Some of the oldest and rarest* coins from colonial* Australia are on display for the first time at the Royal Australian Mint*.
In 1812, Governor* Lachlan Macquarie had 40,000 Spanish silver dollars sent to Australia to fix a shortage of money in the colony* of New South Wales.
Governor Macquarie wanted to be sure the coins stayed in Australia so he had a convict* cut a hole out of the centre of each dollar, creating two coins from one.
The middle of the coin became known as the dump and was worth 15 pence. The coin with the hole in the middle was dubbed the holey dollar, worth five shillings.
The holey dollar and the dump became the first currency in continuous use in Australia and now, more than 200 years later, some of those coins can be seen by Australians for the first time.
Royal Australian Mint collections manager Holly Anderson said the coins in the All That is Holey: The First Minted Coins of Australia exhibition were very unique.
“The holey dollar and the dump are special because they are the first minted coins in Australia,” she said.
“They are unique in the fact that in 1812 we were still a penal* colony so there were lots of convicts but not a lot of money.
“They (the colony leaders) needed to make sure the money stayed here on our shores, so they destroyed the Spanish dollars by punching holes in the middle and making two coins for the price of one.
“No one else in the world wanted to touch them then because we had destroyed the value of the Spanish coins by removing 25 per cent of the silver to make them.”
Ms Anderson said the dump was a well-used coin because of its lower value while the holey dollar was worth a lot more.
“The holey dollar was worth enough to feed a family for a month,” she said.
“The dump was worth 15 pence and was used a lot more. Because of that, it is hard to find quality dumps today because they were used so often that the images on the coins wore away until they were just flat pieces of silver and you could no longer tell they were coins.”
The holey dollar and dump remained as currency within the colony until 1829, when a law passed in England returned NSW to the sterling* standard. This prompted then-Governor Ralph Darling to withdraw the dollars and dumps from circulation.
The recalled coins were shipped to the Royal Mint in London to be melted down and the silver sold to the Bank of England.
Today a holey dollar is worth about $500,000 and a high-quality dump is worth about $90,000.
How coins are made at the Royal Australian Mint
Before holey dollars and dumps were circulated, Australia’s currency was based on coins from Britain, Holland, India, Portugal and Spain.
The Mint display is showcasing 11 holey dollars and 11 dumps, There are believed to be just 300 holey dollars and 1000 dumps still in existence*.
Ms Anderson said the coins represented a time in history when Australia was showing its individuality* from other countries.
“These coins show Australia’s history of imagination, ingenuity* and how we took something and created something new,” she said.
“These coins are from the time of treasure and pirates on the high seas and we are lucky the 40,000 Spanish silver dollars made it all the way to Australia.”
* All That is Holey: The First Minted Coins of Australia, at the Royal Australian Mint, until November 3. Free entry
- rarest: scarce or not found in big numbers
- colonial: relating to life in a colony, which is a country under the control of another country and occupied by settlers
- Royal Australian Mint: producer of all Australian coins
- Governor: official appointed to lead a colony or region
- colony: when a country is controlled by another country and occupied by settlers
- circulating: in continuous use
- sterling: British currency
- existence: the state of living or existing
- individuality: characteristics that set one thing apart from another
- ingenuity: being clever, original and inventive
- When were the holey dollar and dump first used in Australia?
- What former currency were they made from?
- What are the two rare coins worth today?
- How many of the coins are on display at the Mint?
- What happened to the recalled coins in 1829?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Holey dollars and dumps
In 1812, a holey dollar was worth enough to feed a family for a month. Estimate what it would cost your parents to feed your family for one month?
If collectors today had a holey dollar it could be worth up to $500,000. What could your parents do with that amount of money to help your family?
The dump was more widely used as it was worth less and used more. What might have colonial Australians bought for a dump in 1812?
A quality dump coin would now sell for around $90,000. What might your parents do with that money to help your family?
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Mathematics, History
Work with a partner and suggest some ways you might change our current currency. You might want to add a coin or note, delete a coin or note, or change the look of some of them. Outline your ideas below and share with the class.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Mathematics, Critical and creative thinking
Problem Solvers- getting more bang for their buck!
In the article, Holly Anderson says: “These coins show Australia’s history of imagination, ingenuity and how we took something and created something new.”
Australians have always been good at using their imagination, and have ended up created some iconic inventions. This goes to show just how quickly Australian can think on their toes and make something small last a bit longer.
Have you ever had only a limited amount of something special and tried to think of different ways to make it last longer? It might have been a physical item, time with someone, or a special event- like a birthday or special day at school. What have you done (or could you do) to extend the item/event to make it last longer so you can enjoy it even more?
Share your item with a partner. Together have you come up with some really grand plans?
HAVE YOUR SAY: What is the most interesting coin you have ever seen?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.