The Australian Numismatic Society






COLLECTION SET  1813 - 2013

When I joined the Australian Numismatic Society, Brisbane Branch, in 2003, I was kindly given a series of introductory books to read, which were of  great value and good learning material.

 Amongst them was a black covered book entitled “ The Holey Dollars of New South Wales” by W,J,D Mira and W.J. Noble.. Published in 1988, the book gave details of 275 known specimens of Holey Dollars and their various backgrounds.  I found this fascinating reading and immediately developed a great interest in learning more and possibly acquiring some of these specimens.   I visited a number of auctions around Australia and started collecting coins from ship wrecks, from the early Proclamation series, and especially, Tasmanian items, where I had been born.  These interests helped me acquire coins, which became the subject of various talks given at our ANS Biennial conferences.  These were :-  2006  “Shipwrecked Coins and their stories” , 2008  “Proclamation Coins of Australia and Associated Coinage”  , 2010 “ Van Dieman’s .Land and Beyond”.

Upon re-reading the Mira – Noble book of Holy Dollars, I came up with a new challenging idea----why not collect a FULL DATE SET of all of the coins shown in the book.        Due to my earlier interests, I had already collected a number of original 8 Reale pieces.  I realized that this would take a lot of time and effort and also a fair capital investment.  Little did I know then, that Project 2013 would cost me well over $100,000.! !


I enthusiastically started building a collection of 8 reale  coins and I then realized that in 2013, the bi-centenary of the issue of the Holey Dollar coins was fast approaching.  Also, it would be the Centenary of the Australian Numismatic Society, which was formed in 1913.

Another crazy thought entered my mind.  Why not get A COMPLETE SET OF HOLEY DOLLARS AND DUMPS with the same dates as the ones in the book.

I found an ally in Bruce Canning, a fellow ANS member, who agreed to co-operate with me in this venture.  We agreed to convert the original 8 reale coins to holey dollars and dumps.  Bruce has already given a talk in 2000 at Coffs Harbour on how he prepared equipment to carefully create these changes.  Using the original 8 reale coin, he would create, after many trials & changes, a separate holey dollar and dump similar to how it was done by William Henshall.  This man was a convicted  forger, who was given the task of re-minting the dollars during 1813 and 1814, & also had to change & adapt his equipment many times before the separate 2 coins were satisfactory restructured.

I contacted dealers and auction houses around the world and over a period of 10 years, gradually accumulated a full date set of original 8 reale coins. The last one took about 2 years & was a 1777 coin, which happened also to be my ANS membership number. I discovered that this coin was to go to auction in a town in Texas  U.S.A. early one morning.  I set the alarm for 3am and bid for the coin on my computer , having to raise the bid a number of times.  My suffering wife still thinks I am completely crazy with this unusual and expensive hobby.   Bruce converted these 8 reale coins to holey dollars and dumps and placed them between two perspex pieces.  Included , also, was a 1937 Crown piece, which was also cleaned and used to inscribe the details of our project.  The description used was as follows:-


1813 – BI-CENTENARY – 2013.                                   On the reverse




It is very fascinating to study the 40 holey dollars and dumps and compare them with the 275 coins listed in Mira/Noble’s book  There are 36 different year dates  :-  1757, 1773, and then  1777 continuous to 1810.        I have 40 coins in my collection and 4 years have two different varieties.

1788    The iconic year when the First Fleet landed at Botony Bay in Australia, has a Charles 111 from Mexico mint FM, and another coin from the Potosi mint  P R

1789   The next year has a Charles 111 from Mexico  FM,.  The second coin is very unique as it has  a Charles IV [the only one with a IV]  on the rim, and on the reverse a bust of Charles 111    Mexico mint  F M.

1800   The first coin has Charles 1111 from the Potosi mint P P, and the second is another Charles 1111  from the Mexico mint  F M.

1810  This last year coin has a Ferdinand  VII  from Mexico  H I.     It’s companion is a very rare and unique coin, - a Ferdinand VII  from Lima  J P.    The mint in Lima, Peru, refused to recognize  Bonaparte as King of Spain.   They created their own silver dollar with the legend of the imprisoned Ferdinand VII  alongside an imaginary portrait.   The portrait was far from flattering and is referred to as the “imaginary bust” or “ Hannibal’s Head”   A real holey dollar in 2007,{the only one held in private hands}  was valued in excess of $350,000..

The original coins in the collection come from Mexico, Potosi and Lima mints.  The Assayers Initials, shown on the reverse, confirm the mint place and the date.  A list and summary of these places and dates are shown on pages 10 and 11 of Mira/Noble book , a copy of which is exhibited.

 The first year , 1757, has Ferdinand VI shown and is the only coin known as a Pillar Dollar.    All the other coins are known as “Bust Dollars” as they have the names of Charles {Carolus} 111, from 1773 to 1790,  Charles {Carolus} 1111 from 1791 – 1808, and Ferdinand VII from 1808 – 1810..      In the actual collection, I have a distinguishing pink dot on Ferdinand VI 1757, all the Charles 111 coins and Ferdinand VII  1808 – 1810.        All the Charles 1111 coins have an orange dot.

A lot of manual skill was needed to accurately prepare the new coins, and I hoped that Bruce would have a steady hand and a good eye.  One day he rang me and sheepishly informed me that on striking one holey dollar, it had split on the edges.   Nothing could be done about it , and Bruce tried to soften the blow by saying “Well, William Henshall, split some of his dollars.  They are in Mira – Noble’s book”    Upon checking, I found that this was true, so felt we were creating a mirror situation to the original strikings.   My cracked die was the 1786 coin, whilst Henshall’s cracked coin was 1806/13.


To make sure our newly created set of holey dollars and dumps would never be confused with original coins, Bruce and I agreed to have some distinct differences.

On most of his created coins, Henshall had placed the letter H between the wreath of laurel leaves on the holey dollar and an H between the fifteen and pence on the reverse of the dump.

In our case, Bruce inserted his initials” B.C.” between the wreath on the inside edge of the holey dollar.  As for the front of the dump, on the lower location edge of the Crown, he placed his initials in Morse Code.  B was -… and C was - . -.   The reverse of the dump still had an H between the fifteen and the pence.

Bruce Canning, in his own quiet and unassuming manner, later said to me “Of course, to make this a genuine project, you would need to have an original holey dollar and dump!”   I sighed , “More expense” !!    Further visits to a number of auctions and a big increase in my growing overdraft, saw an original 1797 holey dollar and two original dumps – all with the H for Henshall shown clearly.  This holey dollar was not included in Mira – Noble’s book.

Coinage in England has gone through many changes.  With the exception of small issues in 1763 and 1787, no new coinage was placed  into circulation between 1758 and 1816, practically 58 years.  This caused a serious shortage of coins and led to an interesting and historical incident.  

The Government was in possession of a large number of Spanish dollars that had been found in vessels that the English had captured.   On one occasion 1,250,000 dollars were captured from the Spaniards.   The Government considered that if they were counter-marked these dollars and put them into circulation, it would relieve the need for change and new coins.  It was announced that they would be issued at 4/6 per dollar, but, as it was found that the bullion value was 4/8, and that they would be melted down at a profit of two pence. the issued value was altered to 4/9. Over 3,000.000 of these Spanish dollars were counter-marked with the head of George 111 in an oval on the neck of the Spanish King.   It was not long before the following couplet appeared  

‘The Bank to make their Spanish dollars pass,
“Stamped the head of a fool on the neck of an ass.

"This issue in 1797 relieved the coin shortage.  A great number of counterfeit dollars appeared and the Bank then stamped the King’s head in an octagon form.  Other changes were made and then the dollars were issued at five shillings , and later, in 1811, at five shillings and sixpence. 5/6.      It is noted that the Bank of Ireland also issued a Dollar to the value of six shillings.

When the new colony of New South Wales was founded in Australia in 1788, it ran into the problem of lack of coinage.  Early settlers brought with them many English coins and also a variety of common use coins from Spain, Portugal, Holland, India and other countries. These were traded at different values, and rum and other food items were also traded.   Visiting trade ships took a lot of local currency away and the new colonies coins became depleted. Governor King tried to solve this problem with his historic  “Coins of the Proclamation” in 1800  His theory was to establish higher values of  11 coin types, so that they would remain in the colony.

Meanwhile , other British colonies were having similar problems.    The idea of punching a hole in the centre of the well circulated Spanish 8 reale coins, seems to have originated in Trinidad where the Governor issued a Proclamation stating that “Owing to the great scarcity of silver specie arising from the large exportation of dollars, the only effectual mode of diminishing such exportation will be to permit the circulation of a certain number of Cut  Dollars . A proper person shall be authorized to cut from the centre of each piece of silver to the value of one shilling:; and that, as an inducement to allow dollars to be cut, such dollars, when so cut shall continue to pass and be received at the rate or value of nine shillings each and that the piece to be cut shall pass current for one shilling “    This Proclamation was dated 19th June 1811. The cut inside coin had 8 sides  to it and varied in size and weight.

Other British colonies in the Caribbean area also used the same method for producing coins from the many numerous Spanish dollars used in the area.  They included British Guiana, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Tobago and Trinidad.. The holed coins and plugs circulated alongside various other coins made by cutting Spanish and Spanish colonial coins into sections.   These coinages were dominated in either shillings and pence or bits, worth nine pence.

Around the end of the Eighteenth Century, the Spanish eight reale was also in constant circulation in Eastern Canada and the United States.  The value of the coin varied in different centers but was highest in Halifax. Using this knowledge, whenever the merchants of Prince Edward Island secured them, they sent them to Halifax to take advantage of the higher rate. The resulting shortage of money in Prince Edward Island prompted the governor to gather in all the Spanish dollars he could find and have their centres punched out.  Both the central plug and rims were stamped with a sunburst.  The punched centres passed as shillings and the outer rims as five shilling pieces.  The mutilated coins were thereafter no longer acceptable outside of the island so, as a consequence, they became the official currency.

The practice of cutting Spanish dollars into smaller segments to provide a fractional currency was a well accepted practice in many countries by the time the new colony was established in Sydney Cove.  The practice led to the famous term “pieces of eight”, when the original coin was quartered, and then each quarter segment was halved, leaving eight approximately equal pieces.  The American term “two bits” is derived from two of these pieces being equal to quarter dollar or 25 cents.

There is not a lot of written material about this specific coinage mutilation, but it is reasonable to presume that the British authorities knew about the practice and words would have been communicated to Governor Philip King and later Governor Lachlan Macquarie., especially about the use of the counter-stamping of the Spanish dollars in England  No doubt many trading vessels from overseas, visiting Sydney, would have examples of such coins and a solution to the lack of trading coinage in the new Australian colony evolved.

Governor Macquarie made an important decision to use this new and growing practice in Australia.  It was arranged for the British government to send 10,000 pounds worth of Spanish dollars.  These 40,000 coins at 5 shillings each came to Sydney on 26th November, 1812 on the merchant ship “Samarang”, from Madras via the East India company.


                                                                                         HOLEY DOLLARS           DUMPS                                                                                  
Arrival in Sydney on “Samarang” from Madras
io  26/11/1812       40000                     --
Destroyed in minting and the creation of dumps        92                   39908                    39908
Recall of colonial specie in 1822 but re-issued in 1823                    34058
Final recall and replacement by “used English specie”24/9/1829      27161                    10103
Gross weight of shipment back to England was
1762 pounds.  Melted down and sold to Bank of             Est.        28200                     10500
England for 5044 pounds 9shillings 2 pence                                   11408                     29408
Estimated number of coins now in existence in 2012                           330                      1000
Remaining coins – unknown location or condition                           11078                     28408  


1. Transferred to other countries for trading purposes. (This was then forbidden by Australian authorities).
2. Melted for silver content and used for jewellery, ornaments, neck pieces or other purposes.
3. Melted for silver content & sold to banks and metallurgical groups.
4. Coins lost when kept in houses that were burnt down during fires.
5. Lost when buried in the ground for security or after being stolen.
6. Coins may have been stolen by bushrangers or burglars.
7. Given as gifts to visiting dignitaries or kept by families as souvenirs.
8. Used under foundation stones or prominent buildings.
9. Given to museums and other institutions.
10. Used as washers in taps or other plumbing or mechanical situations.
11. Lost in personal hordes or buried, stolen or given away
12. Collected and taken by ships, which were lost at sea.

For further information, refer to the booklet “ The Holey Dollar of New South Wales.  Their Fate.”  By Dr. W J Mira  produced in 1979.

Project 2013  has been an expensive, but enjoyable labour of love, adventure and learning.

If only the coins collected and their many companions could talk and share who handled them and why they were moved from country to country, and the many reasons for their many exchanges.   Most came from the normal commercial activities in the European and American cities.  Some were captured by British adventurers, by pirates, buccaneers and thieves. Others were recovered from shipwrecks after being in the sea for many decades.

We all share in this journey of discovery and it is why we numismatics enjoy our hobby so much.

We learn to appreciate history, geography, science and commercial interests and intrigues of our predecessors.   It allows us a better understanding of human existence and the frailties and courage of those before us, and the growth of our civilization.

Often it is found that when one is introduced to the beauty and fascinating history that comes from a study of rare Australian coins,  it becomes a joy of learning and understanding our past .  It can result , in my case, in a lifelong obsession.

It has been a pleasure and a  privilege to share Project 2013 with you all and celebrate the bicentenary of Australia’s first coinage


Return to Library

Return to ANS Main Page

27th June 2012