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The humble 5c – a potential treasure in your change!

The humble 5c – a potential treasure in your change!

The humble 5c – Australia’s lowest denomination, and a coin that now carries so little purchasing power that its very existence is the subject of debate. Indeed, most people barely use the coin at all, with examples of Stuart Devlin’s classic Echidna 5c more likely to be found in that inevitable ‘change jar’ than in the pockets of Australians. And yet that humble 5c coin may be worth a lot more than face-value. There’s good reason why you should check your change!

Not-issued-for-circulation 5c coins…

The Royal Australian Mint (RAM) strikes coinage for Australia on the basis of demand. Thus, the number struck will vary from year to year, and, indeed, in certain years, particular denominations were not struck for circulation at all. Such coins were usually struck for collector issues, however, such as the RAM’s annual Mint and Proof Sets. Issued in tiny numbers, and struck to a higher standard than normal circulation coins, these coins should never be found in change – in theory at least.

In reality, for whatever reason, they do turn up occasionally – and are well worth looking out for! The standard Echidna 5c was only issued as a collector coin in 1985 and 1986, with the former having a catalogue value of $35. Three not-issued-for-circulation commemorative types also exist – the 2017 Bananas in Pyjamas 5c, 2019 Moon Landing 5c and 2019 Mary Gillick Obverse 5c – and any would represent a very handy find!

Low mintage 5c issues…

As mentioned earlier, mintages vary from year to year, and there are low-mintage dates across all denominations that are definitely worth keeping an eye out for. As low denominations tend to have the highest mintages, there are only a couple of such dates in the 5c series.

The 1972 5c is definitely the key 5c, and that is solely attributable to the number struck. In isolation, 8.3 million is a significant number. Given that the annual average mintage of the 5c is approximately 81.6 million, however, it is actually tiny – particularly given that we are talking about a coin struck over half a century ago. The low mintage and the passage of time has ensured that the 1972 5c rarely turns up in Uncirculated condition. With the catalogue value of this date 1,300 times face value in Unc, it’s definitely worth looking for!

There are a couple of low-mintage 5c coins that are much more likely to appear in your change in Uncirculated condition. The 2016 Decimal Currency 50th Anniversary 5c – Australia’s first 5c commemorative, and one of few coins with the commemorative design on the portrait side – had a tiny mintage of just 4.8 million! A very recent issue, and definitely one for the future, the very first 5c date to carry the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Jody Clark (2019) has a mintage of just 2 million – the lowest of any 5c issued for circulation!

Variety is the spice of life!

Even if a particular date does have a high mintage, it’s worth checking every coin in your change for ‘Varieties’ – slight, or potentially major, variations in the nature of a design that may be intentional or unintentional. Some Varieties won’t be worth much, but you never know – you might be the person who discovers a new one!

There are several known 5c Varieties, including ‘High & Low Echidna’ Varieties. The position of the reverse design varies significantly, with the space between the designer’s initials and the rim of the coin easily distinguishing the types. The High & Low Echidna Varieties were used in the production of the low-mintage 1972 5c, with the Low Echidna type believed to be the scarcer of the two, but also appear in more recent times, with the 1987 High Echidna 5c and 2009 & 2012 Low Echidna 5c the key coins.

More recent 5c Varieties are the 2001 5c Large & Small Obverse types. These Varieties were created when the RAM reduced the size of the Rank-Broadley portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to counter problems experienced in production, and to increase the lifespan of the obverse die. Another interesting element of the 5c series, the coins struck between 1991 and 1994 are known in Large & Small SD Initials Varieties, with the 1993 & 1994 Large SD 5c definitely the coins to look out for.

Unique 5c Error types…

As with all Australian decimal denominations, 5c coin Errors are very rare – largely due to the RAM’s state-of-the-art equipment and rigorous quality control. Mistakes do happen, however, and occasionally get through the system and into circulation. Off-centre strikes, upset dies, split planchets, incorrect planchets, brockages – and more – Errors can be worth a lot of money, and represent a very good reason to keep a close eye on your change!

Some of the more notable – and valuable – 5c Error types are the 1966 5c Upset Die, 2007 5c Double Portrait (worth a $1,000 or more depending on the grade) and the brilliant 2016 Decimal Currency 50th Anniversary 5c Alien Variety. Caused by a ‘die-clash’, when obverse and reverse dies hit each other when no blank has been fed into the coining chamber, this rare variety looks to have alien antennae emerging from the depiction of the penny on the obverse! A remarkable, dramatic Error, the 2016 Alien 5c is worth hundreds of dollars, with some examples being offered on the net for thousands.

To illustrate that a genuine, tremendously valuable rarity could be found in any pocket – or change jar – consider the 1988 5c Cook Islands Mule. Struck at the RAM, and uniting a traditional Echidna reverse with a 1988 Cook Islands obverse, this astonishingly rare Error Mule is known by just a few examples! Could there be more out there, waiting to be discovered?!

Time to check your change!

With the RAM confirming in September 2022 that the 5c has a production cost of 12c per coin, and with this low denomination barely used in circulation, it may not be too long before we wave goodbye to the humble 5c. Thus, the time to check your change is now, before the 5c disappears from circulation altogether!