The Half Sovereign series was first struck with the Imperial shield reverse on Australian soil in 1871 following the short-lived Sydney mint series. The changeover to this design also coincided with the changeover to a gold-copper alloy for half sovereigns. Despite the design change, the 1871 was still struck at Sydney as indicated by the S mintmark under the shield on the reverse.
There are numerous reverse and obverse sub-designs for the series but the 1871 Sydney is unique in that its design, both reverse and obverse were not used on any other date in the series. The obverse can be differentiated by the I of DEI lining up with the crown of Victoria's head and the base of her nose lining up with the base of the O.
The 1871 Sydney reverse also has two other distinct identifiers: the cross on the top of the crown does not touch the rim, and the central vertical line on the shield shows a single dot near the centre of the shield.
Royal mint reports do not mention any half sovereigns being struck in 1871 but they are definitely known to exist and reports from 1872 indicate that 356,000 half sovereigns were struck at the Sydney mint(Marsh, M, A, 2004) . It is likely that the mintage figure for the 1872 half sovereign includes the quantity struck in 1871. While the Young Head series consists of many of the rarest half sovereigns, the 1871 is a relatively common year with about 1,250 to 1,500 pieces in existence today, though finding them in AU or better can be very difficult. One Brilliant Uncirculated example was sold at the Reserve Bank Sale in 2005 (Downies, 2005) .
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