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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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New Zealand, like the United Kingdom and Australia, has a fractional coinage system. In April 1963, however, it was announced that the Government had decided to change to a decimal currency in 1967. Distinctive New Zealand coins, issued since 1933 when the Coinage Act was passed, are the crown, half-crown, florin, shilling, sixpence, threepence, penny, and halfpenny. No farthings have been issued.

Crown pieces have been struck on three occasions. The first issue in 1935 was struck to commemorate the Jubilee of King George V. It was limited to 764 pieces and the Treasury decided to charge 7s. 6d. for each specimen. The second issue was in 1949 when 200,020 pieces were minted to commemorate the intended royal visit of King George VI. The third crown, of which 250,200 were minted in 1953, commemorates the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In all, crown pieces to a value of £112,696 had been minted up to the end of 1959, of which £110,959 were in circulation. The crown is not, however, in general use but has disappeared into collections.

New Zealand coins are purchased from the Royal Mint, London, and from 1933 until the end of 1962 the value of coins purchased (excluding crown pieces) totalled £9,656,860. This sum was made up as follows:

Half-crown 2 550,100
Florin 2,727,000
Shilling 1,217,000
Sixpence 1,158,500
Threepence 1,432,500
Penny 489,500
Halfpenny 82,260

At the end of 1962 the value of coin in circulation was about £6,304,000. The amount of coin issued at any time varies with public demand, and various factors influence the relative usage of the different denominations. For example, a change in the prices of newspapers or milk would have an appreciable effect on the use both of threepences and of pennies.

Coin is issued by the trading banks and the Reserve Bank to their customers in exchange for bank notes or cheques. From time to time the Reserve Bank, which holds the main stocks, advises the Treasury of estimated requirements and the Treasury, acting on behalf of the New Zealand Government, orders from the Royal Mint.

From 1933 to 1946 all silver coin, and the 1949 crown, were composed of 50 per cent silver and 50 per cent alloy. From 1947 they have been of cupronickel; that is, 75 per cent copper and 25 per cent nickel. Copper coin (penny and halfpenny) which was first authorised in 1939 to replace the Imperial bronze coinage hitherto in use, and first issued in 1940, consists of 97 per cent copper, ½ per cent tin, and 2½ per cent zinc. The issue of cupro-nickel coins, which were given equal status with silver coin as legal tender under section 31 of the Finance Act 1947, followed similar action taken in the United Kingdom as a result of high prices for silver and increased minting charges.

The standard size and weight of New Zealand coins issued prior to the introduction of decimal coinage and the remedy allowance, that is, the allowed margin of error in weight, were as follows:

Denomination Diameter of Coin Standard Weight (grains) Remedy Allowance (grains)
Crown 1.525 inches 436.36363 2.000
Half-crown 1.272 inches 218.18181 1.216
Florin 1.126 inches 174.54545 0.997
Shilling 0.931 inches 87.27272 0.578
Sixpence 0.765 inches 43.63636 0.346
Threepence 0.642 inches 21.81818 0.212
Penny 30.8 mm. 145.83333 Not exceeding weight of one piece in 40 pieces.
Halfpenny 25.5 mm. 87.50000

The decision in 1933 to issue a New Zealand coinage to replace British Imperial coinage which, since 1840, had been the legal metallic currency, largely arose from coin smuggling in the early thirties when the Australian and the New Zealand exchange rates were devalued in terms of sterling. In May 1933 a Coinage Committee was appointed and asked to report inter alia on the designs to be adopted. It recommended that a special Coinage Designs Committee be set up. As a result of the work of this committee and its advisers, the design of the New Zealand coins broke new ground by making use of distinctive New Zealand symbols as the reverse types. The half-crown, for example, shows the New Zealand shield of arms surrounded by ornamentation based on Maori carvings, and the sixpence depicts the female huia, now extinct, which was one of New Zealand's most beautiful birds.

In 1940, when the first New Zealand copper coins were issued, there was also an issue of approximately 100,000 centennial half-crowns. This was the first truly commemorative coin issued in New Zealand and, like the crowns, is not in general circulation.

British silver coin ceased to be legal tender in New Zealand on 1 February 1935, and under the Coinage Act 1933 a tender or payment of money, if made in New Zealand coins of current weight, shall be legal tender to the following extent: (i) Gold, to any amount; (ii) silver and cupro-nickel, for amounts not exceeding £2; (iii) bronze, for amounts not exceeding 1s. Gold coin does not circulate in New Zealand.

The exportation of all coin is prohibited under the Finance Emergency Regulations 1940 (No. 2), except with authority from the Reserve Bank or the Customs Department. Travellers from New Zealand are, however, permitted to take silver coin not exceeding £2 or, if their journey is direct to the United Kingdom, not exceeding £5.


Robert John Familton, M.COM., Economist, Reserve Bank, Wellington.

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