Right now all circulating Australian coins are made of two different metal alloys. 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent, and 50 cent coins are silvery grey in colour and made from an alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel. This alloy is typically referred to as Copper/Nickel or sometimes CuNi. The other two coins you’re going to find in your change the one dollar and two dollar coins and are pale gold in colour. These are made from alloy of 92% copper and 8% aluminium which is called Aluminium Bronze or AlBr.
Were Australian Decimal Coins Ever Made of Other Metals?
If you’re about 30 or older then you probably remember when one and two cent coins circulated in Australia. These coins were introduced in 1966 (along with the other decimal coins) and were withdrawn from circulation in early 1992. They were bright shiny orange when new and became a dull dark brown as they aged and were heavily circulated. Both the one and two cent coins were made from a bronze alloy which is 97% copper, 2.5% zinc and 0.5% nickel.
The other decimal coin that was made of a different material is the fifty cent coin. The current 50 cent coin as we know it has a distinctive dodecagonal 12 sized shape and was first released into circulation in 1969. However, when decimal coins were unleashed on Australia in 1966 the 50c coin was round and was an alloy of 80% silver and 20% copper. More than 36 million of them were minted and each contained nearly a third of an ounce of silver. Because of their silver content the intrinsic value of the metal they contained quickly outstripped the face value and they were hoarded in huge numbers by the Australian public. Because it was actually a loss making exercise to make the round fifty cent coins the government only made them for 1966 and rapidly withdrew them from circulation. You’re not likely to find a round fifty cent in your change but you’ve probably heard of them because they have achieved something of a legendary status among the Australian public.
Are Decimal Collector Coins Made from Other Metals?
The Royal Australian Mint (RAM) and the Perth Mint release a large number of coins for the collector market every year and have done so for many years. These coins, while technically legal tender, are not really intended to be used as money and are known as non circulating legal tender (NCLT). Australian collector coins have been made from almost every metal you can think of, including platinum, gold, silver, copper nickel, aluminium bronze, bronze, and copper. To work out what metal your collector coin is made out of you could Contact Us and describe your coin or you could go to your library and borrow a coin catalogue and look it up yourself.
What Were Australian Coins Made From Before Decimal Coins?
Before Australia moved to the decimal system in 1966 we were in what is known as the “pre-decimal” era and our coins used the pounds, shillings, and pence (£/s/d) system. Denominations minted for Australia from 1910 through to decimal changeover were the half penny, the penny, the threepence, the sixpence, the shilling, the florin, and the crown. The half penny and penny coins were made from the same bronze alloy that one and two cent coins were made from. Crowns (5 shillings) were only minted for 1937 and 1938 and were made of sterling silver which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Any threepence, sixpence, shilling, and florin dated BEFORE 1946 was also made from sterling silver. Australian silver coins dated from 1946 to 1964 were minted from an alloy known as “quaternary alloy” which is made up of 50% silver, 40% copper, 5% zinc, and 5% nickel.
Like the 1966 50 cent coins I mentioned earlier Australian silver pre-decimal coins have an intrinsic value above and beyond their face value. You can work out what the value of the silver they contain is by using our silver coin calculator here.
Are Australian Coins Ever Going to be Made of Other Metals?
While we can’t say for certain there’s at least some chance that our coins could be made of other metals at some stage in the future. The main reason for this would be to reduce the cost of manufacture of the coins. The difference in the cost of materials and manufacturing for a coin and it’s actual face value is known as “seignorage” and obviously the government likes to maximise this profit. Australia’s close neighbour, New Zealand, used to have circulating decimal coinage of the same size and composition as ours. But in 2006 they produced a new series of coins that were both smaller than the preceding decimal coins and made of different materials. This helped them realise a significant cost saving and resulted in a smaller, easier to understand coinage that has been widely accepted by the New Zealand public. Common sense dictates that Australia could follow the same path with our decimal coins at some point.