA volume 9, 1998
Paul M. Holland, Bronze Coinage at the Perth Mint 1951-1953: The Transition to Working Die Production in JNAA volume 9, 1999
Ian Pitt (editor), Renniks Australian Coin and Banknote Values (19th edition), Renniks Publications, Sydney, 2000
Greg McDonald, The Pocketbook Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes, Seventh Edition, McDonald Publishing, Lavington NSW, 2000
S. J. Butlin, Foundations of the Australian Monetary System 1788-1851, Sydney University Press, 1953 (reprinted 1968)
Bill Myatt & Tom Hanley, Australian Coins, Notes & Medals, Castle Books, Netley (Adelaide), 1982
Australian Coin Review, various issues from July 1965 onwards
Jeffrey Watson, Don Thomas and Jack Bennett, Heads I Win, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1986
C.E. Challis (editor), A New History of the Royal Mint, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992
W.J.D. Mira & W.J. Noble, The Holey Dollars of New South Wales, ANS and Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, 1988
Jose de Yriarte Oliva & Leopoldo L-C Sanchez, Catalogo de los Reales de a Ocho Españoles (2a ed), Editorial Iber-Amer, Madrid, 1965
William D. Craig, Coins of the World 1750-1850 (3rd ed), Western Pub. Co., Racine WI (USA), 1976
Stewart McLeod, References to Money in Early New South Wales in JANS 1994-1996
John Sharples, On Collecting Commonwealth Coins in JNAA volume 5, 1990
John Sharples, Australian Coinage 1919-1924 in JNAA volume 1, 1985
John Sharples, Penny Reverse Dies of George V in JNAA volume 6, 1992
Vince Kelly, The Shadow, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1954
Coleman P. Hyman, An account of the Coins, Coinages, and Currency of Australasia, Charles Potter, Government Printer, Sydney, 1893 (Reprinted 1973 by John Drury, Colchester)
Robert Chalmers, A History of Currency in the British Colonies, UK Stationery Office, London, 1893 (Reprinted 1972 by John Drury, Colchester)
Sir John Craig, The Mint - A History of the London Mint from AD287 to 1948, Cambridge University Press, 1853
Paul Holland, The 1933/2 Overdate Penny in JNAAvolume 13, 2002
Jon Saxton, The 1925 Shilling in JNAAvolume 14, 2004
Jon Saxton, Small Change - Plasticine Numismatics in Australasian Coin and Banknote Magazine, July 2003
M. M . Archibald & M. R. Cowell (Editors), Metallurgy in Numismatics, Royal Numismatic Society, London, 1993

Other web pages dealing with numismatics

There are thousands of numismatic web pages and I make no attempt to list even a small percentage of them. The ones I list here are a few that I have encountered and which are vaguely relevant to Australian coins.

Harold Fears has an excellent series of pages dealing with the coinage of Jersey (one of the Channel Islands). At least some of these coins used the same obverse dies as Australian coins.

Australian pre-decimal coins have a strong British heritage and a study of British coinage can be rewarding. Tony Clayton's web site deals with British coinage since the Norman Conquest. Tony also describes the metals and alloys commonly (and not so commonly) used in coinage.

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Most recent revision: 21 April 2009 - Bibliography updated
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