Timeline of the 1966 Round Australian 50c

December 28, 2011

1966 Silver 50c

I began what ended up becoming a mammoth task to build a timeline of the round Australian 50c piece and to delve into the why, where and how we came about having a copper nickel 12 sided half dollar. Australia started the decimal era with a round coin of 80% silver with the Australian Coat of Arms designed by Stuart Devlin. It was C-Day on February 14th 1966 and it was out with the florins and shillings and in with new decimal currency. Most of the pre-decimal coins were easily interchangeable with the new coins but the 50c was something different equalling two florins and a shilling or 5/- and Australia had not seen a circulating 5/- coin since 1938. A florin and a 20c were interchangeable (although early vending and counting machines struggled with the difference) but this new 50c was a novelty. Lower denominations (5c, 10, and 20c) were made from cupro-nickel but 3 of the new 50c equalled a whole ounce of silver.

Striking of the round 50c began in late November 1965 at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. Mint Controller J M Henderson said "over three thousand dies were used" to produce the number of 50c needed. There were 12.5 million 50c coins ready for Decimal Changeover Day that had been distributed to banks via Operation Fastbuck, but from the very first day they were difficult to find. The Reserve Bank only let a few into circulation to combat souveniring, but the public liked the 20c coin and didn't see a real need for the 50c. There was already talk among collectors about the possible rise in the value of the precious metal silver and the effect this would have on the bullion value of the silver 50c.

Treasurer McMahon detailed just a few months into the changeover that the first production run of the round 50c was limited to 19 million coins, this would test the public reaction and that at this time runs of the 1c and 2c were more of a priority for the Mint. The total mintage of the round 50c concluded at 36.5 million coins (Decimal Currency Board Annual Report 1966-67).

By the end of 1966 it was being published that many other countries had abandoned (or were in the process of abandoning) silver content in their circulation coinage in favour of nickel. It was cheaper and had superior wear characteristics. Public outcry was that the round 50c was too easily confused with the 20c. "Apart from the initial novelty no one likes the round 50c".

August 1967 and an official proclamation under the currency act of 1965 repealed a section of the act which allowed both types of currency to be traded and all matters relating to money now had to be in dollars and cents. The round silver 50c is becoming quite scarce and news of the time reports that silver is becoming the most hoarded of all commodities! No 1967 50c coins are being minted.

Early 1968 and it seemed quite certain that Australia wouldn't see the 50c in it's present form again, but no official statement had been made. Silver had topped at $1.71 per fine ounce which resulted in the 1966 50c being worth 57c! The Mint had suspended it's minting of the round 50c but had denied this was a prelude to a coin with a lower silver content. The Mint simply said that there were enough 50c in circulation although they still seemed few and far between -according to the public. Some were even of two minds that we even needed a 50c coin.

It didn't take the Government long and by July 1968 the round 50c was being withdrawn. Stuart Devlin was consulted to redesign his round Coat of Arms reverse ever so slightly for a new coin more fitting to what Australia needed. Treasurer William McMahon confirmed this in January 1969 when he said "A decision was taken in April last to discontinue the minting of the Australian 50c coin in it's original form of 80% silver and 20% copper". The RAM in Canberra had been experimenting with various alternative alloys and shapes for a new 50c which might prove more acceptable to the public. The government has now decided to mint a 12 sided version in copper nickel.

26th August 1969 Treasurer McMahon, in Australian Parliament announced that the Mint had begun delivering the new 12 sided coins to the Reserve Bank. The first delivery was 1 million coins with production at 2 million coins per week until they were back in change and demand was satisfied. A special run of specimen coins was produced for Nuphil which were included in the Yarralumla PNC postmarked 1 September 1969, a private issue now highly sought by collectors.

By this time collectors and the Australian public were quite disinterested in the issue and were more excited about the pending issue of the Captain Cook commemorative 50c in 1970. Australia's first commemorative since the 1954 florin and the bicentenary of Captain Cooks voyage was well received -although some would say it should have been a dollar. This is the foundation of the popularity of the commemorative 50c and $1 issues of today.

Posted by harrisk at December 28, 2011 5:43 PM
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