One provision in the Coinage Act 1933 in empowering the Minister of Finance to authorise the issue of tokens, “purporting to entitle the holder thereof to demand goods and services”, harks back to an earlier period. In parts of the country, tokens are used to pay for milk delivered at the gate, but this restricted use scarcely compares with the period from 1857 to 1881 when bronze and copper penny and halfpenny currency tokens were issued by New Zealand traders.
The tokens were issued because of a marked shortage of small coins and, according to one authority, 147 varieties were issued. They included some attractive designs.
Some 20 years after their introduction, tokens represented about half of the copper coinage in New Zealand. None, however, were issued by traders after the British Government had advised in 1881 that it could supply all coin requirements and, in 1897, the tokens were demonetised. They retain considerable interest for coin collectors and some command good prices.
The rarest New Zealand coin is the 1879 penny bearing the head of Queen Victoria on the obverse and New Zealand above Britannia on the reverse. This coin, of which only about 20 examples were minted, has never been in circulation.
In New Zealand severe penalties are provided for counterfeiting, melting down, or marking coins of New Zealand or of any other country. Although, in the past, some counterfeiting has occurred, this has never been a serious problem in New Zealand.
Although gold coin does not circulate, sovereigns, previously kept as souvenirs, are occasionally sold to the Reserve Bank for £2 18s. Some British and Australian coins, mainly florins, circulate after being brought in by travellers. Because of the exchange-rate differential between New Zealand and Australia, the Australian florin is worth only 1s. 7d. in New Zealand. It is therefore not generally acceptable.