World Coins

Tale of two Holey dollars sold at auction in February

Australia’s Holey dollar is the most iconic piece of coinage from the land down under.

Two examples of the important artifact from early Australian history sold at auction in February, illustrating the varied tiers of the market for the famous rarity.

At least 275 (and perhaps as many as 300) examples of the stopgap coinage manufactured in 1813 from older Spanish silver “dollars” (8-real coins) of varying years are known today. The coins were counterstamped and turned into two different coins, a tangible example of the maxim “it takes money to make money.” 

The Holey dollar, valued at 5 shillings, and its complement, the round center of the coin called the “Dump,” which was valued at 15 pence, were intended to alleviate a void of coinage in the nascent British property. Australia had just been established as a penal colony 25 years before, in 1788.

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Holey dollars and dumps were demonetized in 1829. 

Comparing examples

One example of the Holey dollar sold Feb. 9 in St. James’s Auction in London, realizing a hammer price of £33,000 (about $47,739 U.S.). The buyer’s fee and taxes range from 20 to 29 percent, depending on bidder location.

This coin contrasts sharply with the Holey dollar sold Feb. 4 during Fritz Rudolph Künker’s auction No. 271, in Berlin, for a hammer price of €230,000 ($252,140 U.S.). The buyer’s fee and Value Added Tax of 20 to 23 percent applies variably depending on bidder location.

Why such an enormous spread?

The example sold in the London auction was struck on one of the more common undertype (or host) coins, an 1807 Carlos IV silver 8-real coin. 

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Only two examples are recorded as struck on coins from the Lima Mint for 1807, according to W.J.D. Mira’s 1988 work The Holey Dollars of New South Wales. However, a total of 12 coins from that year were known at the time of his census, making 1807 undertypes the sixth most common date in the whole series.

By contrast, the example sold in Berlin is one of just two struck on coins dating 1777, both issued at the Mexico City Mint for Carlos III.

Only single examples of the rarity were created on host coins of 1773 and 1757, the only dates that are earlier than the 1777 coin, according to the Mira book.

Condition matters

In addition, both the 1777 host coin and the counterstamp were graded Extremely Fine by Künker, an uncharacteristically nice condition particularly for the host, considering the time between that coin’s production in Mexico City and the Holey dollar emergency period.

St. James’s reported that the example sold in London featured “some light surface marks on host coin” but was “otherwise About Very Fine,” with the countermark grading VF. 

Simply put, the example sold in Berlin was older, rarer and in better condition than the example sold in London five days later.

Since neither option is affordable for most readers, consider the 2013 bicentennial two-coin set issued by the Perth Mint.

The coins mimic the historic Holey dollar and dump, but are struck using modern methods and on plain blanks instead of historic coins.

The two-coin set had a maximum mintage of 4,000 pieces, and sold out. Issued at about $100 U.S., the set now trades for about $120 U.S. 

The Royal Australian Mint’s three-coin set commemorating the same anniversary, including an additional silver design, retails for about $150 U.S. A base metal dollar marking the bicentennial trades for $10 or less.

All are more affordable alternatives for the Australian coin aficionado. 

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