The Rise and Fall Of Australia's Silver 50 Cent Coins

The Rise and Fall Of Australia's Silver 50 Cent Coins

Is there a special woman in your life? Perhaps there's a significant birthday or anniversary coming up? Or are you searching for unique and perfect gifts for women of all ages? A special person deserves a special gift, and Australia's round, silver 50 cent coins, elegantly housed in sterling silver frames, capture a moment in time and yet are timeless in their appeal.  

What is special about silver 50 cent coins?

When Australia officially changed over to decimal currency on 14 February 1966, one coin stood out from the rest.

Most of the new decimal coins were made predominantly from copper, but the 50 cent piece was 80% silver and 20% copper. Although most of the world had phased out silver coinage, the decision to use silver was about making the coin 'special'. It was also the highest denomination coin and, by 1966 standards, it had considerable buying power. It was meant to give people something of value, and maintain a link with the silver-based pre-decimal coins – threepences, sixpences, shillings and florins (2 shilling pieces).

The coin was also a 'first' in a way that was particularly relevant to South Australia. A version of the Australian coat of arms, which appeared on pre-decimal coins, featured the six State emblems. Before 1966, South Australia had been represented by three stalks of wheat under a rising sun. Now, for the first time, a coin depicted its authorised emblem: the white backed magpie (often referred to incorrectly as the piping shrike).

The silver 50 cent coins were also different in that they didn't correspond in value with any of the pre-decimal coins. They were worth five shillings in the 'old money', but Australia never had a regular 5 shilling piece (a 'crown'); the only official one had been a special commemorative crown issued in 1937, to mark the coronation of King George Vl.

Silver 50 cent coins – Australia's shortest-lived coins

The problems with the 'special' silver 50 cent coins became evident almost immediately.

People found it harder to get used to them. The coin was very similar in size to the 20 cent piece, but because it was 2½ times the value, there were concerns about potentially losing 30 cents in transactions. But that was only part of the story.

In less than a year after the changeover to decimal currency, the world price of silver went up sharply. The metal value of the silver 50 cent coins, each of which contained approximately one third of an ounce of silver, soared above the face value.

It was sometimes said that the rising price of silver had meant a financial loss for the Government, but, according to the Australian Mint, that wasn't true. The metal had been purchased before the market spiked. The Mint had already produced 36 million pieces, however, and clearly it would not be economically viable to make more.

People had also begun to hoard the coins. There were stories of large numbers being traded, and even melted down for their silver content.

And so, for all these reasons, even before the total number had been circulated, the decision was made to cease production of the circular silver 50 cent coin.

Its replacement was the twelve-sided design we all recognise – totally distinguishable from the 20 cent coin, and slightly larger and heavier. The rest, as they say, is history.

Perfect gifts for women who want a unique piece of history

There are almost certainly people who still hoard silver 50 cent coins – squirrelling them away for the unlikely day when the silver market rockets to unimaginable heights.

But a beautiful coin – especially a one-year issue that was part of a significant moment in Australia's history – has a value that isn't really about cash.

If you are looking for perfect gifts for women (or men) in your life, or a special treat for yourself, Vintage Spirit has sparkling silver 50 cent coins perfectly framed in sterling silver bezels – as pendants ready to hang on a silver chain, or attached to a quality sterling silver keychain.

It's beauty that should be enjoyed, and just part of our collection of handcrafted coin creations available at Vintage Spirit.

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