Australian kookaburra ½d and 1d patterns of 1919-21

Started by <k>, April 14, 2011, 09:34:00 PM

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Australia pattern obverses.jpg

After the First World War, the Treasurer of Australia (equivalent to a minister of finance overseas), William Watt, had the idea of changing the specifications of the penny and halfpenny, so that that they would be square with rounded corners, and struck in nickel in order to distinguish them from the silver threepence and sixpence coins.

Size may have had something to do with it, because the existing halfpenny was 25.5mm in diameter, compared to 30mm for the penny. Between 1919 and 1921 several hundred trial coins were struck, and these were considerably smaller in size than the existing coins, the trial halfpenny being 14.5mm in length and width, compared to 18mm for the trial penny.

The coins were struck at the Melbourne and London mints, whilst their designs were the work of Stokes and Son, Douglas Richardson, and in London, Sir Bertram Mackennal. The obverse of the trial coins depicts King George V uncrowned, which was quite a controversial matter at the time, while only one design portrays him wearing his crown. The reverse of both denominations depicts a kookaburra. Both obverse and reverse were struck with several design variations.

In the image below, the portrait on the left is by Douglas Richardson; the others were created by Bertram Mackennal.
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Australia ptn halfpenny normal tail.jpg

Australia ptn penny normal tail.jpg

Australia ptn penny raised tail.jpg

At the time of the experiments, a kangaroo and emu appeared as part of the coat of arms on the reverse of the threepence, sixpence, shilling and florin coins. Various Australian tokens had depicted the indigenous wildlife, but no realistic portrayal of an animal had previously adorned any Australian coins. This was to change in the 1930s with the appearance of the ram shilling and the kangaroo penny and halfpenny, and the decimal coinage of 1966 carried a full range of native wildlife. That was still way off in the future, however, so the idea of displaying a kookaburra must have seemed quite innovative at the time. The kookaburra has yet to appear on any Australian circulation coin, though it does grace various silver collector coins, to which it has given its name.

Below you can see the kookaburra as it appeared on some of the halfpenny and penny trial coins. The bird was portrayed in various positions. On the two penny designs, you can see it with its tail variously pointing up and down.
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Unfortunately, in tests with coin-operated vending machines, the coins were often found to jam. The harder nickel alloy was both difficult to work with and expensive to import, compared to the cost of locally produced metals. After William Watt resigned as Treasurer, his successor did not continue the project, and no more trials were struck after 1921.

Related links:

1] Unsuccessful Australian Decimal Designs

2] Australia 1966 Rejected Designs Resurrected as Patterns

3] Australian retro fantasies

4] Australian Trial 50 cents

Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.


The story sounds suspiciously like Mr. Watt indulging in a private hobby financed by tax payers. I can't think of any reason to make the change and his successor didn't pursue the idea. I am also at a loss to explain why hundreds of patterns were needed. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Watt was a coin collector adrift. :-\

The best I can think of is consumers wanting lighter coins. However, that doesn't explain why only coppers were to lose weight. Also, I believe the present whining about the weight of coins is a fairly modern phenomenon, maybe just a very recent rationalisation of Americans who are trying to justify throwing away cents rather than doing simple mental calculations, slavishly copied in other parts of the world.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


I had never looked at it in that way, but you do appear to have a point. I am inclined to forgive Mr Watt, however, for authorising the production of such quaint period pieces.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.


Could support for the Australian nickel industry have something to do with it (rather like the British tin halfpence and the Cornish tin mines in the 17th century)?