NGC Grades Important Australian “Mule”

Posted by Jay Turner, NGC Grader on 8/13/2013

With about 10 examples known, the halfpenny mule is one of the rarest and most desirable of Australian coins.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation® (NGC®) recently certified an important Australian numismatic rarity: the 1916-I Australia Halfpenny reverse muled with an India Quarter-Anna obverse.

Prior to 1916, silver and copper Australian coinage was minted in England by the London and Heaton mints. With the outbreak of World War I, however, the production shifted away from England to avoid supply line issues related to wartime necessities. Australia started to produce silver coinage in 1916 but was not equipped for production of copper coins at that time. The Calcutta Mint in India was therefore given the task of minting and supplying Australia with halfpennies and pennies. Coins previously minted in London wouldn’t carry a mintmark but pieces minted in Heaton would carry an “H” mintmark. Coins minted for Australia by Calcutta have an “I” mintmark to show that they were struck in India.

Left: Obverse of the normal Australian halfpenny,
Right: Reverse of the normal Indian Quarter-Anna
Click images to enlarge.

The Calcutta Mint was also producing copper coins for circulation in India at the time, and the Quarter-Anna coins (25.4mm) were virtually the same size as the Australian halfpenny (25.5mm). Perhaps unsurprisingly, a mistake was made by pairing the obverse die for an Indian Quarter-Anna with the reverse die for an Australian Halfpenny—an incorrect combination called a “mule” by numismatists. This error is particularly obvious since the two obverses are very different. The official Australian halfpenny obverse has the legend “GEORGIVS V D.G. BRITT: OMN: REX F. D. IND: IMP:” while the Indian Quarter-Anna has “GEORGE V KING EMPEROR”. The busts of King George are also significantly different since the Indian coins of 1916 have an elephant on the order around King George V’s chest.

It is unknown how many muled error coins were struck and released into circulation in Australia. The error was first discovered in 1965 in the Koschade Collection and published in the Adelaide Advertiser. This piece was then authenticated in 1966 by the British Museum and Spink & Sons. Soon after the first error was reported a few other examples were discovered, all in Australia and all showing significant wear – evidence that the coins entered circulation and were likely not purposely made as some had thought.

With a combination of rarity and interesting historical significance, this mule is considered to be one of the true treasures of Australian numismatics. The first example to be certified by NGC, it was submitted by dealer Strand Coins of Sydney, Australia and has been graded NGC Fine 15.

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