Australian Numismatics for the beginner

Collecting Australian Coins

Coin collecting is rewarding, challenging, educational and can even be profitable for some.  Australian coins represent an interesting challenge for those looking to build a collection of scarce coins at more affordable prices.  Being first colonized by the british in 1788 and having a population today of only 20+million people it has both a rich but short history with relatively small mintage figures compared to other countries.

Elizabeth II Shilling(103194)

 As such many of the coins are becoming highly desirable acquisitions to collectors around the world.  One such example is the Proof 1930 penny which at over $1.5 is the world's most valuable copper coin. It was the mining boom of the late 19th and early 20th century which saw the need for stable and reliable currency in the new booming economy of early Australia. 

There are a number of series available to the collector.

Broadly speaking they fall into the categories below, each of which will be briefly covered in this article.

  • Colonial coinage which is often referred to as the Proclamation series (1788 - 1825)
  • Pre-decimal coins (1910 to 1964)
  • Decimal coins (1966 to present)   
  • Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns (1853 to 1931)

Below I will give a brief outline of each series as well as a rough estimate of what the collector would need to budget to collect the coins.  I think this is helpful as it can give the beginning collector a realistic expectation of what they can afford collect.  I will caution that these prices are a guide only and the patient collect can often find a bargain, thus reducing the estimates.  Also, although some prices may seem high a good collection can take many years or even a lifetime to put together, so when spread out the costs don’t seem so high.   

Colonial Coins
In the early days of Australian colonisation, a mishmash of coins from around the world were being used with no real systems in place.  This resulted in a shortage of money.  As citizens purchased goods from foreign traders the coins would be taken offshore.  To combat this the then Governor of NSW, Philip King announced a decree in 1800.  He created a list of coins which would be recognized as having specific values whilst on Australian soil.  They were intentionally valued higher than their face value thus encouraging the traders to spend them whilst in Australia rather than taking them offshore where they would be accepted at a lower value.  Most collectors attempt to collect those coins listed in the proclamation, hence the name Proclamation Coins.  

Many of the coins listed in the proclamation were the most trusted and highly minted coins of that era and were often accepted all over the world.  Therefore, the series is relatively easy to collect in average circulated grade and some are readily available in uncirculated condition.  The most expensive coins in the series to collect will inevitably be those made of Gold which is more a reflection of the rare metals price in today's market than the rarity of the coins themselves.   The coins listed in the decree include:

  • English Guinea
  • Indian Gold Mohur
  • Spanish dollar or Eight-Reals
  • Ducat
  • Rupee
  • Indian Pagoda
  • Dutch Guilder
  • English 1787 Shilling
  • Cartwheel pennies

Cost to the collector
Coins in this series will range from as little as $40 in very worn condition to $4000+ for scarce coins in uncirculated condition.  Expect to pay $2000 plus for a complete set in average circulated condition.

Pre-Decimal Australian Coins
This represents a very popular series for the collector with most coins being available to all budgets.  Most collectors don’t attempt the entire pre decimal set but instead focus on the different denominations.  There were seven denominations minted between 1910 and 1964.  

  • Halfpennies - 1911 to 19641960 Florin
  • Pennies - 1911  to 1964
  • Threepence - 1910 - 1964
  • Sixpence - 1910 - 1963
  • Shilling - 1910 - 1963
  • Florin - 1910 - 1963
  • Crown - 1973 & 1938

Aside from collecting a particular denomination some collectors choose to collect one of the four Monarchs who reigned during the pre-decimal period,  Edward VII, George V, George VI or Elizabeth II.  Or another popular series is the type set.  This requires the collector to acquire one of each type of coin.  The Type set is a great option for those who like variety in their collections.  Australian Pre decimal coins are a great way to learn about Australian and world history, with many significant events such as the great depression and the world wars are reflected in mintage figures and coin minting quality.  

Cost to the Collector
This is a very large series with varied collecting options making it difficult to price.  I will take the popular Florin series as an example.  There are a total of 63 coins in the complete set.
Average circulated coins will cost between $7 and $400 per coin with a complete set of 59 costing $2000 and up.  Uncirculated coins in the George the V era are highly sought after and very difficult to find, expect to pay thousands per coin in this condition.

Decimal Coins
Australian decimal coins minted after 1966 are becoming increasingly popular with collectors.  They offer a very inexpensive way to get into the hobby and are particularly good for children who show an interest. Coins can be collect from change at no greater cost than the face value of the coin itself.  This type of collecting is very popular and is often referred to as noodling.  Many hours can be spent looking through piles of change to find that special coin.  This often includes error coins which can command high prices if purchased direct from a dealer or at auction.  There are eight denominations in Australia’s decimal currency.

1 cent 1966 to 1990 excluding non-circulating coins
2 cent 1966 to 1989 excluding non-circulating coins
5 cent 1966 to present
10 cent 1966 to presentAustralian Dollar
20 cent 1966 to present
50 cent 1966 to present
1 dollar 1984 to present
2 dollar 1988 to present

Aside from the coins above there are also many decimal coins minted purely for the collector market; these including $5 coins, $10 coins, mint sets, proof sets, the list goes on.  Of course there are no rules and many collectors simply buy what they like or what interests them.  The $1 series is proving to be very popular with some coins being quite difficult to find, which creates a challenge for collectors.

Cost to the Collector
As stated, coins can be collected for as little as face value from circulation.  This would enable someone to put together a complete set of circulation 5 cent coins for the total cost of $2.20!  And with uncirculated examples costing around $2 each a mint set could be put together for very little.

Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns
These coins are literally worth their weight in gold, if not more.  Australian Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns are highly desirable coins and are sought after by many collectors around the world.  This is largely due to their comparative rarity.  The Half Sovereign series was minted in very low numbers and offer collectors the opportunity to buy particularly rare coins.  No matter what grade these coins are collected in they will not be cheap due to the very high gold prices seen in markets after the GFC.  Of course this has made them a great investment for those who purchased in previous years.  The series was first minted in 1853 and ceased in 1931, although sovereigns are still minted today for collectors and the bullion market.

Cost to the Collector

Expect to pay mid $300 for a common sovereign as this is their approximate gold value.  High end Half Sovereigns could cost $100,000+.  This series is not for the faint hearted and the value of lower grade coins will fluctuate with the gold price.

Happy Collecting
Collecting Australian coins can represent a great hobby for those who appreciate history or perhaps want to own the miniature works of art that they are.  This article represents a very brief introduction to the hobby and I would encourage anyone interested in Australia’s coinage to read as much as they can. There are many great websites and some trusted books such as Greg McDonalds ‘Australian Coins and Banknotes’.  If after further research you do wish to begin collecting I would encourage you to visit the Australian Numismatic Dealers Association (ANDA) website which contains a list of trusted coin dealers in Australia.