Paper given at the June
2020 online Conference
THE DIXSON LIBRARY 1920 SYDNEY SOVEREIGN BY HOWARD HODGSON
Sir William Dixson Image: State Library of NSW
Sir William Dixson (1870-1952) was a wealthy businessman with a wide range of interests and during his lifetime he amassed a collection of over 20,000 items.
This included paintings, books, manuscripts, maps, trophies, curios, china and some 8,000 coins, medals, and tokens. Dixson was a benefactor to a number of
institutions but the major recipient of his generosity was the State Library of New South Wales. He bequeathed the State Library his entire collection which is now
housed in the Dixson Galleries (1929) and the Dixson Library (1959).
The Dixson numismatic collection is one of the largest ever assembled in Australia and is world-renowned. A selection of proclamation coins, including holey
dollars and dumps, sovereigns and other coins, medals and tokens are on display in the State Library’s public galleries and entrance is free.
Dixson Library 1920 Sydney Sovereign Image: State Library of New South Wales
Amongst the Dixson collection is a 1920 Sydney sovereign, one of Australia’s rarest coins. Despite the Dixson collection being so well-known, you will not
see any mention of this coin in any auction catalogue or on any dealer’s website. There will be chapter and verse about other famed examples of this rare date,
such as those from the Quartermaster, Bentley and George collections but the Dixson coin never rates a mention. Why is this? Because the Dixson coin is a fake.
But it was not always like this. Unfortunately the Dixson collection was plundered by David Gee, Australia’s most prolific coin forger, in the late 1960s and early
1970s and a police investigation found that he had stolen at least 33 coins, substituting his own fakes for the real items. The State Library did not have a
comprehensive inventory of the Dixson collection at the time so it is probable that more were stolen. Gee received a seven year prison sentence in 1979 for his
various crimes and died in 2013. (Gee had appeared in court many times in the 1950s and 1960s and was convicted of offences relating to counterfeiting stamps
in 1963.) That the 1920 Sydney sovereign in the Dixson collection is a fake has been confirmed to the State Library in a professional valuation undertaken by a
prominent Australian firm of numismatists. The coin, which is believed to be a genuine sovereign of the correct date but from another Branch of the Royal Mint,
has had its mintmark altered to make it appear to have been struck at Sydney.
This author has personally examined the coin at the State Library. It appears to have been heat-treated to soften the metal and remove the original mintmark
before replacing it with an ‘S’. The metal has flowed and caused a ridge of gold to appear on the ground line beneath the broken lance. The letters ‘WWP’
hidden in the ground line, also beneath the broken lance, have been obliterated by the metal melting. There is also a depression and a lack of detail in the ground
line to the right of the ‘S’ where the original mintmark looks to have been wiped away. A die-crack runs through the numeral ‘1’ in the date and if a 1920 Perth
or 1920 Melbourne sovereign with a similar die-crack could be found, it could be helpful in identifying the ‘host’ coin.
Interestingly, both obverse and reverse of this coin are ‘pickled’ which is likely to have been caused by the heat applied to the coin. It is said that the obverses of
other surviving 1920 Sydney sovereigns which exhibit ‘pickled’ reverses are unimpaired. Whether there are any implications to be drawn from the coin in the
Dixson collection regarding the other surviving 1920 Sydney sovereigns this author is unable to say. This author has not examined any of the other surviving coins
and therefore has no personal knowledge of any of them.
One theory put forward by others is that the so-called Quartermaster coin is the one stolen by Gee from the Dixson collection. It has unimpaired surfaces and is
the only surviving 1920 Sydney sovereign to have been independently verified as genuine (it has been certified as SP66 by PCGS). Surprisingly, none of the
surviving coins with ‘pickled’ surfaces have been independently authenticated which is remarkable considering the substantial sums that have been paid for such
coins in recent years.
Items in the Dixson numismatic collection are listed on the website of the State Library of New South Wales together with many high-quality digital images. The
collection contains other Gee fakes. He stole the rarest and most valuable coins from the collection so readers wanting to see more can probably hazard a guess
at where to start looking.
Anne Robertson, Treasures of the State Library of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW 1988)
Jeffery Watson, Don Thomas and Jack Bennett, Heads I Win - The Story of David Gee Australia’s Most Audacious Coin Forger (North Ryde, NSW 1986)
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