1882 Melbourne Half Sovereign – the Sixth Head Obverse Discovered

One year on since establishing Top End Coins it has been a priority of mine to start contributing to the study of half sovereigns. With the bombshell that Dr David Briggs dropped on me last night – the source of the article’s title – I can think of no better subject to begin contributing to the study of Australian numismatics

The discovery came about by my interest in researching the crenulated reverse half sovereigns that continue to pop up in Australia after the introduction of the fat beaded reverse rim in Royal Mint design, starting in 1880. I have purchased a significant number of half sovereigns from 1880 through to 1887 in order to trace out the various dies used and reused over this tumultuous period we call the Long Depression today.

It was my suspicion that a few extra thousand of coins were being minted as required by old reverse dies in reserve as opposed to purchasing new dies from the Royal Mint. These suspicions will be confirmed or negated as I find the time to put my stock under the stereo microscope for die identification purposes.

An anomoly that tickled my curiosity was Melbourne’s use of a fourth head obverse die following the introduction of a fifth head die in 1881. Why go back to a fourth head – last used in 1877 – unless it was to mint a small quantity of additional coins without ordering an additional die from London. So it was with this question in mind that I forwarded the image of the coin pictured to Dr David Briggs. (A quick side note to thank Fred Lever for providing an updated email address to contact Dr Briggs – impossible to find in Google – in the March edition of CAB)

As a student of the market (or so I like to call myself) Dr Briggs aptly brought to my attention a failing in my studies until date – that of counting the rim beads. Previous fourth head obverses of 146 rim beads had become 144 in this example. For Dr Briggs the reasoning was clear. Melbourne Mint was experimenting with an additional obverse die, along with the fifth head from 1881 for as yet unknown reasons.

So check your fourth head 1882 Melbourne coins and you may be sitting on a ‘sixth’ head obverse. Time and study will hopefully reveal more on the subject. If you have comments, suggestions, questions or ideally coins to show me, please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected]. Cheers, Les 0455 660 884. 

144 beaded fourth head obverse in contrast to previous fourth head 146 bead rims