The Origins of the 1930 Penny

Wikis > The Origins of the 1930 Penny
The Australian 1930 Penny (image courtesy Drake Sterling Numismatics)

The Australian 1930 Penny (image courtesy Drake Sterling Numismatics)

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author Fred Lever.

Early in 2017 I was perturbed to see on our premier coin web site the ‘Australian Coin Forum’ a string of less than correct advice offered to a newcomer regarding the origin of the 1930 Penny. Part of the uninformed waffle was to re-invent the old fable that visitors to the mint swapped a penny out of their pocket so in 1930 each visitor scored a shiny new 1930 penny and that is where the 1930 pennies came from. One of the references quoted for this piece of wisdom was that bastion of academic research the “Pix” magazine! Case closed!

Now I thought this sort of nonsense had been put to bed decades ago but don’t let the facts get in the way of a good romantic story! The worst aspect of the coin forum string was that most collectors adding their “wisdom” don’t seem to be fully aware of the research done on the 1930 coin and the die tooling. Much has been published in the last 30 years and if you simply study a minimum of four papers1 you will then understand a lot about the dies supplied and used, the coins that were ordered by the government, what coins possessing which dates were minted and further areas of research. The last paper is actually an article by myself published in CAB where I have tabled a bibliography of articles in the Coin Magazines from the 1960’s to 2011. I would have assumed any competent pre decimal collector commenting on the 1930 penny would be well aware of these articles and should also be aware of the journal papers.

My fear is that despite all this evidence chronicled with boring FACTS, the general coin collecting population will refuse to believe and as with other fables in our life prefer the more fanciful versions. There appears to be an attitude to dismiss research as pedantry and a tendency to treat simple explanations as some kind of cover up or conspiracy.

Background, buying a 1930 penny.
In the 1950’s coin collectors were either well heeled professionals or some snotty kid like myself who collected coins, cigarette packages, stamps, cards and so forth. Coins were stored in little envelopes stashed in old sewing machine drawers and big time collectors put theirs in wood/felt cabinets that looked more important. The ordinary coin dealers of the time would not have known much about the ins and outs of the Australian Mint operation or even care. It was not until the 60’s that anyone outside of a coin association or museum started to make lists of what was available in Australian coins.

Some collectors such as giants like Ray Jewel and others knew only too well that a 1930 dated penny was rare and much is documented about the later search for 1930’s and the subsequent explosion of the value of the coin through the 60’s and 70’s. My personal experience of 1930 pennies started when I could buy a 1930 for about 7 pound ($15) which was too big a hit for a destitute kid and the coin just stayed out of reach until the price was getting into the thousands of dollars where it was just within reach, if you could forgo unnecessary things like food and rent for while!

Where did the fable come from?
It is a fact that examples of mint craft such as proofs or sample coins were handed out on occasions such as: official visits to suck up to the politicians, to be archived in our museums for posterity, ordered by the prominent coin collectors of the time, and well heeled visitors having private collections here and overseas.

In a jest some official with a top hat may have jokingly reached in his pocket when being presented with a proof gift of the latest mint capabilities and swapped out an ordinary penny in order to balance the books. This provides the kernel of an idea and certainly both the Melbourne and Sydney mint in 1920’s and later were always eager to show the pollies what each could do in the way of Australians producing our own coinage and further breaking the reliance on Mother England.

My reading of coin related magazines, not trashy women’s magazines, and newspaper articles points back to the 1960’s when the fable started. I was interested in a readers letter to the A.C.R. mentioning a “Fred Kingston” of Sydney as “the Father of Australian coin collecting”. He is quoted as saying that when visiting the mint in 1930 a person would get a brand new penny as a souvenir. Well I vaguely remember a coin dealer down in George St, Sydney and an “A. Kingston” definitely made the “Australian Coin Chart” of the early 60’s. In this catalogue Mr. Kingston confidently states other “facts” such as the 1920 dot pennies are simply die flaws, so like me he had his opinions that may or may not be correct. I could understand Fred Kingston simply verbalizing the story about the origin of the 1930 penny as he would not know any thing about the records stored away in the mint and state archives and who cared at that time anyway? A throw away line would give a newspaper reporter the quote needed, paint a charming logical picture to the layman and do no harm publicity wise.

Another favored tale is that a “box” of 1930 pennies was forgotten and used as a handy crate, with a burlap sack for comfort, for old Bert the “vault foreman” to sit on when having his morning cup of tea and lunch. Came the 1940’s increased need for coppers to meet the war efforts and the box was discovered and the coins released. Only then was the 1930 penny discovered by coin collectors. Well there are only two things wrong with that. The first is the lack of 1930 production was well known among the early collectors of Australian coins and who made it their business to acquire specimens for their collections. Secondly there happen to be the years 1931 to 1939 during which, according to the Commonwealth statistics, more than 40 million pennies were produced to meet the needs of the country. To satisfy that you would think the “vaults” would have been thoroughly scoured of any odd boxes of pennies lying about and the chances of a 10 year old box remaining would be remote indeed. Again, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story!

It was only later when scholars and researchers had the motivation and accessed the records that the plain old simple facts were documented but unfortunately the canard regarding the mint visitors or the forgotten box just gets repeated ad-nauseas in so called well researched articles, books and catalogues. Worse than that, from sheer laziness a writer will repeat the easy canards and then follow up with “ but I don’t think that happened” but the canard words are still there now engraved a bit deeper in the stone!

What really did happen?
The story is so simple; there is no government conspiracy or Mint cover up. Please be aware that mint records at the time were not chronicled with an eye on researchers 100 years hence. They were simply records of workshop operations so that quantities and movements of metal and tooling in the mint could be controlled to satisfy the audit and accounting processes of the time.

The source of the tooling (the hubs and dies) for 1929, 1930 and 1931 pennies is traced in the aforementioned first three papers and is quite accurately described and known. Coinage was minted in response to Government orders to equal a Pound and Shilling order value and this is all documented. Visitors to the mint via the public door were counted and researchers have documented the numbers and conditions of entry and also documented which press machines and what types of coin were being stamped at the time.

In a nut shell.
Penny coins were required in 1929 by the Government and the proven 1929 dies produced those required plus a balance that was stored ready to be issued if further required. In 1930 when the 1930 dies were available no order had been received for pennies for that year. The mint simply proved the dies were workable by running them for a short spell and in late 1930 pressed the normal proofs and specimens required to satisfy the current need being museums, private collections, politicians ect. The dies were then put back in the die locker to be held and then used later if required or finally to be destroyed on order, as was the current practice with most dated dies.

By 1931 dies with the 1931 date were on hand as well. An order was received for more pennies. There were technical problems in producing the amount needed with the 1931 dies and some usable experimental 1930 reverse dies and both types of obverse dies were used. The mint had the balance of the 1929 dated coin run, some 1930 from the proving runs and the 1930 and 1931 dies enabled them to stamp out the coin weight needed to satisfy the order.

How many minted?
There was no problem having 1929, 1930 and 1931 dated coins released in 1931, as it was quite common to release older dated stock. No one was counting the individual tally of which reverse dates hit the conveyor belt or which obverse design was used, as those factors simply did not matter. I have guessed that any amount of thousands of 1930 were pressed and survival rate statistics point at tens of thousands being the likely figure. You can twist the equations and modeling about to suit your argument. I have detailed in my previous article where the fabled figure of 1200 or 1500 or 3000 comes from but that was all guesswork.

The Fable called out in 1980’s.
That is the story. Coins were required, tooling was used as needed or available and the order filled. The Proof and Uncirculated 1930’s were distributed from a special stamping run at one time, and an unknown number of 1930 that may have come from a variety of usable dies were thrown into the production box on the other hand and circulated.

Despite a call in the Australian Coin Review in the 1980’s for someone who worked at the mint or anyone to recollect purchasing or being gifted or swapping a pocket penny for a new shiny one at the Mint. There was NO response!

You would imagine that out of the supposed thousands of coins handed out someone would have tucked one away to reemerge later on and be fondly remembered. More so you would think that the attribute of being an actual personal souvenir of a mint visit in 1930 would be included in the provenance of authenticity for sale of such a coin particularly in a publicity oriented auction. No such reports were to be on hand in the 1980’s survey and I don’t think the situation will change in 2017! Excepting for the Proof and Specimen coins, 1930 pennies come from circulation and some have an “English” obverse.

The Mint received an order for pennies in 1931 and using whatever dies were viable at the time and with existing stock coins dated 1929 and 1930 filled the order. Coins dated 1929, 1930 and 1931 were put into circulation. The number of circulating 1930 minted is unknown. Dies dated 1930 were prepared separately for the “Proof” or “Specimen” coins and these are well known and were presented in the usual ways for the intended Museum or Collector.

As the Halfpenny presses were running through those years to press out 1929, 1930 and 1931 dates to fulfill orders, IF some “souvenir” coin was ever handed out it would most likely to be a HALFPENNY.

For more exact details of the circumstances of the 1930 the four papers as stated in the endnotes to this article are required reading, and of every word in them, before asking any other questions. These articles will lead you to into further general research on Pennies and die tooling such as the articles and papers by Paul Holland and Jon Saxton. Read all of these and so be informed.

As always any sensible comment on this article can be directed to and will be respectfully responded to.

1. Required reading:

W.J.Mullett: Book, Australian Coinage, An Account of Particular Coins.

John Sharples: Paper, The 1930 Penny, JNNA Vol 3.

Walter Bloom: Paper, The Proof (Specimen) Australian 1930 Penny, JNNA Vol 21.

Fred Lever: Article, Fred’s Checklist for a Genuine 1930 Penny, CAB Dec 2011 / Jan2012 V14 no11. (Updated for 2014-2017 but not published.)