1919/1920 – A centenary of Australian Penny Production

I had envisaged this blog post being a simple recap of those who’ve published prior. The story has proven much more complicated then that. As the study I had thought to accomplish by now is only marginally complete, I’ll attempt to recap my understanding (or lack of) in the following brief passages, with more to follow as the case may be.

The Square Nickel Penny Story

Another story that I have to read into is the idea behind the square nickel penny. It didn’t pan out for political reasons and the urgent call for additional dies to maintain currency output of the classical round penny was put out too late. Dies furnished by London was insufficient for the volume required. As a side note, if you don’t know the square pattern penny, here is a link to Noble auction archives of said coin: https://tinyurl.com/squarepenny

Dots – Mint Marks or Hardness Test?

Recent reading has raised a huge question over the validity of dots as mint marks. The story today suggests Melbourne as dot under bottom scroll (DUBS) and Sydney as producing the dot above bottom scroll (DOBS), on which I will elaborate later. However, a new understanding of the dots as a hardness test muddies the water of this popular understanding. The different steel tests conducted during the slow days of 1930 that led to several 1931 variants is what gives me pause to hesitate about claiming this dot or that dot came from here or there. For more on the steel tests that gave rise to the extremely rare Indian Obverse, dropped 1 1931 penny, see Andrew Crellin’s post here: https://www.sterlingcurrency.com.au/research/1931-indian-penny-dropped-1-reverse-less-1000-were-struck

Does No Dot Mean the Die was Delivered?

It was Fred Lever’s engineering background that re-positioned the question (in my mind) of dots as mintmarks into dots as hardness testing. Fred Lever captures the frantic nature of testing an unknown procedure in the Melbourne Mint with in great detail in the final chapter of “1920 Complete Story” (see link below). For the quick explanation see the screenshot taken on the Wikipedia post concerning the test created in the US in the early 20th Century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockwell_scale

On the subject of die fabrication, see (Sharples (1), pg 25) for correspondance from the Royal Mint. For a concise understanding of annealing vs tempering (processes vital to the creation of dies), the following explanation is quite useful: https://www.metalsupermarkets.com/difference-annealing-tempering/

One question on the subject of adding dots through the hardness testing was answered in reading Andrew Crellin’s article on the 1922 Specimen Penny. According to Crellin, “Former Senior Researcher with the Melbourne branch of the Royal Mint, William (Bill) Mullett has stated that “the 1920 dies to Perth were sent by Sydney so must still have been identical with those used by Sydney. Being hardened it would not have been possible for Sydney to add a mark”.

From this we can surmise that the 1919 no dot pennies come from the 27 English obverse and Birmingham reverse dies provided by London from May to August 1919 (Sharples (1), pg 26). Already hardened in London, no Rockwell testing should have been conducted. Information on die production received late September from the Royal Mint aids the Melbourne Mint to produce 71 English obverse dies and 78 Birmingham reverse dies between September 1919 and March 1920. These should be 1919 dated pennies with dot under scroll, as it is only in August 1920 that 20 Indian obverse and reverse dies are received in Melbourne.

Prior to receipt of said Calcutta dies, Melbourne sent Sydney three English obverse and Birmingham reverse dies, which logically should be dot under scroll. If the shipment had been planned prior to annealing and tempering of the dies, it’s possible that an additional dot was placed above the top scroll to mark the difference in mint production. This is simple conjecture on my part; inspection of double dot pennies might reveal more information.

More Questions than Answers

Things get really interesting from August 1920 as the Calcutta dies are put into service. Rather than attempt to surmise the nature of the varieties well documented in the reading list below, I’ll finish this blog post (no doubt the first of several) with questions that come to mind.

  1. Are the dots really mint marks or could they possibly be tests related to the dies, the pennies or both? I’m thinking of the experiments producing the 1931 penny variants in this instance. (See Crellin (9) below).
  2. Why is Melbourne Mint displaying a 1920 no dot proof or specimen coin on the 6th of November, 1920? (See Lever (6), pg 39). Was Melbourne Mint sufficiently confident of its die manufacturing process by this time to do away with Rockwell testing?
  3. The 1919 no dot proof penny displayed below has curved feet, which is more characteristic of the early production dies produced and tested by Melbourne. If you look at my early die, mint state 1911 penny you’ll see the difference (flat feet!): https://topendcoins.com.au/product/australia-1911-london-penny-pcgs-ms63rb/ . Thus in my mind it appears that technical understanding of penny minting was nowhere near that of the Royal Mint prior to the indigenous fabrication of dies, as those fishtailing reverse side legends collectors are familiar with so intimate. This then leads me back to question 1.
  4. Has anyone tested the metals of the various die varieties to see if they’re different types of bronze? That’s a question I’ll pose to Fred Lever shortly.

Bibliography of further reading:

1. Sharples, John. Penny Reverse Master Dies of George V.

2. Sharples, John. Australian Coins 1919 to 1924. http://www.numismatics.org.au/pdfjournal/Vol1/Vol%201%20Article%201.pdf

3. Holland, Paul. Master Dies and Tools from the Royal Mint. http://www.numismatics.org.au/pdfjournal/Vol20/Vol%2020%20Article%204.pdf

4. Andrews, Peter. Identifying the 1919 Double Dot Penny. http://www.thesandpit.net/index.php?option=1919dd_penny

5. Andrews, Peter. How To Identify A 1920 Dot Above Top Scroll Penny. http://www.thesandpit.net/index.php?option=1920dat_penny

5. Holland, Paul. Die pairings, curved-base letters and dots: why are George V pennies so complex? http://www.numismatics.org.au/pdfjournal/Vol28/naa-journal-vol-28-holland.pdf

6. Lever, Fred. 1920 Complete Story. https://topendcoins.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/1920-complete-story.pdf

7. Lever, Fred. 1919 Penny. https://topendcoins.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/1919-Penny.pdf

8. Crellin, Andrew (no date). The 1922 Specimen Penny – One of the Very First Copper Coins Struck at the Perth Mint. https://www.sterlingcurrency.com.au/research/1922-specimen-penny-one-very-first-copper-coins-struck-perth-mint

9. Crellin, Andrew (no date). The 1931 Indian Penny With the Dropped 1 Reverse – Less than 1,000 Were Struck. https://www.sterlingcurrency.com.au/research/1931-indian-penny-dropped-1-reverse-less-1000-were-struck