Yours for $500,000 - one hyper-rare, 1813 dollar, complete with hole
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Yours for $500,000 - one hyper-rare, 1813 dollar, complete with hole

An extremely rare 205-year-old "holey dollar", one of Australia’s first coins, is up for sale for a cool $500,000.

The silver beauty, nicknamed the Hannibal Head, was part of our first currency, issued in 1813.

A hole lot of money: This Hannibal Head holey dollar, among the first Australian currency issued in 1813, is up for sale, valued at $500,000.

A hole lot of money: This Hannibal Head holey dollar, among the first Australian currency issued in 1813, is up for sale, valued at $500,000.

Photo: Jason South

Its value of five shillings would, at the time, have bought a barrel of rum. Today, its worth of half a million dollars would buy a small city apartment.

The five-centimetre diameter coin surfaced in 1881 in a bushranger's hoard discovered near Hobart.

Its value - hole included - has soared in recent decades: in 1988 it sold for $40,500. In 2007, it was bought for $260,000 and it changed hands again in 2012 for $410,000.

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Belinda Downie, managing director of Melbourne dealer Coinworks, which is selling the coin on behalf of a Sydney collector, said it was coveted for its "first coin" status and history.

In 1813, New South Wales governor Lachlan Macquarie imported 40,000 silver dollars from Spanish colonies to create our first legal tender.

Previously, colonists used British money, promissory notes and even rum.

"The holey dollar is very much a symbol and a turning point, of moving away from being a penal colony to a society that required cash," Ms Downie said.

To make the coins go further, Macquarie ordered a convict forger to cut out their centres, leaving holey dollars worth five shillings and the solid centre circles - called "dumps" - worth 15 pence.

Fewer than 300 holey dollars are known to exist now.

Small but expensive: this holey dollar issued in NSW in 1813 is now worth half a million dollars.

Small but expensive: this holey dollar issued in NSW in 1813 is now worth half a million dollars.

Photo: Jason South

Ms Downie says they are "highly regarded on the world stage" and considered "our first coins".

"In 1988, a book was written showing photographs of all the surviving holey dollars known at the time, 276 coins," she said.

The "dumps" stamped out of the dollars were worth one shilling and thruppence.

The "dumps" stamped out of the dollars were worth one shilling and thruppence.

Photo: James Cockington

"To have your coin photographed in that book, for collectors, is a big deal. You can say, 'I own that. I own Australia’s first coin.' "

The one now up for sale is just one of two of Macquarie's 1813 lot to survive that were made from coins minted in Peru.

The other one was stolen in 2014 from its owner, the State Library of New South Wales, and hasn’t been seen since.

The two coins were dubbed Hannibal Head. The nickname comes from the mint in Lima refusing, in 1810, to recognise Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Joseph as the king of Spain.

Instead, the mint stamped the silver coins with an imaginary portrait of imprisoned Spanish king Ferdinand VII.

But the image was so ugly that the coin was nicknamed after the much maligned ancient Carthaginian general Hannibal.

Sale prices today for Macquarie 1813 holey dollars vary according to their condition.

Ms Downie sold one two years ago for a record $550,000.

But a more worn one sold last year for $250,000 - after being in one family for 200 years. It had been acquired by the family’s convict ancestor, who arrived in Sydney in 1815.