The 1922 Specimen Penny - One of the Very First Copper Coins Struck at the Perth Mint

As the only archival-quality copper coin struck by the Perth Mint in the 1920's, the specimen 1922 penny with the Indian obverse stands alone as an exclusive, tangible record of the strategy that the Commonwealth Treasury followed to ensure that Australian commerce was able to grow unimpeded following the return of the ANZAC's to our home shores.

A Nation Rebuilds After the War to End All Wars

Shortly after the First World War began between Britain and Germany in August 1914, Australia's government under Prime Minister Andrew Fisher pledged full support for Great Britain. The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great enthusiasm. This war was Australia's most costly; our soldiers' deeds on Gallipoli, in Palestine and on the Western Front still loom large in our national memory.

Over 300,000 Australians served on foreign shores alongside men from the world's superpowersi, and the nation suffered over 60,000 casualties between 1914 and 1919ii. The diggers earned the respect of their allied comrades, and also that of their foes from Germany to Turkey. The nation was proud to pitch in behind our armed forces, and sacrifices were made in all walks of life to ensure that those on the front had the resources they required to fight the war.

The declaration of armistice in 1919 was seen by many as the dawn of a new age for Australia. The ANZAC forces returned from the front with every intention of returning to work and daily life at home as soon as the celebrations and reunions were out of the way.

With the austerity and price controls of the war a recent memory, Australians the nation over set about re-building their lives. This increased spending, coupled with the repatriation of 250,000 servicemen and women (a number equal to 5% of Australia's wartime populationiii) saw inflation rise and remain in or close to double digit figures throughout much of the 1920'siv.

An Unprecedented Demand for Coinage

Such was the demand for coinage following World War I that the Sydney and Melbourne Mints were operating at full capacity. In fact, the Sydney Mint struck an unprecedented 11,663,800 coins during 1921v, an increase of 346% over that for 1920, and more than at any other time during it's 71 year history. The Melbourne Mint also struck 20,177,772 coins during 1921vi – this was at least 5 million more coins than it had in 1920, and easily the highest number to date in it's 49 year history.

Despite both Mints operating to full capacity, activity in the economy demanded that still more coins be injected into daily commerce to grease the wheels of trade. Several senior figures in the Commonwealth Government and the Royal Mint solicited for ideas on how the needs of the economy for sufficient coinage could be met efficiently and effectively. The history of Australian numismatics shows that several ideas were raised, including the introduction of smaller and more durable copper-nickel coins, reducing the purity of silver in the circulating coinage, as well as the introduction of a five-shilling note.

The Perth Mint is Called Into Action

These measures were relatively long-term courses of action that required investigation and debate within Government prior to their introduction. A more immediate response was for the Perth Mint to devote a certain portion of it's manufacturing capacity to the production of pence. On November 9th 1921, the Commonwealth Treasury requested that the Perth Mint produce £10,000 in pencevii. A further order of £5,000 in pence was made on April 19th, 1922viii.

Although the Perth Mint clearly had the machinery, staff and production capacity necessary to perform this task, it certainly did not have any of the dies required, nor sufficient metal to fill an order of this magnitude. To this end, in early November 1921, senior staff at the Perth Mint requested that two dies be sent to them “for experimental purposes”ix.

From November 24th, Deputy Master Campbell began to contact the Perth representatives of interstate refineries requesting that they tender to supply the metal that was to be used in the production of pence. 15cwt of tin, 8cwt of zinc and 10 tons of copper was proposed, with the caveat that “the copper is required no later than 20.1.1922.x”

There was also some question as to whether the coining presses had to be modified before production of pence could begin. The presses at the Perth Mint at this time were manufactured by Taylor & Challen, their “Model 640”xi. These machines were designed and set up to strike gold sovereigns and half sovereigns – coins of a relatively soft metal and no more than 20.5mm in diameter. At 30.8mm in diameter, pennies are approximately 50% larger larger than sovereigns, and 59% larger than a half sovereign. Further to that, copper is a much harder metal than gold to work with. By way of comparison, copper has a measure of 369 Mpa on Mohr's hardness scale, while gold has a measure of just 216 Mpa on the same scalexii.

Both of these facts did in fact mean that the Perth Mint encountered significant challenges ensuring that the Royal Mint's strict quality control standards were maintained when filling the Commonwealth Treasury's order for pence. A senior officer of the Perth Mint stated in an internal memorandum on November 4th that “Bronze coin presents difficultyxiii.” Despite this, he perhaps optimistically went on to state that £10,000 in pence (2,400,000 coins) could be produced within a month without expenditure on alterations to or adaptations of the Perth Mint's existing machineryxiv.

The Experiments Begin

In the Royal Mint Annual Report for 1921, the Deputy Master of the Perth Mint stated that “a small amount of pence (£390) was coined by the middle of December.” £390 in pence equates to a mintage of 93,600 coins, just 3.90% of the sum ordered by the Commonwealth Treasury on November 9th 1921. The size of this production run and the fact that it occurred well before significant quantities of base metal were on hand at the Perth Mint is confirmation that senior staff regarded it as no more than a trial or experimental run, one designed to test the capacity of the Mint's resources against the challenge the sizeable order for bronze coinage posed. Although the source of the metal used in this production run is yet to be identified, the characteristics of the coins have been determined by examination of Royal Mint records.

Distinct Varieties of 1920 Pence

Seven distinct varieties of the 1920 penny have been widely acknowledged within the Australian numismatic communityxv – each has a slightly different design, based on the characteristics of the obverse and reverse dies that were used.

Two different obverse hubs were used to produce the dies used to strike Australia's pennies during this period, and are known as the “London” obverse, and the “Indian” obverse. For all intents and purposes, these obverse dies have the same appearance, however they differ slightly in the number of denticles that surround the edge. The London obverse master has 177 denticles, while the Indian obverse master has 178 denticlesxvi. Numismatists are able to quickly attribute any penny from this period to either of these obverse master dies by checking how certain elements within the obverse legend align with the denticles around the edge.

A range of different reverse dies were used to strike pennies at the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth mints during 1920, they are identified depending on the placement of small dots (or lack thereof) either above or below the two scrolls.

The known permutations of these dots on 1920 pennies are as follows:

 

Obverse Reverse Mint
Indian Plain reverse (no dots) Sydney & Melbourne
London Plain reverse (no dots) Melbourne
Indian Dot above bottom scroll Sydney
Indian Dot below bottom scroll Melbourne
Indian Dot above top scroll Melbourne
Indian Double dot (Dot above top and below bottom scrolls) Melbourne


Perth Mint archives show that the Perth Mint  received it's first batch of penny dies on November 18th, and that it included eight dies sent by the Melbourne Mint on November 11thxvii. This is curious, as on November 8th, the Deputy Master of the Melbourne Mint, Mr AM Le Seouf advised in a telegram that the Melbourne Mint would not be able to send penny dies to Perth prior to the end of 1921xviii. Whether this telegram reflects Le Seouf's knowledge that the Melbourne Mint would not be in a position to supply 1922-dated penny reverse dies until early 1922 is not yet known. It may well be that the decision to send 1921-dated penny reverse dies to Perth on November 11th was a hasty one, and was based on the urgent request from Perth for two dies “for experimental purposes.”

 

The first batch of penny dies included four reverse dies dated 1921, and four obverse dies. Numismatic Curator at the Museum of Victoria, Mr John Sharples, states that it is probable these obverse dies were of the Indian typexix.
A further batch of 16 penny dies arrived at the Perth Mint on November 27th, 1921 - 14 obverse dies as well as two reverse dies, these were sent by the Sydney Mint on November 15thxx. Former Senior Researcher with the Melbourne branch of the Royal Mint, William (Bill) Mullett has stated that “the 1920 dies to Perth were sent by Sydney so must still have been identical with those used by Sydney. Being hardened it would not have been possible for Sydney to add a markxxi.” All obverse dies at the Sydney Mint in 1920 were of the Indian typexxii.

On December 13th 1921, a telegram was sent by Deputy Master Campbell to the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Charles J. Cerutty) stating that:

pence nominal value four hundred pounds ready delivery
your order stop local banks urgently need pence
it would be great convenience if you would authorize
issue this amount here
Royal Mint Perth

Cerutty's reply by telegram on December 14th stated:

Your Telegram kindly arrange to
distribute pence as required by the Perth banks up to Christmas
advise this office as to delivery and inform accordant
Commonwealth SubTreasury Perth to obtain payment accordingly
thanks for prompt attention
Cerutty Treasury

The 93,600 pennies struck as part of the experimental production run at the Perth Mint in December 1921 therefore all featured the Indian obverse, and were either dated 1921, or were dated 1920 and had a plain reverse, or were dated 1920 and had a dot above the bottom scroll on the reverse. These coins were delivered to local banks on December 16th, 1921. The Perth Mint archives contain a reference that “Christmas demand influenced the currency need” of the local banks in Perthxxiii.

A Further Production Experiment

The second batch of 115,200 pennies produced at the Perth Mint were struck prior to January 19th 1922. This production equates to just 4.80% of the sum ordered by the Commonwealth Treasury on November 9th, and also occurred well before significant quantities of base metal were on hand at the Perth Mint. These facts suggest that senior staff also regarded this batch as no more than a trial or experimental run, designed to further test the Mint's resources, or to refine their production process. The source of the metal used in this production run is also yet to be identified.

The Secretary to the Treasury approved the distribution of this second batch of coins on January 21st 1922, and the coins were distributed to the local banks in Perth on January 27th 1922. Due to the dies that were on hand at the Perth Mint at this time, research shows that these coins also would have been dated either 1920 or 1921 as 1922-dated penny reverse dies did not arrive at the Perth Mint until February 14th. As with the first experimental batch, the

1921 dated coins would probably have featured the Indian obverse, while the 1920 dated coins would have featured either a plain reverse or a dot above the bottom scroll.

The Main Production Run Begins

The third batch of 480,000 pennies produced at the Perth Mint were struck prior to March 13th, 1922. Ten 1922-dated reverse dies were dispatched to Perth from the Melbourne Mint on February 7th 1922, and arrived at the Perth Mint on February 14th 1922. Perth Mint records also show that 2 tons of copper was accepted on February 9th, 1922, and that this came from Port Kembla. The zinc came from Wallaroo and Moonta, while the tin came from Launceston.

Mint records show that £1,000 in pennies (240,000 coins) had been struck by February 17th, and that £2,000 were shipped to the Commonwealth Sub-Treasury in Sydney by the SS Karoola on February 22nd 1922. Due to the dies on hand at the Perth Mint at this time, research shows that although these coins could have been dated 1920, 1921 or 1922, it is most likely they were all dated 1922.

Further batches of penny dies were sent to the Perth Mint from both the Melbourne Mint and the Royal Mint in London throughout 1922, these allowed the Perth Mint to strike 1922-dated pennies right up until February 1923.
The total number of pennies struck by the Perth Mint during this period came to £15,110, or approximately 3,626,400 coins. The amount distributed locally in Perth ranged between £50 per month and £640 per month, which clearly shows that the vast majority of the pennies struck by the Perth Mint during this period (£10,000 out of £15,110, or around 66% of total production) were shipped to the Commonwealth Sub-Treasury in Sydney for circulation on the Eastern seaboard. The demand for pence by the local banks in Perth prior to 1921 was approximately £800 worth or 192,000 coins per annum, a sum that is clearly a modest fraction of the £10,000 ordered by Treasury.

Although it was previously thought that the Perth Mint was given the task of producing pence so that it may assist the Commonwealth Treasury in catering for West Australia's currency needs, the facts suggest that it was given this task more for the reason that there was very limited capacity at the Sydney and Melbourne Mints in 1921, at a time when economic demand showed no signs of abating.

On July 10th, 1923, Deputy Master Campbell wrote a telegram to the Fremantle Harbour Trust requesting that part of the freight charges for the shipment of £500 in pence (120,000 coins, or 1.2 tons) to Sydney on July 6th, 1923 be refunded. We can obtain some confirmation that the Perth Mint was delegated the production of pence during 1922 for the Eastern states in his statement that “the continued manufacture of this coin in Western Australia is governed by questions of cost. I cannot say that it will be continued, but I think it will be agreed that no obstacles should be put in the way of continuance.xxiv”

Campbell's comment, coupled with the relatively limited demand for pence in WA when compared to the size of Treasury's order gives a strong indication that the Perth Mint was only given the task of producing pence due to a lack of capacity at the Sydney & Melbourne Mints at a time of urgent demand.

It seems that the increased output of copper coins by the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth mints between 1919 and 1922 eventually satisfied the economy’s demand for circulating coinage. In 1923, the Commonwealth Treasury reverted to its policy of forwarding all orders for copper and silver coinage to the Sydney and Melbourne mints. Perth was no longer considered for this work for several reasons. Due to declining gold receipts, the Sydney and Melbourne mints were operating below capacity, and they could now easily handle the additional work of producing Commonwealth coinage. As Perth was far from the major population centres of the Eastern seaboard, it was more efficient to produce coins in Sydney or Melbourne whenever possible.

The Discovery of the Specimen Strike 1922 Penny

The recent discovery of the previously unknown specimen strike of the 1922 penny with the Indian obverse poses a series of interesting questions: Where was it struck? Who struck it? For what purpose was it struck?

The production of coinage requires machinery, dies and raw metal. The experimental production runs conducted by the Mint in December 1921 and January 1922 clearly demonstrated that the machinery was ready for the additional workload of producing pence. It is known that the Deputy Master accepted the first tender for 2 tons of copper on February 9th 1922, while the first 1922-dated reverse dies arrived at the Perth Mint on February 14th, 1922. This was the final production component required to be in place before the main production run could begin. The fact that the Perth Mint advised the Commonwealth Treasury that £1,000 in pence had been struck by February 17th, and that £2,000 in pence was shipped to Sydney on February 24th indicates that the 1922-dated penny reverses were deployed at some time between February 14th and 17th 1922.

There is little doubt that the staff of the Perth Mint keenly anticipated the day that the production of pence would begin in earnest, this much can be determined from an appreciation of the size of the task and the tone of the internal correspondence between Mint staff. The coining machinery had been tested and re-tested, metal had been ordered form all points of the Australian continent and dies had been ordered from the Sydney and Melbourne Mints.

The largest quantity of coins struck at the Perth Mint prior to 1922 was in 1907, when the mintage of sovereigns was 4.972 million. In the years between 1919 and 1922, the Perth Mint struck a little over 2 million sovereigns per year. Not only was the production of pence in 1922 a little more than 150% of the gold coin mintage of the two preceding years, the total number of coins struck in 1922 was more than twice the record number of coins the Mint had ever struck.

There is little doubt that the start of the production run of pence at the Perth Mint in 1922 would have been met with some ceremony, if not by dignitaries outside the Mint, then at the very least by senior staff within it.

The accepted practice of confirming the expectation that all possible  preparations had resulted in a finished product that would do the Mint proud was to strike one or more specimen examples prior to the start of the main production run. WJ Mullet states that the existence of a 1920-dated specimen penny “in the Melbourne Mint collection may have been part of an immediate check on the quality of the die impression....xxv”

Archival Records – Both Proof And Specimen

It has been a persistent misunderstanding within the Australian numismatic community for some years now that the only form of coin retained by the Australian mints for archival purposes during the early Commonwealth period were proof coins. An examination of Mint archives shows that this is not correct.

Although early Australian Commonwealth proof coins clearly do exist, there are no records in Royal Mint archives that proof coins were struck on a regular basis. The very existence of proof coins shows they were clearly struck to mark special events and to collector demand. The logistics of striking proof coins however precluded this from taking place on a more regular basis – presses had to be specially set and dies had to be specially prepared.

It is known that in the early decades of Australia's Commonwealth coinage, proof coins were traditionally carefully struck (usually at least twice) from carefully polished dies, on polished planchets. Such coins generally exhibit a perfect strike, with a frosted relief and mirror-like fields. The purpose of a proof coin was to demonstrate that the mint machinery was operating at an excellent level and was able to produce impeccable coinage. Such coins were retained for archival purposes; presented to VIP's related to the minting process or sold to collectors.

Right up until the 1950's, specimen coins were traditionally carefully struck using “fresh” circulation dies (prior to the standard production run of coins being struck for circulation),  either on specially prepared or circulation-quality planchets. Such coins generally exhibit a strike superior to that seen on the equivalent circulation coins, however generally do not exhibit a frosted relief or mirror-like fields.

Specimen coins have been also retained for archival purposes by each of the Australian branch mints at certain times. The majority of the coins retained by the Perth Mint for it's own archives, as well as those distributed for the archives of other public collections, were struck as specimens, rather than proofs. Specimen quality coins have been presented to VIP's related to the minting process at various times during the Commonwealth era, and have also been sold to collectors. It would appear to be the case that Mint staff, particularly those at the Perth Mint, chose to produce specimen coins rather than proof coins for archival purposes, due to the increased costs and logistical effort required to produce the latter form.

The Exact Date of the Specimen Strike

Consideration of the facts surrounding the production of pence at the Perth Mint during 1922 shows that it is likely that the 1922 specimen penny was struck on February 14th or 15th 1922. The discovery of the coin in Victoria indicates that it could have been remitted to the Melbourne Mint as part of a report on the success of the main production run of pence.
It would have undoubtedly been examined, if not handled by the senior staff at the Perth Mint at the time such as the Deputy Master Frank Allum, as well as those at the Melbourne Mint Mr A M Le Souef.

Obverse Technical Characteristics:

 

Relief strike: All key design elements such as the central stem in the King's crown remain strong and sharp. The jewels in the base of the King's crown are clear and distinct – these are never sighted on a circulation strike
Edge Denticles: All remain clear and distinct right around the entire coin. The rim has a wire edge between 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock;
Fields / Surfaces: Entirely unmarked and smooth;
Lustre:   Evident right across this side of the coin;
Colour: Ranging from light to deep red
High Points: Entirely unmarked and devoid of rub.

 

Reverse Technical Characteristics:

 

Relief strike:   

All aspects of the relief remain clear and sharp;
Edge Denticles: Slight weakness between 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock, else clear all round;
Fields / Surfaces: Entirely unmarked, the fields have a unique texture and exhibit die polishing marks in certain sections;
Lustre: Evident in the centre of the planchet;
Colour: Warm reddish colours are evident across this side;
High Points: Entirely unmarked and devoid of friction.

 

The Provenance of the 1922 Specimen Penny:

  1. Produced at the Perth Mint between 14th and 17th February 1922;
  2. Stored as a record of production by a public collection or by a VIP as a presentation piece;
  3. Sold to a coin dealer in Melbourne some time in the late 1970's / early 1980's;
  4. Consigned for sale by auction to Noble Numismatics in 2007;
  5. Acquired by Sterling & Currency at Noble Numismatics Sale 85a, July 24th 2007.

Further Facts of Interest:

  • Prior to the discovery of the 1922 specimen penny, the earliest dated archival-quality copper coin from the Perth Mint available to collectors was a 1942 halfpenny;
  • Perth Mint archival-quality coins from any period are extremely rare;
  • The Perth Mint did not produce “proof” coins (in the technical definition) until 1955;
  • Archival-quality pennies from the King George V period are extremely rare - just 10 different proof or specimen coins dated earlier than 1922 have been sighted at auction since 1975;
  • Just 4 proof record coins dated earlier than 1942 struck by the Perth Mint have been sighted on the collector market - one example each of the 1899 sovereign; 1899 half sovereign; 1901 sovereign and 1901 half sovereign.

Category: Commonwealth Coins