Downies News

85 years in the biz, and other rarities

It’s a rare family business that grows from strength to strength over a course of 85 years – and at Downies Coins, it’s something we’re incredibly thankful for. So last week, we took an equally rare opportunity to stop, reflect and celebrate.

Joined by some of our customers in the Southgate store, we were particularly honoured to play host to a very special guest - the CEO of the Royal Australian Mint, Ross MacDiarmid - and of course, some exclusive treasures, both old and new.

Nugget

The star of the evening was this rather imposing 2kg Gold Nugget above, who goes by the moniker ‘Smooth Rider.’ ‘Rare’ doesn’t come anywhere near fully describing the incredible luck surrounding its discovery – but more on that later.

2017 $100 Celestial Dome Series Northern Sky 1oz Gold Proof

On the subject of attendees, it was with tremendous excitement that we were able to welcome the inimitable Ross MacDiarmid from the Royal Australian Mint to personally introduce the ‘concave/convex’ 1oz gold proof that will, no doubt, go on to be a popular numismatic piece this year.

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Royal Australian Mint CEO Ross MacDiarmid introduces the ‘Northern Sky’ 1oz Gold Proof.

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The event also created a rare opportunity for MacDiarmid to meet some Downies customers face-to-face – and, of course, catch up on lost time!

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Ross MacDiarmid receives a gift from Downies Managing Director, Ken Downie.

With our Rarities catalogue launch just around the corner, the stage was set for customers to admire a selection of key Australian rare coins, banknotes and more from days gone by. A huge congratulations to our lucky door prize winner, who was able to leave with a fittingly striking memento of his evening!

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The Rider’s Return

When it comes to luck, the story of a gent named ‘Big Nolan’ comes to mind.

It was February 26th, 1939. Nolan was driving home, forging a journey down a deserted road near Victoria’s Canadian Gully, when his car ran off the road. As the story goes:

Since he wasn't completely sober, it took Nolan a while to dig out his tyres, which were partially buried in some rocks and sand. Using a tyre iron, he not only freed the tyres but also discovered this 78.39 ounce nugget about 8 inches down. Big Nolan took his time getting back on the road, being careful not to get stuck again. His ride back to town was so much better that he called the nugget ‘Smooth Rider.’

‘Smooth Rider’ was kept in Nolan’s family until quite recently, when it was brought from Australia to the United States for sale.

But thanks to the hard work of Ken Downie, it’s home again.

Day 5 - 'Rest' Day

Editor’s note: Kath Downie shares more of her 2017 Kidney Kar Rally adventures in her blog post below!

Today is our rest day, an essential part of any rally! Typically, we use the spare day to make any minor repairs to our Kar, do a bit of sightseeing and, of course, try and get a bit of rest.

Being in Broken Hill, today's rest day meant an obligatory trip out to nearby Silverton to visit the Mad Max Museum.

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Given the fact that Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was filmed out here, it was the perfect place to take a behind-the-scenes look at the 1981 hit.

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There was plenty to see!

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We then went to the beautiful lookout at Mundi Mundi. Looks like you could drive off the edge of Australia!

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Back in Broken Hill, the Geocentre Museum also provided plenty to look at, including the famous Silver Tree.

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And in continuing with the theme of 'silver,' we capped the day off with the Rally's 'Silver City'-themed dress-up night. (Many thanks to the very talented David Bowler!)

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There wasn't much rest to be had, but rest assured, it was a sensational day!

Day 5 - 'Rest' Day

Today is our rest day, an essential part of any rally! Typically, we use the spare day to make any minor repairs to our Kar, do a bit of sightseeing and, of course, try and get a bit of rest.

Being in Broken Hill, today's rest day meant an obligatory trip out to nearby Silverton to visit the Mad Max Museum.

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Day 4 – Tibooburra to Broken Hill

Editor’s note: Kath Downie shares more of her 2017 Kidney Kar Rally adventures in her blog post below!

We woke up early enough to catch the sunrise, and weren’t disappointed!

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Yesterday was a great day, but not without its challenges! We finished 18th for the day (1 early, 1 early, 2 early, 3 early). A sneaky secret control on the last stage caught most of us, so most people were early on that one! Yesterday's results left us sitting at 17th overall.

We left Tibooburra early this morning headed for Broken Hill. Two class 3 stages to start with before lunch in Packsaddle (yes we were only just here it seems). 2 stages down, 2 to go!

The treat for today was 53 gates to open and close! By lunch we were 32 down, 21 to go. Navigators hate gates, they are the ones who have to get in and out of the car at each one. The drivers just sit and wait...! Good if you can arrange to have a car close in front and another close behind - they can open and close and you just cruise through!

The afternoon brought us a little drama as we managed to shred a tyre which was changed with such lightening speed by our friends from the Tumut Transplant Team that we don't think we actually lost much time on the stage. Trying to change a tyre in red sand in high winds was quite the challenge indeed. Other than that we have a couple of other minor car issues we will try to get sorted tomorrow which is our much needed rest day!

And the bestest surprise ever:

My children and grandchildren drove all the way up from Melbourne to surprise me - I was overwhelmed to say the least.

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Day 3 - To Tibooburra

Editor’s note: Kath Downie shares more of her 2017 Kidney Kar Rally adventures in her blog post below!

We always forget how exhausting the rally is!

Ken was looking a little tired this morning. IMG_4830

But, as heralded by a spectacular White Cliffs sunrise, we had another big day ahead of us.

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Above: Sunrise at White Cliffs – breathtaking!

A bolstering – albeit chilly - outdoor brekkie at the White Cliffs Pub was all we needed to kick ourselves into gear.

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A few good hours of driving later, we stopped for lunch in Milparinka. The weather was a balmy 30 degrees – a bit of a change from the shivery Melbourne winter days we’ve become used to!

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A jaunt along the rust-coloured (and spectacularly dusty) Silver City Highway would take us to Tibooburra, our final check point of the day.

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Above: just a bit of dust on the inside of our Kar!

Everyone agrees we have never seen quite so much roadkill as we have on this rally. The first couple of days we were dodging large roo carcasses which added to the challenge for the drivers! But we have also seen a large number of live animals - lots of goats, kangaroos, emus, cows, sheep and frilled neck lizards.

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The landscape seems so bare and bereft of any greenery, yet they all survive (unless hit by a car or truck). Some farmers actually thanked us for forcing the Roos to move away from their properties as we all zoomed through!

What an amazing country we live in!

We finally made it to our check point…IMG_4838

…and our day was bookended by a spectacular sunset, Tibooburra-style.

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Days 1 and 2 - Condobolin, Cobar, Tilpa and White Cliffs

Editor’s note: Kath Downie shares more of her 2017 Kidney Kar Rally adventures in her blog post below!

Saturday proved to be a great start for us, as we managed to get through our first three stages unscathed. The reward? A lunch stop at Condobolin.

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The final stage for Day 1 was by far the longest. There was a lot of jostling for place among the Kars, with some truly spectacular driving taking place – and a lot of dust!

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Above: Coming up on another car and then being overtaken by another...

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Fields of canola brightened the final leg of the day, as we settled in to Cobar for the night.

If the temperature gauge on the Subaru was to be any indication, Sunday was all set to be a day of extremes – and it delivered.
IMG_4820Above: a cold start in Cobar!

From the extremely flat, arid terrain out near Tilpa…

IMG_4822...to our extremely unique accommodation in White Cliffs!

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Now at the end of day 2, we are at equal 11th, so pretty pleased. In the 4 stages yesterday we managed to lose only 5 points.

Today we have completed another 4 stages - the first one was a doozy! A class 5 that took its toll on a few cars and has left us with what looks like a rock in one of our brake drums. This little Subaru has certainly taken a beating over the 4 previous rallies and this one makes 5 - a lot to ask of any car, but hopefully she will get us through to the end!

Dinner tonight is outside at the local pub and while it may be a little chilly, it'll be nothing compared to the minus 1 when we left Cobar this morning!

2017 Kidney Kar Rally - Griffith

Editor's note: Straight from the front seat of the Downies 'Kar', Navigator Kath Downie will be keeping us updated on all the thrills and spills she and Driver Ken face while participating in the 2017 Kidney Kar Rally. Here's her first entry!

We’ve made it to Griffith, the starting point of this year’s rally!

First on the list today was compulsory scrutineering of our Kar. Always held the day before the rally officially starts, scrutineering allows the paramedics to check our first aid kits to make sure they are current, and the scrutineer to check all our safety equipment to make sure we are properly equipped to handle any misadventures that may befall us during the course of the rally.

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Then, following a street parade through Griffith, we had the essential briefings for drivers and navigators.

Above: The 'bible' - everything you need to know during the entire rally is here!

We also had the opportunity to visit the kids at Griffith Public School, who loved meeting Billy the Kidney and checking out the rally cars!

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As day turned to evening, it was time for the official start dinner. It’s an important event, and always an exciting one for us, as we get to find out how well we have done in the fundraising!

These guys below from the Artline Team have once again achieved an amazing fundraising total to take out the Jodie Lanyon Memorial Trophy for the highest fundraising total of more than $47000.

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We are once again thrilled to have been placed 4th in the fundraising total with over $23000! Thank you so much to all our sponsors once again!

During the dinner, this man – an absolute legend - gave one of the most moving speeches to the entire rally group tonight. His daughter Beccky passed away as a result of the anti-rejection medication she was taking following her second kidney transplant. Congratulations Paul Johns - you held it together and there wasn't a dry eye in the house!

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Tomorrow is Day 1, so stay tuned - fingers crossed we have more thrills than spills to report!

A Magical Tribute: A Childhood favourite immortalised in stunning legal tender.

When Hush the possum wants to be made invisible, she turns to bush magic veteran Grandma Poss for help. But making Hush visible again proves easier said than done…

First published in 1983, Possum Magic is equal parts children’s book and literary phenomenon. Millions have been sold. Multiple generations of kids have been soothed to sleep with this bedtime favourite across three decades. It’s been set to orchestral music and performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; it’s been turned into a musical. And now, it is receiving a groundbreaking tribute of a different kind: Australian legal tender.

Getting what was to become Australia’s top-selling children’s book off the ground wasn’t easy, notes author Mem Fox. Her original manuscript, which she had penned as a Children’s Literature student, was rejected by publishers nine times over a five-year period. Initially titled Hush the Invisible Mouse, it wasn’t until the tenth publisher, Adelaide’s Omnibus Books, finally agreed to take on the project, on the condition that Fox make some significant changes – one of which, to change the animal to something more Australian. Fox chose Possums, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In a highly-anticipated moment, the Royal Australian Mint is set to release the stunning ‘2017 Possum Magic 8-Coin Set’ on Tuesday, 15th of August, to coincide with Children’s Book Council of Australia - Children’s Book Week 2017. The set will feature original designs, including a brand-new 1c design by Possum Magic illustrator, Julie Vivas. If one thing’s for certain, it’s that just like Hush, these coins will disappear in an instant.

For more information on this exciting upcoming release, visit Downies.com.

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 Downies.com.

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