The Proof 1930 Penny - Australia's Most Valuable Coin on the TV!

It sure isn't every day of the week that an Australian rare coin makes it into the general media let alone get featured in a serious news program on prime time television.

Yet this is what happened last week when the proof 1930 penny being marketed by Belinda Downie of Coinworks was featured on the ABC's 730 Report.

I wasn't in front of the TV when the segment actually went to air, but thanks to the advent of modern technology, I was able to catch up with the story online via the ABC website the next day. Click the link to view the entire segment via your computer screen.)

The start of the segment seemingly went almost exactly according to script, as the following transcript will show:

"KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Here is a story about the value of things past. An Australian penny that's known as the king of this country's rare coins, even internationally renowned as the most valuable copper coin of the era, the proof 1930 penny struck purely as a showpiece by the Melbourne mint at the height of the Great Depression has acquired legendary status, both for its exceptional quality and the circumstances of its striking. Just three of the original set of six proof '30 pennies are in private hands, and the one rare coin aficionados consider see as the pick of the bunch has just been offered for private sale. The coin is predicted to fetch as much as $2 million, which would be a world record. But some rare coin experts have questioned the legitimacy of the coin's advertised provenance as the mint master's coin. Tracee Hutchison reports."

The segment begins explored the background to what is one of Australia's most valuable and desirable coins, and trots out the standard explanations as to how and why it was produced. I have not seen any research that provides serious support to the contention that the coin was struck for visitors to the Melbourne Mint during the Depression, however setting that bone of contention aside, the reporter chose to focus on the provenance of this particular example of the coin, specifically the fact that the provenance had been linked to one of the Deputy Masters of the Melbourne Mint, Mr A.M. Le Souef. This is where the story began to yield a bit of juice.

It has been accepted as fact that this coin came from the AM Le Souef collection for many years now, and has been offered at auction several times in the past 2-3 decades on that basis. It seems however that the available evidence doesn't provide unequivocal support for this claim. A very early copy of the South Australian Numismatic Journal includes an article by Mr Syd Hagley, explaining how the item that the proof 1930 penny that he acquired had been given to him by the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA - holder of one of the largest and most important numismatic collections in the country). If both the previous contention of the auction house and Hagley's comment in the SANJ are accepted as being correct, then this means that Hagley in fact had two examples of Australia's rarest coin in his collection - not beyond the realms of possibility, however possibly doubtful given the rarity of the coin and the fact it was only provided to public institutions once struck.

Several numismatic experts appears on the program and discussed the facts behind the provenance, and how this impacted on the appeal of the coin, and although neither of the gentlemen concerned agreed unreservedly with the provenance as it has been represented to date, neither of them decried the coin, nor it's historical importance, nor it's appeal to collectors, much less it's market value. The tail end of the segment featured a written statement from one of the elder statesmen of the Australian numismatic scene, Mr Dion Skinner, confirming that the coin was indeed owned at one stage by AM Le Souef, which certainly gives credence to the claim that this is the case.

Just whether time will confirm this view will depend on additional facts coming to hand, which isn't entirely unforseeable since public access to public records on the subject is restricted and has been limited in years past. In my experience with numismatic research, "urban myths" such as this always have a kernel of truth in them somewhere, it'st just that sufficient work hasn't yet been done to confirm it 100%.

The brutal truth is that the fact that the provenance of this particular coin has been contested in a fairly public way may indeed put off one or two potential buyers from considering it, however I have little doubt that there would be an army of collectors who'd purchase the coin regardless if they had the funds. If I win Powerball or gain financial independence any time soon by following more traditional wealth creation means, I will definitely be spending some time in our public institutions doing research that will put an end to controversies such as this!

Category: Market Movements