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Coins of the New Zealand dollar

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Title: Coins of the New Zealand dollar  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: New Zealand one-dollar coin, New Zealand five-cent coin, New Zealand ten-cent coin, New Zealand one-cent coin, New Zealand two-cent coin
Collection: Coins of New Zealand
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Coins of the New Zealand dollar

This article concerns the coins of the New Zealand dollar.


  • History 1
    • Pre-dollar 1.1
    • First coins 1.2
    • Removal of 1 and 2 cent coins 1.3
    • Introduction of 1 and 2 dollar coins 1.4
    • 'Change for the better' 1.5
  • Current coinage 2
  • Past coinage 3
  • Other coins 4
    • Mule coins 4.1
    • Commemorative coins 4.2
  • Limits on coins constituting legal tender 5
  • Use of other countries' coins 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8



Prior to 10 July 1967, the New Zealand pound, using the £sd system, was the currency of New Zealand. Coins of the pound tend to follow the size, weight, and composition of their British counterparts. The main coins in usage were the halfpenny (½d), penny (1d), threepence (3d), sixpence (6d), shilling (1s), florin (2s), and halfcrown (2s 6d).

First coins

Decimalisation of the New Zealand currency occurred on 10 July 1967, when the New Zealand pound was replaced by the New Zealand dollar at a rate of one pound to two dollars (10 shillings to a dollar). On the same day, new decimal coins were introduced to replace the existing pound coins. The first coins of the New Zealand dollar were 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, and 50c. The 1c, 2c, and 50c coins were new sizes, with the 1c and 2c minted in bronze, and 50c in cupronickel. The new 5c, 10c, and 20c were the same size, weight, and value as the former sixpence, shilling, and florin coins. Indeed, until 1970, the 10 cents coin bore the additional legend "One Shilling".

The obverse designs of all the coins featured Arnold Machin's portrait of Elizabeth II, with the legend ELIZABETH II NEW ZEALAND [date]. The initial designs for the reverse sides of the coins introduced in 1967 were rejected by the Royal Mint. Several more designs were produced, followed by a vigorous public debate. James Berry's designs were eventually accepted for most of the coins,[1] although he was asked to rework his design for the 5c coin and Francis Shurrock's design for the 10c coin.[2]

In 1986, the portrait of Elizabeth II on New Zealand coins was changed to Raphael Maklouf's new portrait of the Queen.

Removal of 1 and 2 cent coins

Towards the end of the 1980s, the 1c and 2c were becoming of little value, and it was decided to withdraw these coins from circulation. The last coins of these denominations were minted for circulation in 1987, with collector coins being made for 1988. The coins were slowly withdrawn from circulation, before finally being demonetised (no longer legal tender) on 1 May 1990.

After the withdrawal of these coins, cash transactions were normally rounded to the nearest 5 cents, a process known as Swedish rounding. Some larger retailers (notably one supermarket chain), in the interests of public relations, elected to round the total price down (so that $4.99 became $4.95 instead of $5.00). Alternatively, many retailers rounded all their prices to the nearest 5 cents to avoid the issue entirely—so a New Zealand shopper often encountered products for sale at prices like $4.95.

Introduction of 1 and 2 dollar coins

On 11 February 1991, $1 and $2 coins were introduced to replace the $1 and $2 notes in circulation. These coins were minted in aluminium bronze, and were the first New Zealand coins to be minted to metric specifications.

At the same time, because the new $1 coin depicted a kiwi, the 20c coin reverse design was changed. The new 20c coins depicted a Māori carving of Pukaki, a chief of the Ngati Whakaue iwi. Coins with kiwi design, however, outnumbered coins with the new design until they were replaced with the new 20c coins, all depicting the later design, in 2006.

In 1999, Ian Rank-Broadley's portrait of the Queen was introduced and the legend rearranged to read NEW ZEALAND ELIZABETH II [date].

'Change for the better'

On 11 November 2004, the Reserve Bank announced that it proposed to take the 5c coin out of circulation, and to make the existing 50, 20 and 10c coins smaller and use plated steel to make them lighter. The reasons given were:

  • The 5c coin is now worth a third of what a cent was worth back in 1967, when New Zealand decimalised its currency.
  • Surveys had found that 50, 20 and 10c coins were too large and could not be easily carried in large quantities. The original 50c coin, with a diameter of 3.2 centimetres, was one of the largest coins in circulation worldwide, and the original 20c coin, New Zealand's second biggest coin at the time at 2.8 cm, is bigger than any current circulating coin (the biggest coin in circulation is the $2 coin at 2.6 cm).
  • The size of the 10c piece was too close to that of the dollar - in fact, it was so close that it was possible to put two 10c pieces in a parking meter together and receive $1 worth of parking time, or jam the meter and make parking free anyway. The advent of pay & display metering in larger cities, whereby one is required to use another meter if the first one is jammed, has largely stopped this practice.
  • The prices of copper and nickel used to mint the old coins were high and rising steeply, and the metal content of some coins exceeded their face value.

After a three-month public submission period that ended on 4 February 2005, the Reserve Bank announced on 31 March it would go ahead with the proposed changes. The changeover period started on 31 July 2006, with the old coins usable up until 31 October 2006. The older 50, 20, 10 and 5c pieces are no longer legal tender, but are still redeemable at the Reserve Bank.

In August 2005, the Royal Canadian Mint, which has minted Canadian coins in plated steel in the past, was selected by the Reserve Bank to make the new coins. The new coins have a unique electromagnetic signature which enables modern vending machines to determine coin counterfeiting and foreign coins [1], and it was estimated the changeover would remove nearly $5 million of foreign coinage from circulation.

The change to smaller coins is also advantageous to Australia, as the outgoing 5, 10, and 20c coins were of the same size and weight as Australian coins of these denominations, and were easily confused by shopkeepers and retailers, as well as being usable in Australian vending machines and parking meters.

Current coinage

The reverse designs of the current circulating New Zealand dollar coins. Image by Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

As of 1 November 2006, there are five denominations of coins in regular circulation: 10c, 20c, 50c, $1, and $2. All new Zealand coins are round, and use medallic orientation.

Commemorative and collectable coins are available from New Zealand Post as the agent for the Reserve Bank.

Value Technical Parameters Description Date of issue
Diameter Thickness Mass Composition Edge Obverse Reverse
10c 20.50 mm 1.58 mm 3.30 g Copper-plated steel Plain Queen Elizabeth II A Māori koruru, or carved head. 31 Jul 2006
20c 21.75 mm 1.56 mm 4.00 g Nickel-plated steel "Spanish Flower" Queen Elizabeth II Māori carving of Pukaki, a chief of the Ngati Whakaue iwi[3] 31 Jul 2006
50c 24.75 mm 1.70 mm 5.00 g Plain HM Bark Endeavour and Mount Taranaki
$1 23.00 mm 2.74 mm 8 g Aluminium bronze Intermittent milling Queen Elizabeth II Kiwi and Silver Fern 11 Feb 1991
$2 26.50 mm 2.70 mm 10 g Grooved Kotuku (Great Egret)
For table standards, see the .

Past coinage

Changes to coinage in 1990 and 2006 has resulted in several demonetised coins. Coins have been demonetised for various reasons.

This is a list of demonetised coins:

Value Technical parameters Description Date of
Diameter Thickness Mass Composition Edge Obverse Reverse Issue Withdrawal
1c 17.53 mm 2.07 g Bronze Plain Queen Elizabeth II Silver fern 10 Jul 1967 30 Apr 1990
2c 21.08 mm 4.14 g Kowhai flowers
5c 19.43 mm 1.24 mm 2.83 g Cupronickel Milled Queen Elizabeth II Tuatara 10 Jul 1967 31 Oct 2006
10c 23.62 mm 1.70 mm 5.66 g (as today)
Legend reads "One Shilling"
(as today) 1970
20c 28.58 mm 2.22 mm 11.31 g Kiwi 10 Jul 1967
(as today) Dec 1990
50c 31.75 mm 2.33 mm 13.61 g Intermittently milled (as today) 10 Jul 1967

Other coins

Mule coins

Numerous mule coins have been accidentally minted, at least two of which have ended up in circulation.

The first instance occurred in 1967, when the two cent coin was accidentally minted with the obverse of the Bahamian five cent coin.

Subsequent examples include a New Zealand 1981 5c obverse muled with a Canadian 10c reverse and a 1985 50c obverse muled with a Canadian $1, both of which are extremely rare.

Another example occurred in 2000, with ten known instances of the commemorative $5 coin found in uncirculated sets. This coin had the Pied Cormorant on the Reverse side, as did the other $5 coins of the year, however the obverse was from Solomon Islands.

Though not technically a mule, a mix-up of a different kind arose in 1975 when some NZ 20c coins were accidentally struck on scalloped blanks intended for the Hong Kong $2 coin. The obverse and reverse dies are correct for the NZ coins; only the blank is the incorrect shape.

An earlier reported instance of a mule involving the small-sized 20c coin introduced in 2006 with a Canadian 5c most probably relates to reports in the press of the discovery of Canadian 5c coins in mint rolls of NZ 20c coins, mainly in the Taranaki region; this was simply a packaging error and no actual muled coins are known.

Commemorative coins

  • A range of two dollar coins depicting a kingfisher were made during 1993.
  • Five dollar coins: Minted sporadically from 1990 onwards. Five dollar coins have never been minted for circulation but specifically for commemorative purposes. They are legal tender.
  • Ten dollar coins: Minted sporadically from 1995 onwards. Ten dollar coins have never been minted for circulation. They are legal tender.
  • Twenty dollar coins: Minted in 1995 and 1997, only 2 sets of twenty dollar coins have been made.
  • One Hundred and Fifty dollar coins: Minted in 1990 and 1998, only 2 sets of one hundred and fifty dollar coins have been made.

Limits on coins constituting legal tender

According to the Reserve Bank Act 1989, there are limits on the amount that constitutes legal tender:[8]

  • coins of a denomination of $10 or more, there is no limit
  • coins of a denomination of $1 or more but less than $10, the limit is $100
  • coins of the denomination of 5 cents or more, but less than $1, the limit is $5

Use of other countries' coins

Due to regional travel and the fact that many other former British colonies around the world use coinage systems with British-derived origins of sizing and weight, many Fijian, Samoan, Singaporean, South African, and especially Australian coins had been in daily circulation in New Zealand despite not being official legal tender. It is of note that the United Kingdom itself does not use these sizes of coins any more, and there has been the odd case of foreign coins appearing in a customer's change. The consistently similar but not significantly higher value of the Australian currency and the obverse side of Australian coins being almost the same as New Zealand coins also didn't discourage this practice, with millions of 5, 10, and 20 cent Australian coins having been used in New Zealand in an identical manner to their true counterparts. These coins could circulate for long periods without being recognised. The coinage size and material changeover (see 'change for the better' section above) of 31 July to 31 October 2006 means these foreign coins can no longer be accepted interchangeably, though the new 10 cent coin strongly resembles the British one penny coin in size, weight and appearance and the unchanged one dollar coin remains very similar to the Fijian counterpart. There is also occasional confusion between the New Zealand one dollar coin and the Australian two dollar coin, and similarly between the New Zealand two dollar coin and Australian one dollar coin, on account of the coins' similar sizes and weights.

See also


  1. ^ James Berry and New Zealand’s 1967 Decimal Coins, Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
  2. ^ Jane Dodd and Gail Keefe, Penny Lane: From the Elam Archive; the coins that almost were, The University of Auckland News, Issue 15, 25 August 2006.
  3. ^ Tim Watkin, Figure of unity, NZ Listener, 13–19 November 2004, Vol 196, No 3366. Accessed 2007-06-14.
  4. ^ Zealand km46 1 Dollar (1977) Waitanji Day&query=New Zealand
  5. ^ tp:// Zealand km47 1 Dollar (1978) Coronation/Parliament&query=New Zealand
  6. ^ Zealand km57 1 Dollar (1986) Kakapo bird&query=New Zealand
  7. ^ Zealand km66 1 Dollar (1986) Yellow-eyed Penguin&query=New Zealand
  8. ^ The Act governing currency issue in New Zealand.
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