British entrepreneur William J. Taylor’s failed effort at establishing a private mint in the 1850s in Australia ultimately led to the creation of a series of Australian rarities collectively called the Kangaroo Office patterns.
A lesser known ancillary to that stalled series are the tokens that Taylor made for the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition. An example of a halfpenny token offered in Numismatik Lanz’s June 6 auction recalls the troubled trajectory of Taylor’s private minting business.
In 1851, when Taylor learned of an unmet need for circulating gold coinage in the nascent Australian settlement of Port Philip (Melbourne), he set out to establish a private mint there, sending a man and machinery to Australia while he stayed in England.
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Taylor’s private minting operation, which would create at least some of the famous Kangaroo Office patterns, proved unnecessary, however. By the time Taylor’s ship Kangaroo arrived at Port Phillip in the fall of 1853 carrying his minting equipment, the demand for gold coinage had been mostly met.
During the six months workers spent disassembling the machinery on board the ship and reassembling it on land, the gold coinage shortage was further abated. Taylor then explored the possibility of striking a copper coinage but that effort, too, was unsuccessful.
Taylor could not be deterred, however, and about 1855 he commissioned dies to strike silver shilling and sixpence coins. Patterns of these pieces were made in Birmingham, England, in various metals, including gold, with reeded edges, but Taylor could not convince government officials to give the project a green light, so “the whole affair collapsed,” according to Arthur Andrews, in Australasian Tokens and Coins, which was published in 1921.
Taylor’s efforts to recoup some of his losses also included the halfpenny tokens for the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition, which was the first major exhibition organized in Melbourne. It’s purpose was to bring together goods suitable for exhibition at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855. The Melbourne Exhibition opened on Oct. 17, 1854, and ran until Dec. 12, 1854.
Taylor made two different styles of halfpenny tokens for the exhibition, both sharing a common obverse depicting a kangaroo.
The reverse of both shows a seated figure of Liberty, but with different legends. One indicates AUSTRALIA, while the other (the type in the Lanz auction) reads UNITED STATES.
The World’s Show: Coincraft’s Catalogue of Crystal Palace Medals and Tokens, by Leslie Lewis Allen, indicates the latter inscription referred to a united Australia, not America, but Collecting Australian Coins, by Tom Hanley and Bill James, points out that Taylor muled the Kangaroo token die with a reverse die of a 1783 Washington Portrait token from the United States. (The Washington piece is illustrated in A Guide Book of United States Coinage by R.S. Yeoman).