1916 Melbourne Specimen Silver 4 Coin Set in Presentation Case
Mintage Figure: 60 | Sets Distributed: 41
Provenance: Lot #3104, Noble Numismatics Auction 29 (August 1989). Estimate: $3,500, Hammer: $8,100, Nett: $8,100.
This is an attractive, historic, and incredibly rare memento of the first Australian national silver coins struck on Australian soil.
We have explored the history of this set in great detail - a short overview follows below, you can read a detailed version via our blog.
The 1916 specimen coin set is a truly exclusive representation of the first Australian coins struck on Australian soil. It embodies a major milestone in Australia’s economic security, one that was brought forward by the ravages of WWI. Just 60 of these sets were produced, only 41 were ever distributed, and only a fraction of that number survive intact today.
The genesis of these coins can be traced back to 1873 when a senior member of the Victorian banking community lobbied the Victorian Colonial government for the Melbourne Mint to strike silver coins. That campaign lasted a mere 2 years and was not revisited again until 1890. That push was also short-lived, the drive for a national silver coinage finally gathered pace in the years leading into Federation.
A “Select Committee on Coinage” was appointed by the House of Representatives -it sat from 1902 and made a series of recommendations to the government of the day. "An Act relating to Currency, Coinage, and Legal Tender” passed Parliament in September 1909, the Royal Mint shipped Australia's first silver coins in the weeks that followed. By June of 1910, each of the four new silver denominations was in circulation. The Royal Mint also struck Australia’s first pennies and halfpennies in 1911, those coins were in circulation by the middle of the year. Over the next three years, the Royal Mint outsourced portions of the production of Australia’s silver and copper coinage to the Heaton Mint in Birmingham.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, the production of Australia’s silver and copper coinage was pushed even further afield, to the Calcutta Mint in India. Both of these tactical moves lessened the Royal Mint’s burden but did little to reduce the risk that Australia’s daily economic activity could be significantly disrupted if inbound shipments of coinage were delayed or lost.
The threat posed by Germany’s infamous submarines to Allied maritime trade was so great that the transport of all shipments out of England was seriously reconsidered.
Melbourne Mint - "Prepare for Silver Coinage"
On November 1st, 1915, the Melbourne Mint was instructed by London “…to prepare for silver coinage.” Dies for each denomination were sent from the Royal Mint in London later the same month, the dies for Australian shillings were received on 24 December 1915.
Problems with several of the dies mean each denomination was struck in different stages across 1916. The shillings were the first to be produced, the first was struck in an official ceremony by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Arthur Stanley on January 10th, 1916. “At the stamping machines Sir Arthur Stanley struck the first shilling produced in Australia for circulation, but the coin is not likely to go into actual currency. The Governor was allowed to have it and he will doubtless keep it as a memento of a notable event.” The remaining coins were released across the remainder of the year, the specimen sets were made available from November 1916.
Once the production of Australia’s silver coinage began using Australian silver on Australian soil, it meant the lifeblood of the national economy was safe from the threat of Germany’s U-boats. The quality of these coins is a testament to the diligence and skill of the Melbourne Mint staff, men who played their role under challenging conditions to ensure our nation responded and adapted to the challenges of war.
The 1916 Specimen Coin Set has remained a key prize with Australian numismatists for more than a century. It remains an attractive, historic, and incredibly rare memento of the first Australian national silver coins struck on Australian soil.
This is a set that some collectors are quite fearful of owning - a number of sets have been sold over the years as specimen sets, but have contained just circulation-standard coins.
The technical characteristics of this particular set align with the specifications laid out in Vince Verheyen's exhaustive research on the subject (published in The Australasian Coin & Banknote Magazine in December 2009), and is the first (and only) set to be authenticated and assessed by PCGS.
The quality of the coins really needs to be seen to be appreciated - our photographs don't capture the depth and range of colours these coins have!
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