Society Lecture, 16 October: The Politics of Coin Design: The 1967 New Zealand decimal reverses

On Tuesday 16 October 2018 at the Warburg Institute, Mark Stocker of the Numismatics Association of Australia kicked off the 2018/19 Society lecture schedule with a discussion of his research into decimal coin reverses in New Zealand. This presentation drew upon earlier published research (‘“Coins of the People: The 1967 New Zealand Decimal Coin Reverses’, [BNJ 70 (2000)), in which Mark Stocker stated that ‘Tantalisingly, only the minutes of the first, anodyne, meeting’ of the Coinage Design Advisory Committee (CDAC) were ‘deposited with the Treasury papers in the National Archives in Wellington, and the rest are presumed destroyed’.

As he summarised the paper in his own words: Happily, I have been proved wrong. In 1967, Dr Allan Sutherland, the namesake of the doyen of mid-20th century New Zealand numismatics, deposited his late father’s papers relating to the decimal coinage in Auckland Central Library, but only recently have they been catalogued. A history of the reverse designs can now be told far more accurately. This paper aims to do this, drawing on the agendas and minutes of the seventeen CDAC meetings between 1964 and 1966, and also utilises related correspondence to and from Sutherland in the same archive. It benefits from further questioning of the sole CDAC surviving member, my good friend Professor John Simpson, who has just turned 93 but remains as lucid as ever.

What I didn’t know was how the designs – which appeared satisfactory to the CDAC – were suddenly collectively jeopardised when a Cabinet minister, ignorant of abstraction, objected to one of the best designs; or how the dynamic shifted on the committee, with a split between artistic and pragmatic/populist elements, with Sutherland the chief advocate of the latter. The relationship between the CDAC and the ad hoc Cabinet coinage committee is now clearer, revealing individual ministers’ views on the designs, including a surprising one by future Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, on Paul Beadle’s inspirational but unadopted set. Finally, Muldoon’s own influence is repeatedly hinted, but remains enigmatic.

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