Oxfam volunteer discovers rare coin

Oxfam volunteer and coin enthusiast John Turner was looking through a bag of coins donated to Oxfam’s shop in Orpington ( southeast of London, England) when he spotted what he thought could be a rare coin. It was taken to Noonans Mayfair for a second opinion, where it was confirmed that it was an Australian New South Wales Fifteen Pence or Dump dating from 1813. It is estimated to fetch £5,000-7,000 (about $8,500 to $12,000 Cdn.) and will be offered in a two-day Coins and Historical Medals sale on Feb. 6- 7, 2024.

In his mid-70s, Turner has volunteered for Oxfam for the past 10 years since he retired from banking. He lives in the Bromley area and is based at his local Bromley shop in South East London; however, he regularly visits eight-nine shops in South London.

He explained: “I started collecting British coins when I was a teenager (some time ago now!) and more latterly also British Empire money, so I had some knowledge to build on, but I have learned a lot from volunteering!”

He added: “In April 2023, I was invited to sort some donations of loose material in bags at the Orpington shop. On a cursory examination, these were largely what I would describe as ‘holiday money,’ with some but little or no collectable value. Having sorted the ‘easy’ items into various categories and priced a few items requiring some look-up, I was left with a small silver-grey coloured item I had never seen before, inscribed New South Wales 1813 Fifteen Pence. Using the internet as my first line of enquiry, I found two items sold for between £30 and £50, described as ‘most likely Becker copies.’ Not a value to be ignored, but a copy of what?”

After considerable online investigation, John revealed the story of how the Governor of the New South Wales Penal Colony commissioned a reformed forger, who had been transported from England, to make coins for local circulation from 40,000 Spanish silver ‘pieces of eight’, by punching out the centres (to form the dump), the outside coin forming ‘holey’ dollars, and counterstamping them with NSW inscriptions. These were Australia’s first coins before Australia was officially founded as a country. Opinion seemed to be that only around 1,000 of each coin still existed, the majority having been melted down in the 1840s.

Turner further added, “Searches of auction site results, mainly in Australia, but some UK, showed a wide variety of realized prices, but one UK site showed a sale of over £2,000 for a ‘rough’ example (not a numismatic term, but meaning one in significantly poorer condition than ours). Australian results were considerably higher. I guessed that IF the coin was genuine (a very big if!) it might be worth at least £5,000. However, this was well beyond my competence to judge, and given how it turned out, it was somehow unlikely. The bags from Orpington had not been marked as eligible for Gift Aid, meaning there was no way of tracing the donor.

“After this research, I told the Orpington Deputy Manager we should tell the area manager what we might have. This eventually led to Oxfam referring the coin to Noonans, who were able to confirm it as genuine.”

He added: “It is brilliant to know the money raised from the coin will go towards Oxfam’s much-needed work to tackle poverty around the world.”

Shelley Hitch, Oxfam’s valuer, added, “The Orpington area manager passed the coin to me as she knew I had a relationship with several auction houses. Noonans doesn’t charge Oxfam any commission. Volunteers like John are so valuable to Oxfam, and this is a great discovery. It means even more to know that the money raised will go towards vital funds to help tackle poverty across the globe.”

Tim Wilkes, head of the Coin Department at Noonans, added, “The market for these early Australian pieces is very strong, and we hope this piece will do well.”

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