Perth Mint KGV Bronze – Identifiable Obverse Characteristics? Part 2

The initial post on this question arrived from a Facebook interaction with noted numismatist Peter Andrews, following the introduction of his numismatic publication https://www.independentcoinnews.com in May 2023. My question is captured in the screenshot below:

That response led me to start researching this notion that the coin may be a Perth Mint job. The author’s background is military and security; with the emphasis on observing and reporting. An eye for detail makes landscape photography a very enjoyably hobby and the minutiae of die characteristics and identification markings is proving equally attractive as a challenge. The first thing noted about this suspect Perth Mint strike is the unusual strike characteristics.

Obverse comparison of 1920 DOBS (left) and 1920 No Dot

Obverse comparison of 1920 DOBS (left) and 1920 No Dot

From the obverse image presented by Peter (Image 1 on the left) of a dot-over-bottom-scroll (DOBS) 1920 penny, the curved rim leading to incomplete rim beading was striking in its difference from both Melbourne (Image 1 on the right) and Sydney. The rim beading is not fully struck up – it made me think of the QEII obverses with rounded beads. Below is a detailed image of the coin in question; click on the link to see the PCGS certificate. Note the small rounded beads on the obverse (far left) and the pitted reverse; signs of a rusty die or rusting coin.

Image 2 – screenshot of https://www.pcgs.com/cert/45774999

Rusty Dies?

The interest in rusty dies grew out of a purchase made from Eric Eigner of Drake Sterling some years ago. The coin in question is this high grade of uncirculated florin with “orange peel” obverse – click on the link below for a closer look at the obverse die. Florins in 1926 and 1928 are reportedly inflicted with reused and rusted dies.

https://topendcoins.com.au/product/australia-1928-melbourne-florin-pcgs-ms62/

Following Peter’s remarks, I went through my personal collection looking for similar obverse characteristics. The coin imaged below stood out as a potential match.

Image 3 - Axial image details of 1919 dot under bottom scroll penny PCGS Cert. 34520715

Image 3 – Axial image details of 1919 dot under bottom scroll penny PCGS Cert. 34520715

On the obverse, note the lighter coloured metal towards the rim’s edge. This is because axial imagery flashes light evenly over the coin from above – the rim’s reflection illustrates the concave nature of its curvature. The rim beads are poorly struck up; almost circular like image 2. The reverse is pitted with rust. Incidentally, this coin received a UNC details grade of cleaned. It took me a couple of years to understand what I was looking at; a rusted die that had been heavily cleaned, transferring the brush striations onto this particular coin.

Is The Die Rusty or Just the Coin?

Mike Diamond of error-ref.com acknowledged the rust pitting on the 1919 penny in image 3, once I had shown him the image shot in axial light. In normal light, the coin looked like image 2 and Mike couldn’t see what I was asking of him. It’s one of the reasons I turned to axial photography, as some coin characteristics required different techniques to normal lighting. In this age of internet sales, we can’t always hold the coin in the hand to make an informed decision; axial photography helps in this regard.

Mike suggested I’d need to find more examples of this date to confirm that dies were rusted. I’ve since found a couple of high grade examples similarly affected by corrosion, with differently placed test marks under the scroll. The other two examples are illustrated below and is followed by a combined shot of the three different 1919 DUBS reverses.

PCGS graded 1919 Penny Cert. No. 47877001

Image 4 – Detail image of PCGS graded 1919 Penny Cert. No. 47877001

 

Detail image of PCGS graded 1919 Penny Cert. No. 47877002

Image 5 – Detail image of PCGS graded 1919 Penny Cert. No. 47877001

 

Three 1919 DUBS reverses showing signs of rust pitting

Image 6 – the reverses of Image 3, Image 5 and Image 4 compared.

I initially thought the reverses all from the same die; but look closely at the die markers and date serifs. You can also see the advantages of axial photography over normal photography – I’ve not yet imaged the third coin under axial lighting and its details are more difficult to obverse. However, that cud sticking out of the rim beads under the date is a great die marker.

Rusty Dies and Rounded Rims – What Gives?

Image 5 shows a rusty 1919 English Obverse with curved rim and poorly struck up rim beads to the left. Why are 1919 coins showing similar strike characteristics to the 1920 English obverse DOBS; purportedly struck by the Perth Mint? Well, they could have been supplied by Melbourne Mint, which finished its run of 1919 pennies and had two obverse dies remaining. Holland reports that the two dies were reportedly married to Calcutta struck reverses to create the 1920 dot-under-bottom-scroll (DUBS) English Obverse, a scarce variety in higher grades. However he incorrectly asserts that all English obverse are DUBS. The following example of an English obverse DUB variety is useful for illustrative purposes.

The example above is likely Melbourne Minted. This is suggested by the well struck obverse and reverse; with metal pressed out to the rim and rim beading well struck up. The differences with the two obverses illustrated in Image 1 are pronounced. I’ve yet to see a 1920 DUBS English Obverse that would suggest a different opinion to the one offered here.

The only mint holding 1919 dies that are not accounted for in numismatic literature to-date is Sydney Mint. Peter Andrews recently printed that “It is almost certain that all 1919 dated pennies were minted in Melbourne.” If we were to simply quote the literature largely authored by Sharples, Holland et al., then we would be left with the weight of evidence suggesting that this was the case; Melbourne was the only mint.

However, let us reiterate that the object of this exercise is based on a simple premise. This premise is that the 1920 English Obverse dot over bottom scroll (DOBS) was struck at the Perth Mint. The unique strike characteristic of said coin’s obverse suggests a different press to the mainstay of 1920 Sydney and Melbourne business strikes; but not necessarily a different mint. Yet if the extremely rare examples of said variety are being found in South-West WA, then the hypothesis appears sound. I have then extended the search for this particular obverse strike to other dates to further support or possibly negate this hypothesis. A number of 1919 DUBS pennies show similar characteristics, with rusty dies suggesting several years of storage prior to use. That makes Sydney Mint a potential supplier of surplus dies.

The Literature Diverges from Die Identification

An issue this author takes with Australian numismatic literature is the tendency to quote previous authors, rather than take a fresh methodical approach to research. From Holland (JNAA Vol.28):

“What is perhaps of greatest interest in 1922 pennies is that the somewhat scarce obverse 2 pennies (ed: Indian obverse) were only struck at the Perth Mint, as first pointed out by Sharples.”

This is what Sharples said (emphasis is mine):

“Perth, in turn, asked both the Melbourne and Sydney Mints if they were able to supply dies for this order (Ed: Commonwealth Treasury request for bronze). Sydney offered her obverse and unused 1920 dated reverse dies, but Melbourne was able to supply immediately three pairs of 1921 dated dies. …It would appear that a mixture of Indian and London dies were supplied to Perth. …As a result, while Perth went into the 1922 issues with the older Indian obverse dies, Melbourne used the new London dies. If that was the case, all 1922 pence with the Indian obverse can be allocated to the Perth Mint.” A lot of ifs, maybes and possibles in that paragraph.

A 1922 Indian Obverse Penny showing Melbourne Mint strike characteristics

Image 8 – A 1922 Indian Obverse Penny showing Melbourne Mint strike characteristics

The astute reader would be surprised to read Sharple’s remarks and observe the above 1922 Indian obverse penny. That obverse has all the hallmarks of a very well struck Melbourne Mint coin. If the Perth Mint struck this coin, it’s possible that some specimen coins were struck at significantly higher pressures and with some care. Of all the detailed books authored by Dr David Briggs, I am lacking his works on the bronze series, which might elucidate on the matter. However, the evidence suggests Melbourne struck this coin.

Secondly, as Holland reports, the obverse punches reverted to English obverse late 1921. Melbourne quite possibly sent remaining obverses to Perth for 1922. Yet why is there a DOBS reverse floating around in a die pair with English Obverse; and which is difficult to identify as having been struck at Melbourne or Sydney? A spare DOBS reverse die (previously assigned to Sydney) that was detoured to Perth? I haven’t heard of that story yet. So was Perth supplied with Melbourne sourced Calcutta obverse dies or did Sydney send them remaining stock? Perth minting Sydney Calcutta obverses would explain the well struck 1922 Indian obverse penny above.

Let’s compare the above with the following 1922 English obverse penny.

Image 9 - A 1922 English Obverse Penny showing strike characteristics similar to the 1920 DOBS (image 1)

Image 9 – A 1922 English Obverse Penny showing strike characteristics similar to the 1920 DOBS (image 1)

This particular penny clearly illustrates a curved, concave rim; it closely resembles the 1920 English Obverse DOBS for strike characteristics. An exhaustive survey of particular dates like 1922 is a subject for further research and another blog post. However, by illustrating strike characteristics and comparing to the literature frequently quoted in numismatics, it’s suggested that a review and update of bronze research is in order. After all, a DOBS reverse showing up on an unusual die pair with unique strike characteristics is unusual and not yet explained in the literature. It is possible that the Sydney DOBS reverse was supplied by Sydney or Melbourne and matched up at a later point to a Melbourne minted English obverse in late 1921, 1922 or even 1923.

The English Obverse 1922 penny above was just purchased from Eric of Drakesterling.com to follow up on the 2nd avenue of research into the early bronze series; that of the bronze alloys used. Neal Effendi communicated to me that the Royal Mint sent instructions concerning changes to the alloy mix for planchets during this period. Colour as key to identification has been previously written on and is an ongoing avenue of research into early Australian bronze production. The coin above differs slightly from phosphor bronze alloy typically used and written on here. Whether it provides a clue to the mint is a matter for further research.

Image 10 - One of TEC's earliest sales: https://www.pcgs.com/cert/30800835

Image 10 – 1920 Sydney – flat rims and dot over bottoms scroll (DOBS). One of TEC’s earliest sales: https://www.pcgs.com/cert/30800835

Three Rims – Three Different Mints?

Image 8, 9 and 10 show three different strike characteristics. Image 8 is widely understood to be the characteristic of the Melbourne Mint; while image 10 is understood to be Sydney Mint. It’s the coin in between (image 9) that is an anomaly. In recent communications, Neal Effendi suggested the flat rims of Sydney Mint coins were a fault of rimming operation (click here for more on this subject or enlarge the image below). Irrespective of the reason, it permits a collector to have a high degree of confidence in labelling a coin “Sydney Mint”. Vice Versa for the Melbourne Mint. Strong rims, well struck, deep obverse profile.

However, it just occurred to me while writing this article that perhaps Sydney Mint didn’t screw up their rimming operations. Is it possible that they compensated for low pressure gold presses by modifying the rims? Perth Mint had lower pressure gold striking presses as well. Is image 9 a weakly struck coin without the rimming designed to compensate that lower pressure? I’d need to find other examples of inadequate minting pressure; perhaps in coinage outside Australia, to validate such deformation.

Pressure to Introduce Square Nickel

It’s useful to remember the urgency facing the Melbourne Mint in supplying post-war necessities in currency; while fully expecting to switch manufacturing to square nickel pieces once Treasury had given approval; this was in 1919. It never happened. So Sydney Mint gets pulled in to assist Melbourne in 1920. After a year’s minting on antiquated gold presses, Sydney deems the job too difficult. So Perth Mint gets pulled in with a request the following year.

The Perth Mint’s presses are reportedly better, but were purchased for the purpose of pressing soft gold coins. Such a machine would likely be underpowered, compared to the machinery required for pressing bronze and silver alloy. It’s this technical understanding, in combination with the issues pressing the Melbourne Mint at the time, that gives rise to the possibility of identifying the mintage of a third mint. It seems plausible that in the mad rush to manage competing priorities while supplying adequate amounts of Australian currency to the nation, some corners were cut. This research has the aim of identifying those possible corners cut in die combinations and dates that don’t match official records nor previously published literature.

Conclusion

The literature and previous research doesn’t cover the history of early pre-decimal Australian bronze; certainly not all the die combinations and strike characteristics of some of the scarcest varieties. This exercise takes as its premise the possibility that 1920 English obverse DOBS is a Perth Mint job. Coins with matching strike characteristics will need to be credibly matched to dates and sources of supply. Individual die identification, particularly for 1919 DUBS (there should be three), would support the possibility that they (and other dies) were sent west to assist the Australian Treasury in their requests.