Written by: Max Spiegel
The 1852-Dated Adelaide Gold 5 Pound, graded MS 66 by NGC, will be featured in a London auction in March and is expected to set a new world record price for an Australian coin. It is one of only seven surviving examples and one of just two in private hands.
The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California in 1848 prompted some Australians to travel to California to prospect. When they returned to Australia, many continued to search for gold, hoping to find deposits locally. In 1851, gold was discovered in abundance in the South Australian state of Victoria, prompting the first South Australian Gold Rush.
At the time, Australia was facing an economic crisis due to the lack of coinage in the country. The circulation coinage consisted entirely of coins minted outside of Australia and imported into the country. This limited supply of coinage was further depleted as people left their homes to search for gold, bringing their money with them. As a result, the South Australian economy came to a standstill.
With the urgent need for coinage, the South Australian Legislation passed the Bullion Act in 1852, which authorized the Government Assay Office to strike ingots in denominations of one pound and five pounds that could circulate as coins. Only 24,768 of the 1852 Adelaide Pound were minted and most were later melted when Great Britain supplied Australia with additional coins. Today it is believed that around 250 of the 1852 Adelaide Pounds survived the melting pot.
Although none were struck, the original dies for the 1852 Adelaide 5 Pound survived and in 1921 the Melbourne Mint borrowed them to strike examples for museums and collectors. Twelve 1852-Dated Adelaide 5 Pound coins were struck in gold using the original 1852 dies and two examples were struck in silver although neither is known in private hands. In 1929, five of the gold pieces were melted after failing to be bought by collectors for as little as the gold value, which at the time was 10 pounds. Of the seven examples of the 1852-dated Adelaide 5 Pound Restrikes that still exist, five are currently in museums or public collections.
With only two examples available to collectors, this issue is one of the great rarities of Australian numismatics. Its sale in March will be the first public appearance of an Adelaide 5 Pound outside of Australia since the Sotheby's sale of this coin in 1971. With an estimate of $650,000 to $700,000, this NGC MS 66 specimen will likely become the most valuable Australian coin ever sold.