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National Museum acquires rare colonial ‘Holey dollar’

14 December 2011

The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has acquired a rare 1813 New South Wales ‘Holey dollar’ – the first currency minted in Australia.

In the early days of New South Wales, the colony faced a shortage of currency and in 1812 Governor Lachlan Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish dollars, called ‘pieces of eight’, and had William Hensell, a convicted forger, cut the centre out of each coin.

The outer ring became known as a ‘Holey dollar’ and the centre was called a dump. Governor Macquarie set their value at five shillings for the Holey dollar and 15 pence for the dump. The coins went into circulation in 1814 and, in doing so, Macquarie created the first currency minted in Australia.

“Holey dollars speak eloquently of the creative and improvisatory attempts to create an orderly administration in colonial Australia. The holey dollar we have acquired for the National Museum is a finely preserved example of this iconic object from the era of Macquarie,” said Andrew Sayers, Director of the National Museum of Australia.

The Holey dollars were recalled from 1822 and replaced with sterling coinage. By 1829 most of the 40,000 coins in circulation had been exchanged for legal tender. The coins were then melted down into bullion. Experts estimate that around 300 Holey dollars and just over 1,000 dumps remain in circulation today.

 The National Museum of Australia acquired the Holey dollar at auction for a total price, including auction house commission and GST, of $129,315.

The Holey dollar will go on display in the National Museum’s Landmarks gallery along with other items recalling Governor Macquarie’s remarkable career including his sword and dirk – a short dagger – and a rose mahogany worktable.

For interviews and more information please contact Dennis Grant on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481; Caroline Vero on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au