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 Downies.com.