A Champion’s Golden Legacy: Jesse Owens’ Olympic medals go to auction

After the sale of one of Jesse Owens’ 1936 Berlin Olympics Gold Medals at auction in 2013 – where it sold for a world record price of nearly US$1.5m – two more of the champion’s 1936 Gold Medals will soon go under the hammer. An eagerly anticipated event in the field of Olympic memorabilia, the history behind these important medals is just as fascinating as the medals themselves!

In the midst of pre-WWII unrest, as the storm clouds of war gathered over Europe, Berlin played host to the 1936 Summer Olympics. Germany’s then leader, Adolf Hitler, had planned for the event to showcase what a Nazi-led society could do, to broadcast its supremacy across the globe. It was meant to be an Olympics dominated by the Aryan race, with the whole world watching in awe.

History – in the form of quadruple-gold-medal-winning African-American Jesse Owens – had other plans.

A gifted athlete whose prowess had turned heads since his teens, Owens was an Alabama-born, Cleveland-raised prodigy. He defied both pre civil rights-era racial tensions and the expectations of the host country to claim four gold medals during his time in Berlin.

In two weeks’ time, two of Owens’ four 1936 Olympic Games Gold Medals will be sold at auction. Continuing a journey that has become a fascinating story in its own right, these historically priceless medals will become some of the most coveted treasures to ever go under the hammer.

Exactly 81 years ago today, Jesse Owens made a history-defining dash to claim gold in the 100 metres final, a crowd of 110,000 cheering ecstatically. The following day came gold in the long jump, then again in the 200 metres dash, and finally as the opening runner in the victorious US 100 metres relay team.

Decades later, in the 1990s, two of Jesse Owens’ gold medals were found stashed away in a cardboard box in a closet in Pittsburgh. According to Intelligent Collector’s Hector Cantú, their owner was unaware of the medals’ inherent value.

But how did they end up there?

Between 1954 and 1955, Cantú writes, Owens took up residence at Pittsburgh’s Bailey Hotel.

Despite his prodigious talent, he had struggled to find consistent work upon his return from the Olympics. Given the social landscape at the time, it’s fair to say that, in today’s world, things would have played out differently. When it came time to settle his bill, he didn’t have the necessary funds, and so handed over three of his gold medals to the hotel owner as compensation.

The eponymous Mr Bailey didn’t hold on to them for long. Also finding himself in financial difficulty soon after, he had needed to borrow money from a friend, Louis DeVito. Once again, when the time came, rather than repay DeVito in cash, Bailey handed his friend a pawn shop ticket for the three medals, which he had just taken to be sold. DeVito reportedly collected them, gave one back to Bailey – they were friends, after all – and then kept the other two in a shoebox in his closet.

According to Intelligent Collector, just one of Owens’ 1936 Berlin Olympic Gold Medals holds an estimated value of US$500,000 today; but in 2013, it was a sum even larger than this that spurred the DeVito family – now under the guiding hand of Louis’ son, Albert – to consider putting them up for auction.

Dancer and film star Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson had coincidentally been a friend of Owens, and had been the lucky recipient of one of his four gold medals as a gift. It was as an offer by the estate of his widow that the fourth gold medal went under the hammer, selling for a cool US$1.46 million – and making it the most expensive piece of Olympic memorabilia in history.

Whilst the sale price of the two medals has been set at US$500,000 each, who knows what they might sell for? Now that a precedent has been set, when Heritage Auctions place those medals up for grabs on August 19-20, their value has already been made abundantly clear. But to dismiss their worth as purely financial would be a mistake.
When Owens lined up for that 100 metres dash on August 3rd, 1936, we can only speculate as to what was going through his head, but there’s no way he could have foretold what would lie implicit in the magnitude of his Olympic success.

The 1936 Olympics was meant to be Hitler’s Olympics. Jesse Owens singlehandedly turned that on its head. This was Jesse Owens’ Olympics.

1787 Silver Sixpence

The ONLY sixpence date struck from 1758 until the Great Recoinage of 1816, toward the end of the reign of King George III (1760-1820), the 1787 Sixpence is a fundamental element of Australia’s currency history. Why? Because the 1787 Sixpence was an utterly crucial coin in Australia’s colonial economy in the earliest days after European Settlement in 1788.

Not only tremendously important in the context of Australian numismatic heritage, the 1787 Sixpence is a key element of British numismatics as well. In large part, the fascination with and pursuit of this key date is because it is one of very few coinage issues struck in silver during the reign of King George III.

The second half of the 18th century was defined by a severe shortage of precious silver. The Seven Years War – and general turmoil in Europe – had seen the flow of silver from the Continent to Britain dry up, whilst the silver mines in the south west of England had been exhausted. The dramatic reduction in supply ensured the price of silver soared, and the Royal Mint faced a tricky situation.

The size of Britain’s silver coins could not be reduced, as they were already tiny, and the Mint likewise knew that the public would never accept the debasement of the coinage. Consequently, it took the easiest possible option – strike no silver coins at all! Apart from a small number of shillings struck specifically for use in Ireland, it was only in 1787 that silver coins were struck for circulation, with £50,000 worth of shillings and sixpences issued.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was one of few silver issues, and that Britain was desperate for lower denominations to facilitate everyday transactions, a significant number of the 1787 Sixpence made the 12,000-mile journey from Britain to its new colonial possession. Although it was not included in the Currency Proclamation of 1800 – Australia’s first official currency system, created in an attempt to regulate the values of the wild mix of foreign currencies circulating after Settlement – this key coin circulated extensively in Australia in the 1790s and early 1800s.

Highly sought after due to the huge historical significance to both Australia and Great Britain, the 1787 Sixpence is also hotly pursued for its great beauty. Distinguished by a distinctive, regal portrait of King George III, this eye-catching 18th century silver coin is also lauded for the magnificence of the armorial reverse. Interestingly, it carries the Hanoverian Arms – seen only on British coins from 1714 until 1837, during the reigns of the four Hanover kings.

Uniting history, beauty and importance in equal part, the 1787 Sixpence is part of the bedrock upon which Australian numismatics was built.

If you are interested in this important 18th century coin, or other foreign coins that circulated in Australia during the early days after European Settlement in 1788, check out

Hidden Messages, Secret Codes, German Spies … Or Just Resourceful Internees? Part 2

Hidden Codes Revealed

During the chaos of WWII, the town of Hay in NSW played host to thousands of internees. These included the civilian refugees placed in the now-infamous Camp Seven, who developed their own ingenious internal currency system now prized by collectors today. But was there more to the story behind these banknotes? In Part 2 of his series, Matthew Thompson explores this premise.

In addition to the ‘Liverpool to Hay’ and ‘barbed wire’ features in the Camp Seven Banknotes, there was another theory on the design of these notes that piqued my interest: the idea that Telscher had hidden secret micro printed messages within the inner border, and possibly in some of the lettering of the notes.

Internment Bank Note Features Several features of the Hay Internment Bank Notes have sparked much discussion. (Figure 1)

Upon learning of this idea, I immediately put several high quality examples currently held by Downies under the microscope for closer inspection. I was disappointed to discover nothing more than aged ink. However, after several minutes I was sure that I had begun to see some obscure characters that were possibly resembling numbers or letters – although I’m sure that if you spend long enough staring at any arrangement of shapes and colour, your mind will be able to come up with some fantastic theories on what you are viewing!

Magnified Section of Hay Internment Camp Note Magnified Section of the note from the top right-hand corner (Figure 1, C)

Magnified Section of Hay Internment Camp Note Magnified section featuring the letter 'S' (Figure 1, C)

It has also been suggested that the serial numbers on each note corresponded with an internee’s registration number. I’m unsure as to how this could have been achieved, given the fact that each denomination featured a different range in serial numbers.

The 25 sheep that appear on the reverse of the notes each have names placed within the lining of the wool. One theory suggested each name belonged to a Hut Leader. However, I also learned that each hut typically housed 28 Internees. If Camp 7 was home to 1,008 Internees there would have been approximately 36 huts. This leads me to believe another theory: that the names appearing in the sheep are most likely a combination of friends of Telscher, and other highly regarded internees.

Reverse of Banknote Featuring Sheep The 25 sheep in the reverse design have names placed within the wool. (Figure 2)

A close up of one of the sheep reveals the name of famous sculptor/artist Erwin ‘Teddy’ Fabian written in the fleece. Fabian resided in Hut 26 along with Telscher. He is also still actively exhibiting his works at age 102!

Teddy Fabian name in Fleece The name of Ernest 'Teddy' Fabian has been inscribed in this sheep's fleece.


I have observed the following serial numbers and suspect that notes were produced within these ranges. However, it’s plausible that an unknown quantity may have been disposed of or destroyed due to printing errors and quality standards not being met.

C 39136 – C 41984
(Potentially 2,848 Notes)

One Shilling
D 20317 – D 22883
(Potentially 2,526 Notes)

Two Shilling
E 39047 – E40699
(Potentially 1,652 Notes)

By September of 1941, these notes came onto the radar of the Australian Government, who deemed them to be in direct contravention of Australian law. The primary justification for the notes’ forcible withdrawal was their potential to be mistaken for genuine circulating currency outside of the camp. An order was made for the withdrawal and cancellation (via rubber stamp) of the notes, as well as the confiscation of the printing plates. It is now clear that several notes were souvenired by both internees and, quite possibly, the Army representatives who were responsible for their disposal. Despite this, these notes are incredibly scarce and are rarely available in higher grades with only a few examples from each denomination having been sighted.

Even if Telscher was ambitious enough to include hidden micro text in his notes, what purpose would it serve? After all, these notes were only ever intended for internal circulation.

However, I haven’t completely dismissed the idea that there may be aspects of these notes that have not been documented – and that’s one of the many reasons I continue to be fascinated by these notes which, despite only being in circulation for less than 6 months in a small community, continue to be sought after by collectors, over 75 years after their withdrawal.

Key Personnel involved:

Geroge A Teltscher – Designer
Richard Stahl – Bank Manager (Signatory on all notes)
Hermann M Robinow – Bank Clerk (Signatory)
W Epstein – Bank Clerk (Signatory)
M. Mendel – Unconfirmed (Possibly another Bank Clerk) (Signatory)
Andreas Eppenstein (Name printed in fleece of sheep on Obverse) – Camp Leader

Eppenstein in fleece of Sheep Above: 'Eppenstein' in the fleece of the sheep. (Figure 1, D)

For more information on Hay Internment Notes, including the examples featured in our Notable Notes Catalogue now online, don't hesitate to be in touch.

Hidden Messages, Secret Codes, German Spies … Or Just Resourceful Internees? Part 1

WWII was a well-documented and chaotic point in world history. Among the many stories to arise from that time, a perhaps lesser-known - but unique episode of European and Australian significance took place close to home, right here on Australian soil. In New South Wales – in the town of Hay, to be exact – the town’s Internment Camp Seven played host to civilian refugees. Over two installments, the following article contributed by Downies member of staff, Matthew Thompson, explores the numismatic mystery surrounding this significant page in our history books.

Part 1 - Ingenious Internal Currency

Many collectors are familiar with the tokens of “Camp Seven”.

Hay Interment Camp 7 Tokens Above: Complete set of Camp 7 Tokens: (left to right) 2/-, 1d, 1/- and 5/- (Obverse and Reverse).

However, prior to these Government-issued tokens, the Internees of Hay’s infamous Camp Seven were freely exchanging their own private and unique form of currency in the form of “Hay Internment Banknotes”.

A complete collection of Camp Seven Notes consists of three denominations: a blue Sixpence (A), a green Shilling (B), and finally, a red Two Shilling note. (C)

WWII Hay Internment Camp Sixpence Note A. Sixpence Note

WWII Hay Internment Camp One Shilling Note B. One Shilling Note

WWII Hay Internment Camp Two Shilling Note C. Two Shilling Note

Designed by George Telscher (an historic customer of Downies) to facilitate a more sophisticated method of trade within the confines of the Internment Camp, the banknotes of Hay are a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of internees with limited supplies and assistance.

These notes replaced the small chits, pictured below, of which fewer than twenty examples are currently held in private collections.

3d Camp Seven Chit 3d chit, signed by Richard Stahl (Bank Manager)

WWII 1d Hay Internment Camp Miltary Chit 1d chit

The Camp Seven Banknotes contain several features which have been the cause of much discussion.

WWII Hay Internment Camp Note Features Above: Several features of the notes have sparked discussion. (Figure 1.)

Firstly, layered carefully within the barbed wire running along the centre of the note, the words “HMT Dunera Liverpool to Hay” appear. The HMT (Hired Military Transport) Dunera was the ship on which 2,542 internees made the horrendous journey on from Liverpool, England. Approximately one fifth of the internees were dropped off in Melbourne with the remainder bound for New South Wales, where they would be divided into Camps 7 and 8.

'HMT Dunera' inscription, Hay Internment Camp Banknote “HMT Dunera” (Figure 1, B)

Liverpool to Hay WWII Internment Banknote “Liverpool to Hay” (B)

Next, there’s the barbed wire border on each note, which features the phrase “we are here because we are here” repeatedly.

'We are here because' inscription in Hay Internment Note design "We are here because” (A)

Camp 7 was filled primarily with members of the Jewish community, some of whom had managed to evade a grim fate in concentration camps. They were going about their daily lives before being shipped over to Australia, as it was suspected that they were potentially German Spies working for Hitler. As a member of a race being targeted by Hitler, being wrongfully accused of being a German Spy would have evoked a number of poignant responses, but this text seems to be a subtle and poetic nod to the nonsensical injustice that was taking place.

Intrigued? Matthew’s journey of discovery continues in part 2 of this series, out tomorrow – stay tuned!

Diana, Princess of Wales: a tribute

2017 $1 Diana Princess of Wales 20g Silver ProofShe was a philanthropist, a patron, and in many ways, a trailblazer. She was adored by many and admired across the globe. She also happened to be a Princess.

It’s almost impossible to encapsulate the legacy of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. As 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of her tragic death, Downies is proud to present a celebration of her extraordinary life: the 2017 $1 Diana Princess of Wales Silver Proof.

When a life is lived with such vibrancy, it’s difficult to capture in monochrome. This, ostensibly, is why the designers of this coin have opted for a full-colour depiction of the late Princess upon the reverse. Her expression is one of poise, with an almost Mona Lisa-esque hint of a smile. Her rich, emerald-hued gown, pearlescent drop earrings and sparkling crown complete the image with photorealistic detail.

The then Diana Spencer began her life in 1961. She was the third of four children to Lord and Lady Althorp, the Royal Family’s next-door-neighbours. Her subsequent adulthood and Royal Duties would see her become involved with scores of charities. She would quickly win the hearts of the general public, both in the United Kingdom and abroad. She would amaze commentators with her dedication to the causes to which she pledged her support. She refused to be just a name, and so somewhat ironically would earn a new one: the moniker of ‘England’s Rose’.

Inspired by public perception of the late Princess, the reverse design of this splendid tribute features the rose as a motif. It forms a border across the lower edge of the imposing 40mm flan, and is intertwined with a ‘D’ at top left. A rare coin for a rare example of humanity, the mintage is a deliberate – but meagre – 1,961.

While it’s impossible to encapsulate fully in any work of art, we feel that this tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales goes some way to celebrate her beauty – both inside and out. We hope you agree.

For a closer look at this Royal Commemorative – and others – head to

1966 Wavy Baseline 20c

Struck at the Royal Mint in London just over five decades ago, as Great Britain assisted Australia in the lead-up to decimalisation, the 1966 ‘Wavy Baseline’ 20c is one of the rarest decimal coins issued into circulation in Australia. Defined by – as the name suggests – a distinct undulation in the baseline of the ‘2’ in the denomination (refer the right image below), this key type is among the most famous of Australian decimal Varieties.

1966 Wavy Baseline vs Standard Coin

1966 Standard 20c vs 1966 'Wavy Baseline' 20c

The most momentous landmark in the history of Australian currency, the changeover to decimal currency was an enormous logistical task. Quite literally, millions and millions of new coins were required for distribution on ‘C-Day’ – ‘Currency Day’, February 14, 1966 – to replace the coins that had served the nation so well since 1910.

Such was the magnitude of the task, the Perth Mint and the Melbourne Mint were joined by Australia’s then new Royal Australian Mint – created specifically to facilitate the production of the nation’s new decimal currency. To guarantee that enough coins were ready to go, the Royal Mint in London was also recruited to help.

Britain had played a key role in Australian currency production before, of course, striking all Australian coins from 1910 to 1915, as well as many of the coins for the George VI 1951 issue. Never before had the Royal Mint been required to strike such a huge amount of coins for circulation in Australia as it was asked to do in 1966.

Whilst the Perth Mint and Melbourne Mint struck copper 1c and 2c coins, the Royal Mint in London was recruited to help the RAM strike the cupro-nickel 5c, 10c and 20c coins. Thirty million examples of each denomination were struck in London, and among the thirty million 20c coins would ultimately be found the 1966 ‘Wavy Baseline’ 20c type.

Probably caused by a simple and slight variation in the production of some of the dies, the 1966 ‘Wavy Baseline’ 20c is distinguished by the obvious upward curve on the top of the baseline in the ‘2’. Not only very distinctive, the 1966 ‘Wavy Baseline’ 20c is extremely scarce. Although it is unknown exactly how many coins from the mintage are of this unique Australian Variety, there is no question that the 1966 ‘Wavy Baseline’ 20c is very scarce, regardless of the grade. A highly sought after Australian decimal variety, this coin fetches prices in excess of $4,000 on the rare occasions it is offered in Uncirculated condition.

If you are interested in securing this important Australian coin type – or, indeed, any other decimal Variety or rarity – then by all means contact Downies.

History of Sydney Harbour Bridge in numbers!

final2_SHB1,400 – the number of men it took to construct the Bridge

8 – the numbers of years it took to build the Bridge

122,000 – the cubic metres of rock excavated for the foundations

6,000,000 & 53,000 – hand-driven rivets and tonnes of steel used in construction respectively

272,000 – the litres of paint required for the initial three coats!

96 – the number of locomotives positioned in various ways to test the load capacity of the Bridge before declared safe

£6.25m – the cost of the construction. The equivalent of A$492,250,000 today, it took 56 years for this amount to be paid off!

1,149m – the length of the Bridge, making it the sixth longest long-span bridge in the world

134m – the height of the Bridge from the top of the arch to the water level, making it the tallest long-span bridge in the world

48.8m – the width of the Bridge – the widest steel span arch bridge until 2012

11,000 & 160,000 – the approximate average daily traffic in 1932 and 2017

85 – the number of years since officially opened on March 19, 1932

Today, the Bridge stands as one of Australia’s foremost landmarks – an instantly recognised symbol of our nation. To mark the 85th anniversary of this iconic structure on March 19, new Gold & Silver Proofs have been issued!

Gold & Silver Proof

To know more or to place an order please CLICK HERE.

New and exciting range of historical Ancient Greek & Roman Coin Books available now at our Downies Southgate store

Downies Southgate Melbourne Store has just received a new and wide range of Ancient Greek and Roman Coin and Historical Books in-store - all at competitive prices! The range of these books covers the entire period of Ancient Greek and Roman History from Alexander the Great through to the last emperors of the Roman Empire. These books are written by well-known world experts in the field including:

  • David Sears: Royal Coins and their values
  • Wayne G Sayles: Ancient Coin Collecting
  • David L. Vagi: Coinage and History of the Roman Empire
  • William E. Metcalf: The Oxford handbook of Greek & Roman Coinage

To compliment the books, Downies Southgate has a good range of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins in stock, and is currently giving customers a 10% discount on each coin purchased.

Ancient Coin Book Display

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced collector, Downies Southgate can help you with building up your interest, enjoyment and knowledge with Ancient Greek and Roman Books in-store now.

Downies Southgate Store is open 6 days a week
Monday to Thursday 9.30am – 5pm
Friday 9.30am – 6pm
Saturday 10am – 3.30pm

New and exciting range of historical Ancient Greek & Roman Coin Books available now at our Downies Southgate store

Downies Southgate Melbourne Store has just received a new and wide range of Ancient Greek and Roman Coin and Historical Books in-store - all at competitive prices! The range of these books covers the entire period of Ancient Greek and Roman History from Alexander the Great through to the last emperors of the Roman Empire.

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