The Melbourne Branch of the Royal Mint began operation on 12 June 1872. It was the second branch to be opened in Australia, the Sydney Branch having opened in 1855.
The Melbourne Mint had two main functions: purifying and assaying gold and striking gold coins. A minor function was the production of medals, particularly prize medals such as those awarded by agricultural societies or exhibition authorities.
The Melbourne Mint was financed entirely by the government of the Colony (later State) of Victoria. However, its employees were British civil servants and could, and did, apply for jobs in other branches of the Royal Mint; there was a particularly large movement of staff when the Ottawa branch opened in 1908.
In 1916 the Melbourne Mint was the first Australian mint to undertake production of silver coins for the Australian Commonwealth, in 1919 it began production of bronze coins and in 1964 it was the first Australian mint to strike decimal currency.
All work on Commonwealth of Australia coinage was undertaken by the mint as a contractor to the Treasury. With the opening of the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra in 1965, once the immense task of preparing the first years of decimal coins had been achieved, no further contracts were available, nor was there sufficient call for purifying and assaying gold. By Royal Proclamation the Melbourne Mint ceased to be a Branch of the Royal Mint on 1 July 1970.
The building of the former Royal Mint is located on the corner of William and Latrobe Streets (280-318 William Street and 387-429 Latrobe Street) and is of architectural significance as one of the most impressive 19th century government buildings in Victoria, and one of few Australian buildings in the true Renaissance revival style, and a virtual copy of the Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli, attributed to Raphael, in Rome (1515).
The mint was built between 1869 and 1872 to the designs of architect J.J Clark whose other notable works included the Old Treasury Building, Melbourne. It was opened 12 June 1872.
The colourful coat of arms placed on the front gates in mid-twentieth century were by the Melbourne woodcarver Walter Langcake. The original design, based on Queen Victoria's coat of arms, is adapted especially for a British Royal Mint branch office in colonial Victoria. The supporting animals are not crowned and a maned horse replaces the usual unicorn.
A private company, Melbourne Mint Pty Ltd, is the current tenant on the ground level and level one of the Melbourne Mint building. Melbourne Mint Pty Ltd belongs to a group of Australian precious metals companies which include Australian Bullion Company (ABC), Gold Merchants International (GMI) and Universal Coin Co. It has no historical relationship to the original Royal Mint.
The Annual Reports of the Melbourne Branch of the Royal Mint were published as appendices to the Royal Mint Annual Reports from 1872 to 1970. The records of the Melbourne Mint are now held by the Public Record Office Victoria.
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Kenyon, A.S. (1935). 'The Royal Mint and Its Australian Branches' , Vic. Hist. Mag. May
Ward, E.W. Chrystos (1874). 'The Melbourne Mint' Argus, 5 November 1874.
Webb, L.A. (1958). 'The Victorian Mint', Australian Numismatic Journal (S.A. Numismatic Society), Vol.9, No.3.