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The Adelaide Assay Office

19-Mar-2010

The discovery of gold in the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria caused heavy migration from the other colonies and the rest of the world, with individuals pursuing the chance of achieving great wealth through the discovery of gold. This migration had caused voids in their home economies with reductions in workers, jobs and of course they had withdrew their savings in gold coin, causing a number of problems for banks (as they could no longer keep their banknotes in circulation as they required gold reserves). South Australia was hit particularly hard by this with an estimated 16,000 people, half the male population of South Australia having left for the gold fields, and by 1852 it had seemed that total economic collapse was unavoidable.

While gold could be transported to the Royal mint in London and exchanged with gold coin, the urgency of the problem called for an urgent solution and it would be another 3 years before a branch of the Royal Mint would be opened in Australia. The South Australian government therefore authrorised the Adelaide Assay Office to produce, from Victorian gold, initially ingots, and thereafter tokens, both of which were authorised to be held as reserves by banks thereby saving the local banks from withdrawing their banknotes .

This move would not be considered legal until they had approval from the British government but the urgency of the situation saw them start the operation while approval was requested. The British government declined the request but by the time this message was received, the Adelaide assay office had already struck almost 25,000 tokens, each with the face value of 1 pound, after which the assay office was shut down, having saved the local economy.

While dies used to strike sovereigns and half sovereigns were made in London and then later in Melbourne, due to the urgency of the situation, the dies for the Adealide assay tokens were prepared locally by Joshua Payne. Dies were prepared for the One Pound token and the Five Pound token though no original Five Pound specimens are known.


Adelaide Pound Type I


The first One Pound design, dubbed the Adelaide Pound Type I, features a beaded inner circle on the reverse and a crenulated inner circle on the obverse. This hand produced die was imperfect and subsequently cracked presumably after striking the first circulation strike as no circulation strikes without the die crack are known. The die crack occurs through 'D' of 'DWT' from the rim to the inner circle.

One trial example is known having been struck in lead before the reverse die was damaged and is the only known example of the Adelaide Pound Type I which does not display the die crack . This piece resides in the Adelaide National gallery and is unavailable to collectors and was presuming produced to test the die, lead being a softer metal, did not cause the die to break.

This design comes with two edge varieties , one with a fine grained edge, the other with a wide grained edge, the latter is the scarcer type though both can be considered rare with an estimated combined total surviving count of about 40-50 pieces.


Adelaide Pound Type II


The second One Pound design, dubbed the Adelaide Pound Type II, features crenulated inner circles on both faces and was used to mint 24,768 tokens until the closure of the assay office in February 1853. While this die was more successful, in later strikes, the crudeness can still be seen with much deterioration and strike flaws from contaminants visible in the later strikes.

Several trials were produced in lead most likely to ensure that the second die wouldn't break in its eventual use. Deacon lists two such trials, both in lead and notes an unverified example struck off collar . The first trial (Deacon 14a), like the trial of the Type I Adelaide Pound, resides in the Adelaide National Gallery and isn't available to collectors. The second (Deacon 14b) was listed by Deacon as appearing in a Numismatic Circular in 1915 and present (as of 1954) whereabouts unknown. In October 1975 this trial piece re-appeared on the market at Spink and Stern sale, lot 22 ex the collection of Captain Vivian Hewitt .

The third Type II trial was listed as being unverified by Deacon but in June 2008 an off-collar example appeared in public auction by Spink London verifying his claim.

While only one die was used for the Type II, it is unknown why or how far down the line, but 5 notches were added above '2 C' of '22 CARATS' on the reverse. Examples which display these notches, being from the later half of the mintage, are generally weakly struck with the deterioration of the die quite obvious.


Section of the later strike Adelaide Pound Type II, note the small notches above '2 C'

Although coming from a generally high mintage, the Adelaide Pound was melted down by official order and those that survived, had a bullion value of above one pound and consequently, were often melted down for the gold value. It is estimated that fewer than 300 examples have survived, many of which were mounted or otherwise damaged.

Adelaide Five Pound Restrike (RAM, 1971)


Twelve Restrikes were produced in 1921 at the Royal Mint in Melbourne and sold to the public at bullion value. Two examples were kept, one for the Melbourne branch and one for the London branch, five others were sold and the other five were melted after they couldn't find buyers.

Both the Royal mint Melbourne and Royal Australian Mint restrikes can be identified by a rose-gold colour as these were either struck in gilt copper or a gold-copper alloy, while in 1852 the Adelaide Assay Office had used Victorian gold, which was rich in silver producing a brighter yellow coloured gold.

To learn more about the Adelaide Assay Office tokens and their valuations, visit the Blue Sheet root page at: Adelaide Assay Office


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