Two primary modern chapters of Britain’s numismatic history were reflected in both colonial and national coinage. As Britain’s Empire was winding down during the 1950s and ’60s, many territories were gaining independence as Republics, which meant the Queen’s likeness was omitted from many new countries’ coins, banknotes, and stamps. Another significant event occurred with the introduction of a decimal currency first, in some former colonial countries in Africa as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and neighbouring Pacific island countries. The United Kingdom was also preparing to transition to a decimal currency, and in this regard, the first two circulation-type coins to reflect these changes were released in 1968. The third came a year later, and one of the most unusual circulation-type coins was introduced into the British economy. These seven-sided pieces, with the face value of 50 new pence (equal to 10 shillings), simply fascinated the world. One of the attractions for me as a coin collector was and still is portrait variations, and during the 1960s, one of the most recognisable effigies of Queen Elizabeth II was introduced.
1960 New York Exhibition crown: Perhaps one of my first crown-sized coins and one I still have, it was given to me by a cashier at Heathrow Airport when my family were in transit a year before decimalisation. I remember my mother telling the cashier to give the change to me, telling her, “my son is interested in coins.” This is when the cashier kindly took back what must have been a one-pound banknote from my mother, and aside from the two old pennies, a shilling, and a 10 new pence coin. She then handed me a 1960 New York Exhibition crown, a 1965 Churchill crown, and a brand new, dazzling 50 new pence coin. I was a youngster facing many hours in an airplane bound for New York at the time, but I was in heaven thanks to my new acquisitions! I learned years later the 1960 crowns were struck at the British Exhibition event, which was held at the former New York Coliseum. The exhibition was opened in June that year by Prince Philip, and as the Royal Mint was participating in the event, state-of-the-art minting presses were transported to the U.S. to produce these coins on-site. The reverse side of these crowns depicted the four shields of the Royal crest — found on the Queen’s coronation crown in 1953. The obverse included the first definitive effigy of Queen Elizabeth II created by sculptor Mary Gillick with the coins’ denomination of FIVE SHILLINGS seen below her likeness. The coins were offered for sale for the duration of the show, and any unsold coins struck in New York were bagged up, transported back to the British Treasury and eventually distributed as circulation currency, and now one of these coins — nearly a decade old at the time — was added to my coin collection. This elegant shield reverse design has now been re-purposed for 50-pence coins dated 2022 that will include the effigy of King Charles III recently unveiled by the Royal Mint.
1966 Australian 50 cents: Australia, New Zealand, and the other Commonwealth territories in the Pacific underwent a transition to decimalisation five years before it took place in the United Kingdom. The ratio of conversion was two new dollars equalling one old pound, and this transition was reflected in the old florins, shillings, and six-pence coins which now became 20, 10, and five cents. As part of the “cents” series of coins, an excellent design was depicted on new Australian 50-cent pieces. Australia was one of the first countries to include Arnold Machin’s elegant effigy of Queen Elizabeth II, though Rhodesia and Canada had also used this portrait in 1964 and 1965, respectively. When I began collecting coins as a youngster, I wasn’t yet aware of Australia’s currency transition, but I still remember how surprised I was when I diligently looked through a dollar box of foreign coins and found one of these amazing pieces. Still in its stapled 2X2 card holder, I remember asking the man who owned the coin shop, “Are you sure this is only a dollar?” He assured me it was and asked if I wanted any more at that price. I purchased this and a silver Swiss two-franc coin dated 1967, and my pocket money was gone, but what wonderful finds they were, which I remember making a point of showing my parents and school friends. It wasn’t until days later when I compared the Australian 50-cent coin to an American silver half dollar and began thinking, “Maybe I did pay too much for my new Australian treasure.”
The reverse design was the work of famed sculptor and artisan Stuart Devlin, who also designed the reverse sides on all of the other five denominations from one to 20 cents. Devlin’s design featured Australia’s distinctive coat of Arms, which includes a kangaroo and emu supporting the national shield. These coins turned out to be one-year-only issues since they were minted in fineness of 80 percent silver, and the metal was soon worth a bit more than the coins’ face value. They were replaced with a cupro-nickel version in 1969 with the same designs but to distinguish them from their silver counterpart, the Royal Australian Mint changed the shape of the coin from round to 12-sided pieces. This version is still often used for commemorative designs today, 53 years after their initial introduction.
1967 Canadian Confederation dollar: This coin was a welcome addition to my already growing collection of Canadian silver dollars partly because of the centenary anniversary but also due to the beautiful commemorative reverse design. In 1967, the Royal Canadian Mint released a new set of circulation coins to mark Canada’s Confederation centenary, which was planned well in advance of the event. In 1965 one of Canada’s eminent medallic artists, Alex Coleville (1920–2013), was asked by the government of Canada to submit a series of designs for coins commemorating Canada’s centennial year. He suitably chose the theme of wildlife and assembled a selection which poignantly represented the continent’s most northern country. Animals in the sea, on land, and in flight were chosen, which meant the Canadian goose was featured on the silver dollar. The design was sleek, unencumbered, and simple in its presentation and approach, with undazzling lettering which included the commemorative years below the design and took nothing away from focusing on the goose in flight. Because of these attributes, the coin was soon in great demand with collectors. The Royal Canadian Mint adopted the Arnold Machin effigy of Queen Elizabeth II two years prior, and it was this combination in terms of design that was unbeatable to a young coin collector such as myself at the time. I was specifically on the lookout for this coin at a hobby show, and it became the first Canadian dollar coin added to my collection with the Machin effigy; it is still one of my all-time favourites.