The 1988 Bicentennial Fifty Cent Coin










The Design of the Coin

The sketches for the Bicentennial Fifty Cent coin were begun in 1983. The final design was to be selected for a short list of designers that included Stewart Devlin (London), Michael Mezaros (Melbourne) and Michael Tracey (Maleny).


This was the first coin I was commissioned to design and more importantly to make the wax model and plaster. The plaster was then used to make the dies necessary to coinage process. My steel sculptures had been free in design and somewhat fluid without conformed to the ridged constraints of measurement.  My inexperience with the rigid and bland ‘preciseness’ required by the engineers was worrying and opposed to my idea of art. Also minimal or no assistance was forthcoming from the designer at the RAM who arrogantly stated 'I should not be doing this work as it was not my job' – please note ‘job’ not artwork.


I wanted the 1988 coin to reflect the free form of my sculptures. This was one of the primary points made by the Australian Bicentennial Authority when making the decision on the final design of the coin. However, the designer at the Royal Australian Mint wanted straight rigid lines etc. Ships are fluid at sea and the ropes and rigging are free flowing and certainly not straight lines.  A close inspection of the coin will show the ropes are ‘knotty’ in appearance and the hull and rigging of the vessel ‘ghostly’ in appearance. The design was never intended to represent one particular ship nor any of the vessels from the First Fleet or any relation to the Tall Ship events. This is often erroneously stated by authors, dealers and collectors alike.


















My artwork always carried my signature and this piece of my artwork was to be no exception. After some protracted discussion my signature in the form of my initials reminded on the coins as produced.  The letters ‘MT’ may be seen to the right of the ship’s rudder.






























The Australian Bicentennial Authority approved the proof and the coin was put into production by the Royal Australian Mint. The obverse of Queen Elizabeth II was designed by Raphael Maklouf and displayed the legend ‘ELIZABETH. II. AUSTRALIA 1988’.  The reverse was the ship design with the legend ‘AUSTRALIA 1788-1988 FIFTY CENTS’. The edge of the coin was plain. The uncirculated coin weighted 5.55 grams (240.0 grains), 31.50 mm in diameter with a metal composition of 75% Copper, 25% Nickel.


According to figure supplied by the Controller of the Royal Australian Mint 8,100,000 were minted.


The 1988 Fifty cent coin was available as:

Circulated coin; Uncirculated coin;

Proof silver; included in an 8 coin proof set;

Included in an 8 coin mint set;

Uncirculated versions were included in unofficial 1966-98 10 Coin Fifty Cent Commemorative sets;

Masterpieces in Silver 1988 Bicentennial 4 coin set;

Masterpieces in Silver 1989.


The Royal Australian Mint also released a total of 3,500 individual, proof copper-nickel 1988 fifty cents coins to a number of numismatic dealers who produced their own packaging.

































Circulation Coins

The coin was highly sort after collectors and interested person alike and very few remain in circulation. A mint proof in silver and gold are displayed in the Royal Australian Mint Museum.  In 1990 the 1988 Fifty Cent coin was award the ‘Best International Trade Coin’ from 142 participating mints worldwide in 1988. The award was presented at the International Numismatic Board in London on behalf of Krause Publication.


At a luncheon at the Royal Australian Mint I was also presented with a bronze copy of the plaster I had sculptured for use in the production of the 1988 coin. The presentation was made by the Controller of the Mint.


Proof versions of the coin were included in the Masterpieces in Silver 1988 Bicentennial 4 coin set and in Masterpieces in Silver 1989 set.



Comments about the Coin

‘In 1988 another Arnold Machin obverse design was used for the Bicentenary 50 cent coin - with the dramatic sailing ship reverse by an Australian, Michael MacLellan Tracey.'  "Among his many accomplishments Michael has a record as a successful international designer having among other things been commissioned by the Royal Australian Mint to design various coins including the famed Australian Koala, and by the Australian Bicentennial Authority to design the 1988 Bicentennial fifty cent coin."’ (Wood, Tasmanian Numismatist, Volume 8, Issue 3.)


(Please note: Arnold Machin did not design the Obverse. It was designed by Raphael Maklouf. Also the Australian Koloa was designed by Michael Tracey and minted by the Perth Mint in Western Australia for GoldCorp.)




Pitt, I., (ed), 2000. Renniks Australian Coin & Banknotes Values, 19th Edition, Renniks Publication, Chippendale, NSW.


Wood, P., 2003. ‘Australian Basic Circulation Decimal Coin Types’, Tasmanian Numismatist, Volume 8, Issue 3, Internet Edition, March 2003.

Reverse Design by

Michael Tracey


Reverse Design by

Raphael Maklouf


Designing the original sketch. Some 150 drawings were completed in 1983


The final sketch as approved by the Royal Australian Mint February 1986


Sculpting the wax relief


The final plaster


'I've Got It' an example of my steel sculptures