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Holey moley: Australia’s first minted coins go on display at the Mint

Lachlan Roberts 18 August 2019

A holey dollar and a dump from a 1788 Charles III Spanish silver dollar from a Private Collection in Queensland. Photos: Supplied.

The oldest coins minted for colonial Australia have gone on show at the Royal Australian Mint, allowing visitors to lay eyes on the holy grail of Australian coins for the next couple of months.

The coins have taken centre stage in a new display titled All That is Holey: The First Minted Coins of Australia, providing the public with a rare opportunity to see never-before-seen holey dollars.

In 1812, Governor Lachlan Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish silver dollars – otherwise known as pieces of eight – to relieve a severe currency crisis in the colony of New South Wales.

To ensure the coins stayed in the colony, Governor Macquarie had a hole cut from the centre of each dollar, creating two coins out of one.

The centre of the coin became known as the dump, 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 circulating coins of Australia and now, over 200 years later, some of those coins have made their way to the Mint.

A holey dollar from a 1798 a Mexico Mint Spanish silver dollar from a private collection in Melbourne.

Royal Australian Mint collections manager Holly Anderson said before holey dollars and dumps were circulated, Australia’s currency was based on coins from Britain, Holland, India, Portugal and Spain.

“Governor Macquarie needed to make sure these coins will stay here, otherwise they would be back to square one,” Ms Anderson told Region Media. “So he tasked convict William Henshall, who had been arrested for crimes of forgery and counterfeiting, to punch holes in every single one of the 40,000 coins.

“It gave them two coins for the price of one and also made them incredibly unattractive to any merchants. It was the only way to keep the money in the colony.

“When William made the coins, he stamped 1813 on them (the year he did it) and the name of New South Wales, which was the first time that ever appeared on any currency.”

The holey dollar and dump remained as currency within the colony until 1829, when a law passed in England returned New South Wales to the sterling standard.

Governor Darling recalled the dollars and dumps from circulation, shipping them off to the Royal Mint in London to be melted down, and the silver sold to the Bank of England.

A holey dollar from an 1808 Lima Mint.

The display showcases 11 holey dollars and 11 dumps, of the estimated 300 holey dollars and 1000 dumps currently in existence.

A collection of this size has never been showcased for the general public and the exclusive display also features coins from around the world dating back to the 18th century.

It also shares the stories of the coins as well as their discovery in interesting and unusual places around the world; from a footpath in Bermuda to a Hills Hoist Clothesline.

“They would be worth a lot of money now,” Ms Anderson said. “Of the 40,000 holey dollars that were originally circulated, there are only 300 left in the world, and these are really fine quality ones.

“A few years ago, a holey dollar was sold at an auction for over $500,000. So these rare coins can help you buy houses.”

All That is Holey: The First Minted Coins of Australia
When: Friday 16 August 2019 – Sunday 3 November 2019
Where: Visitor Gallery, Royal Australian Mint
Entry is free of charge.


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