Estimate: 130 000 USD
Price realized: 120 000 USD
Foreign Coins, Australia, Victoria, Adelaide pound, 1852, type one, central crown above date within beaded circle, a curled dentillated pattern within the beading, legend surrounds the design declaring the issuer as the GOVERNMENT ASSAY OFFICE with a floral stop on each side of ADELAIDE at centre bottom, rev. VALUE ONE POUND in three lines within a circle of beads inside two linear circles, weight and purity declaration occupying the surrounding legend space, the gold's fineness of 22 CARATS set within a pair of floral stops, and importantly the die cracked to left of 'D' at top of legend from the beading to the rim, fine edge milling (KM.1; Fr.1), certified and graded by PCGS as Mint State 61, perfectly centred and sharp in all details, the surfaces displaying numerous small abrasions but, notably, no large marks or damage, extremely rare and the classic rarity of early Australia, finest graded by 3 points by both services
The Type 1 variety of this famous coin, of which it is believed that no more than 50 were struck before the famous die-crack on the reverse developed in size until the die was unusable, is both a great rarity and the very first gold coin type struck in Australia. Most known specimens are not without marks because, at the time of their minting, coins were not being saved by collectors; all of the locally made gold coins were much needed for commerce, and both varieties of 1852 Adelaide pounds were soon mixed together and distributed to banks for use. Almost all of them ultimately perished.
The continent of Australia remained the domain of scattered indigenous people for centuries until 'transported' British convicts, followed by other settlers, began to make a new civilization in the early nineteenth century. The towns, mostly distant from each other, existed because of farming and cattle ranching. Hard monies seen in early Australia were cast-offs, like most of the inhabitants. All this changed in the early 1850s with the discovery of gold near the town of Adelaide; other gold fields were soon discovered, and these over the course of only a few decades would change Australia from being a sleepy outback into a new country of great prosperity. Soon, too, worn-out old foreign coins ceased to be the main currency. Prospectors quickly brought specie to towns near the gold fields but, as was equally true in early California during its gold rush of 1849, nuggets and gold dust were not easily used for money. Commerce was consequently stymied despite the influx of this new source of real wealth. There were two problems to be sorted out. Turning raw gold into usable coinage was no simple affair, nor was it legal for an British colony to produce its own money without first obtaining approval from the British Crown.
In 1852 all distant communication was by mail, via sea passage, and it simply was not practical to await legal sanction to coin money in the name of Queen Victoria. The need for gold coins for local use was pressing. Ideally such coins would have the same value as the familiar English sovereigns. So, in November of 1852, the South Australia Legislative Council passed an emergency measure, entitled the Bullion Act. At first the assay office thereby created smelted ore into ingots, but these were no more easily used in commerce than gold dust or nuggets. What to do until approval from London arrived? The Council decided to hire a local die-sinker by the name of Joshua Payne. He produced a pair of dies that created the now-famous Adelaide pound featuring the distinctive legends as well as a declared fineness and weight in gold. The resulting 'emergency tokens' looked exactly like coins; they were not elegant but they were of good weight. The issuing authority never intended its golden money to be more than token issues of solid value and must have assumed that their local coins would be recalled and turned into new sovereigns, once approval of the Crown was obtained.
But history intervened, and a legendary coin for collectors was born. The local die-sinker had done his job but evidently failed to make the dies of sufficient hardness: after producing just a tiny number of coins, the reverse die failed, cracking at the 12-o'clock position from the rim inward (to the left of 'DWT' in the legend). The first die split apart and another die was quickly made, varying slightly from the first - the simple beaded circle with two linear outlines changed to resemble the form used for the obverse - and this time it was correctly hardened and ultimately produced an estimated 25,000 gold pounds. These were all rapidly thrown into commerce, as were the handful minted showing the die-break, of which only 25 to 50 are thought to have been made. Almost all of these coins experienced plenty of use because they were needed for commerce. Nobody at the time noticed that some of the coins were different from the others. No collectors saved coins in 1850s South Australia!
The Crown in Britain meanwhile passed warrants to establish an officially sanctioned mint for the colony. In August of 1853, Parliament authorized an official branch of the Royal Mint, and on 14 May 1855 the Sydney Mint opened in a portion of the old Rum Hospital. The first gold sovereigns were struck in Australia on 23 June of the same year, bearing a variant of the Young Head portrait seen on London Mint coins but with a distinctive reverse. Over time the new sovereigns replaced the Adelaide pounds as the money of choice.
One of the ironies of the situation then caused the Adelaide pounds to disappear: the mint's assayers as well as others discovered that the Adelaide 'tokens' were actually finer than advertised, more valuable intrinsically than the sovereigns that replaced them. Anyone in possession of an Adelaide pound did not in fact have 20 shillings (one sovereign) of value but rather 21 shillings and 11 pence, the actual value at the time of the gold content of the coins. The result? Almost all Adelaide pounds ended up being melted for the profit in gold this produced. They quickly disappeared. They perished.
Every survivor is a miracle of chance. The coin offered here is far from perfect, but clearly it was never abused, and somehow it escaped the fate of almost all of the rest of the mintage. What was born of necessity as an experiment, was then rejected as inferior, then gathered up as being more valuable than it was thought to be, and was ultimately greedily destroyed, ended up becoming more desirable than anyone contemporary with its creation could ever have imagined. As the image at the centre of its obverse suggests, it has become a crown jewel of the coinage of early Australia.