Search This Blog

Sunday, 12 February 2012

53) The story of the Australian penny:

53) The story of the Australian penny:

During the initial period of development of the territories/colonies which formed Australia, foreign currency (British mostly) was used in circulation, but in 1910, i.e. a decade after formation of the Australian Federation, Australian coins were introduced for circulation in the denominations of Pounds, shillings  pence and half- pennies and their usage continued until 1966, when Australia adopted the decimal system coinage under which the Australian Dollar was divided into 100 cents.
Under the above dispensation, the Australian penny was first used in 1911 during the reign of George V. It was worth 1/12th of an Australian shilling and 1/240th of an Australian Pound. Its dimensions, value and composition were identical to the British penny as the two currencies of Britain and Australia were treated at par with each other.
The composition of the coin was of Bronze (Copper 97.5%, Zinc 2.0%, Sn (Tin) 0.5%), its outer diameter was 30.8 mm and weight was 9.45 gms.  The obverse was identical to the British penny with a portrait of George V and the inscription “GEORGIVS V D.G. BRITT: OMN: REX F.D.IND: IMP”, meaning “George V by the Grace of God , King of all the Britons , Defender of the Faith , Emperor of India” (Notice that the term IND.IMP was an important title for all British Sovereigns, as India was considered to be the “Jewel in the British Crown” and apart from the coronation of a new monarch in Britain, a separate India Coronation took place symbolically at the “Delhi Durbar” (Delhi court) every time a new monarch took over. This penny was in circulation till 1936 when the British monarchy passed onto George VI. The obverse of this penny was designed by Bertram Mackennal and the reverse carried the inscription “ONE PENNY COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA”. The reverse designer was WHJ Blakemore.
There was a gap of a little over a year during the reign of Edward  VIII (who abdicated the throne on account of his marriage to Wally Simpson an American citizen, during which time new pennies were not issued and their mintage continued only when George VI took over the British throne in 1938. He and Queen Elizabeth II (presently reigning British Queen) both have two differently worded inscriptions mentioned on Australian pennies during their reign. The reasons for this are quite simple and rather interesting as they show the declining power of the British Empire/Monarchy.
In the case of George VI, on 15th August 1947, India gained Independence from British Rule. Accordingly, British Sovereigns had lost the “jewel in their Crown “and were no longer entitled to add “IND.IMP” in their titles. As it took some time to change the minting dyes etc., the Penny with the title “IND IMP “continued to be issued till 1948, even in Britain and the new pennies without this title were only issued in 1949 (as with all the coins minted throughout the then British Empire) and the minting of these pennies continued till 1952 when the mantle was taken over by Queen Elizabeth II.

Take a look at the above image of the obverse an Australian Penny contributed to my collection by Manish.  Notice the portrait of George VI facing left with the inscription “GEORGIVS VI D:G: BR:OMN: REX:F.D.IND:IMP”. Although this Australian Penny was issued in 1948, it still carries the inscription “IND IMP” but which was removed in later pennies minted from 1949 onwards which were minted till 1952. The obverse off this penny was designed by Thomas Hugh Paget.

The reverse of the above coin shows a Kangaroo and the Commonwealth Star. This side has been designed by George Edward Kruger Gray. His initials ‘KG’ appear on the right hand of the coin just above the Kangaroo’s tail. Gray was an English artist who has designed the reverse sides of several coins all over the British Empire as well as on Australian coins used from 1937 to 1966 (year of change-over to the decimal coinage in Australian coinage).

 The seven-pointed Commonwealth Star symbolises the Federation of Australia which was created/formed on 1st January 1901. Six points of the Star stand for the six original states of the Commonwealth of Australia and the original Star had only six points. Later, in 1905, the Territory of Papua was added and the seventh point was included in 1908 to represent Papua as well as any territories/states which could be added later on. Interestingly, the Commonwealth Star is found on the Australian Flag as well as the Coat of Arms of Australia and other important Australian badges. In Australian currency too, the Commonwealth Star is engraved. On this penny (as well as Australian half-pennies), it appears next to a bounding kangaroo and near a ram’s head on shillings from 1937 to 1964 and also on some special edition decimal coins.

As an unrelated coin to Australian pennies, I am giving here the obverse of a florin (two shillings coin) minted in 1949 in my collection. This coin was issued two years after India gained Independence. The coin shows George VI facing left, with the legend “GEORGIVE VI D.G.BR: OMN: REX” only.

The letters F.D. on this shilling have moved to the Reverse and has been enlarged to read as “FID: DEF” (Defender of the Faith).Notice that the words “IND: IMP” have been taken away from all British coinage from 1949 onwards. This coin has been placed here for illustration.

The above is an image of another coin given to me by Manish . This is an Australian penny issued during the reign of Elizabeth II (the present reigning Queen of England). The legend on the periphery of the coin states “DEI GRATIA REGINA F.D ELIZABETH II. (Dei Gratia Regina or D.G.REGINA or REG means “By the Grace of God, Queen”). Pennies with this inscription were issued from 1955 to 1964 ( i.e. shortly before the introduction of the decimal coinage in Australian currency. However, it is noteworthy that for pennies issued in 1953, the title “F.D.” was not used.
Sometimes, one comes across the term “D.G.REG.F.D.” as in British coinage and in this penny. The F.D. stands for“Fedei Defensor” (in the case of a Sovereign or Monarch of Britain) or “Fedei defensatrix” (in the case of a Queen). This phrase has been used by many British monarchs since the sixteenth century and was granted on 11th October 1521 by Pope Leo X to King Henry VIII of England in recognition of King Henry’s book “Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments) which inter alia recognised the supremacy of the Pope at a time when Protestant reformation had taken root especially the teachings of Martin Luther. There was an interesting development, when Henry broke away from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England, and was ex-communicated by Pope Paul III and this title was revoked. However, after a short gap, this title was again conferred on Henry and his successors by an Act of British Parliament in 1544 , as defenders of the Faith of the Church of England and is carried even in present day U.K. coinage.

The obverse of this penny was designed by Mary Gillick, who was a sculptor, well known for her effigy of Elizabeth II used on coinage in the United Kingdom as well as other countries from 1953 to 1967. Gillick’s design was notable for portraying the Queen as uncrowned and was the last such design to be used on the pre-decimal coinage as on this penny here.

As in the penny above, the reverse of this coin was also designed by Gray and exhibits identical features. Notice that this coin was issued in 1956, i.e. about four years after Elizabeth II ascended the British throne.

The above is the first ten pence coin issued in 1992 in U.K. which replaced the two shillings (florin coin) in circulation and bears the legend “D.G.REG:FD” (meaning “By the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith”). Notice that the words “OMN REX” (King/Queen of all Britons) no longer appear on the coin, indicating the growing powers of the British Parliament and the British Monarchy being reduced to more or less a titular Head. 
The present day Australian coin issues, being part of the Commonwealth Nations,still have the inscription  "Elizabeth II" (but not Queen) and "Australia" mentioned on the Obverse together with her portrait.

Thus these two Australian pennies given above, created about a decade apart tell us of a time when the British Empire was at its zenith and, also, record the declining power of the British Sovereigns around the World and also record the history of the Australian Nation, in the twentieth century in their own little way…..

Links to Posts on Australia, New Zealand and countries and Overseas Territories of the South Pacific on this blog:

1) Bank of Papua New Guinea: 36th Anniversary Celebrations (1973-2008): A Commemorative Uncirulated Coin Set consisting of a 2 Kina Banknote & a 2 Kina Coin

2) Papua New Guinea: An uncirculated coin set brought out in 1995 commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Independence 

 3) Currency & Coinage of the Soloman Islands: Dollars and Cents

4) New Zealand: New Banknote "Seventh Series" issued under Project "Brighter Money" from 2015 onwards

5) Coinage of the French Polynesian Island of Caledonia (or Nouvelle Caledonie) the CFP Franc  

6) French Institution for issuing uniform currency/coinage for French Overseas Territories in the Pacific and the French Southern Territories of Antarctica: The Institut d'emmission d'outre Mer (IEOM)

7) Currency & Coinage of Samoa: Tala and Sene 

8) Currency of the South Pacific Island Country of Fiji 

9) Coinage of New Zealand: A commemorative coin set issued in 1979 

10) Currency and Coinage of Australia: Dollars and Cents 

11) The Australian Emblem or the Coat of Arms 

12) The story of the Australian Penny 

13) The Legend of the Mutiny on the Bounty: A Commemorative Coin Set from the Pitcairn Islands depicting relics from the Bounty issued in 2009 

14) An Australian $5 coin issued in 1996, commemorating Australia's greatest cricketing legend - Sir Donald Bradman 

15) New Series/Generation of Australian Banknotes being introduced from 01.09.2016 onwards starting from $5 issues 


  1. Papua never was a part of Australian territory, but a mandate territory only (after I WW) A Commonwealth star has seven rays because of NSW, Tasmania,SA,Victoria,Qld, ACT,WA. Please make corractions.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Nevertheless, the information which I have gathered suggests, that Papua New Guinea was ruled by three different external powers since 1884 and could establish its sovereignty only in 1975 after Australia ceased to administer it. Also, the seventh point represents all such Territories including Papua and the ACT. Hence I am leaving the post as it is for the time being.