7 Historically Significant Commonwealth Coins, Medals and Banknotes and their Values

Lot 704: The "Charlotte" Medal, 1788. Sold for AUD750,000 via Noble Numismatics (July 2008).

What are Commonwealth Coins?

The Commonwealth has its roots in the British Empire, which issued coins for its colonies. For instance, silver coins were issued in New England from 1653 while silver rupees were coined in Bombay for the East India Company. A crowned bust of the monarch (later dropped) would generally appear on one side with national symbols depicted on the reverse.

What is the Value of Commonwealth Coins?

Most record-breaking commonwealth coins have distinct characteristics that make them desirable as a collectors items. The 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar, a pristine example of the first silver dollar disseminated by the United States Mint, set the record for most expensive coin sold at auction when it was purchased at Stacks Bowers Galleries for $10,016,875 in 2013. Across the pond, Baldwins made history with the 2016 sale of the 1933 Lavrillier Pattern Penny, one of only four made, for £72,000 ($94,885). Commonwealth coins, medals and early banknotes that possess unique physical properties or a link to an important historical event are often in high demand.

7 Historically Significant Coins and Medals of the Commonwealth

The Charlotte Medal, 1788

Lot 704: The “Charlotte” Medal, 1788. Sold for AUD750,000 via Noble Numismatics (July 2008).

This thin silver disc is widely believed to be the first Colonial Australian work of art. The medal, engraved by hand on both sides, describes the full voyage of the Charlotte. The ship was one of 11, known as the First Fleet, which left England in 1787 to found the penal colony that eventually became the first European settlement in Australia. The coin was engraved by Thomas Barrett, one of the convicts on board the Charlotte, when the ship anchored in Botany Bay in January 1788. In 2008 the Australian National Maritime Museum acquired the medal for AUS$873,750.

Medals awarded to William Bligh, 1794 & 1797

Left: Royal Society of Arts Medal, 1794. Sold for AUD116,000 via Noble Numismatics (July 2011) & Right: Naval Gold Medal, 1797. Sold for AUD216,000 via Noble Numismatics (July 2011).

The medal on the left was awarded to Captain William Bligh in 1794 by the Royal Society of Arts for his heroic action during a mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty in 1789. Bligh, the ships Lieutenant, was transporting breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies but was forced off the ship by his crew. He was later appointed the governor of New South Wales in 1806. It sold for AUS$126,440 in 2019.

This Naval medal (right) was also awarded to Bligh for actions taken in command of the H.M.S. Director during the Battle of Camperdown on October 11, 1797. The battle was a major naval action fought between the Royal Navy fleet and the Dutch Navy fleet, during which the British captured eleven Dutch ships without any losses of their own. At the time, it was considered the greatest victory by a British fleet over an equal fighting force. It sold for AUS$235,440 at auction in 2019. 

The Victoria Cross

Lot 3985: A group of medals including the Victoria Cross. Sold for AUD1,002,000 via Noble Numismatics (July 2011).

The Victoria Cross is considered the premier award for gallantry in the British Commonwealth. This particular medal was awarded to Private Edward Kenna for magnificent courage and complete disregard for his own safetyduring the attack on the Wirui Mission in the South West Pacific on May 15, 1945. It fetched AUS$1,002,000 (as part of a group of ten medals) in 2011.

A Holey Dollar

Lot 1382: A Holey Dollar. Sold for AUD400,000 via Noble Numismatics (July 2015).

A coin known as the holey dollar was introduced by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1813 to alleviate the shortage of coinage in the colony of New South Wales. Macquarie directed a convicted forger named William Henshell to cut a circular piece from the center of 40,000 Spanish dollars, thus producing two coins from each. The outer ring, or the holey dollar, had a value equivalent to five shillings. It was counterstamped around the inner rim with the date and the words New South Waleson one side and its value on the other side. The coins are available at prices starting at AUS$50,000 for a heavily circulated example up to the very best examples that can fetch about AUS$500,000.

A Fifteen Pence Coin (Dump), 1813

Lot 1385: A fifteen pence coin known as a dump, 1813. Sold for AUD43,000 via Noble Numismatics (July 2015).

This is the only known example of Australias first Colonial banknote, issued on the opening day of the Bank of New South Wales in Sydney on April 8, 1817. It was signed by J. Harris and R. Jenkins, two of the seven elected directors of the bank. It was sold in 2005 for a record AUS$283,095.

A Bank of New South Wales Ten Shilling Note, 1817

Lot 2799: A ten shilling bank note, 1817. Sold for AUD280.000 via Noble Numismatics (March 2014).

This is the only known example of Australia’s first Colonial banknote, issued on the opening day of the Bank of New South Wales in Sydney on April 8, 1817. It was signed by J. Harris and R. Jenkins, two of the seven elected directors of the bank.

Tips for Collecting and Investing in Commonwealth Coins and Medals

It is vital to get to grips with the comprehensive grading scale of coins (ranging from ‘poor’ to ‘perfect uncirculated’). Whether you seek only the finest professionally graded coins or lower-condition pieces that can easily make up sets, being able to critically examine and grade coins for yourself is a valuable skill. It is also worth developing a relationship with a trusted coin dealer who specializes in your area of collecting, especially if youre on the hunt for rarer and older coins and medals.

Summary

Coins and medals from the Commonwealth hold manifold clues as to their history and particular conditions under which they were made. The older and rarer the coin or medal, and the better its condition, the more valuable it is – an interesting backstory doesn’t hurt either. These pieces don’t appear on the numismatic market very often.


To see more important and collectibles coins being offered at auction, visit Stack’s Bowers Galleries, Silver City AuctionsBig Dog Auctions, Barry S. Slosberg Inc, or explore the Coins, Money & Stamps category on Invaluable.

Also from In Good Taste:

How to Determine the Value of Rare Nickels

Valuable Coins in the US: Everything You Need to Know

 

Written by Alexis Culotta View all posts by this author →

Alexis holds a PhD in art history and has enjoyed professional roles across gallery, museum, and academic settings. Thanks to these myriad experiences, Alexis holds a wealth of knowledge across the fields of fine and decorative arts and enjoys every opportunity to share these insights along with the stories of these makers and objects with Invaluable collectors.