As a break from the regular coverage of US Mint products and coins, I wanted to devote a post to showcasing some of my personal favorite coins from other world mints. I wrote a similar post about a year ago, that can be found here.
While the majority of my collection consists of US coins, I have occasionally acquired certain world coins that I have particularly liked. All of the coins included here were purchased within the past year or so.
In putting together this post, I realized that many of the coins were delivering something that was lacking in current US coin designs and offerings. So the resulting post became not only a showcase of excellent world mint coins, but also a commentary on what can be improved on US coins.
The Royal British Mint has issued one ounce Silver Britannia coins from 1997 to present. Mintages are limited, even for the bullion version, and each year features a new depiction of Britannia. On the 2011 issue, she is seated with a trident and shield, with the image of a billowing union flag overlaid. The use of the two elements results in a modern impression of the classic arrangement.
I would like to see some new interpretations of Liberty on US coins. In recent years, coin designs have used the Statue of Liberty to represent Liberty (Platinum Eagle obverse, Presidential Dollar reverse), which is sort of like turning an allegorical concept into a literal one. Other recent appearances of Liberty have been copies of old designs (First Spouse Gold Liberty Subset, American Gold Eagle, American Silver Eagle, the upcoming American Palladium Eagle). Finally, some recent designs have featured female figures that some collectors mistake for Liberty, but these are not Liberty (Medal of Honor Gold Coin reverse is Minerva, 2011 Proof Platinum Eagle reverse is a harvest goddess).
I cannot even recall the last time a genuinely new rendition of Liberty has appeared on a US coin.
This one ounce silver proof coin is struck by the Royal Australian Mint with a mintage of 5,000 pieces. The design is simple and dominated by empty space, but it makes a great impression on the viewer. Every time I have shown this coin to a non collector, there has been a pause of a second or two to interpret the design, followed by a “wow” expression.
Too many recent US coins have taken a literal approach to design and have not taken any risks or explored innovative compositions. As a result, not too many recent US Mint releases will elicit a “wow” response. One might be the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle, which of course was a reproduction of a design from 100 years ago.
When I have showed some people the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins, their response has been, “Is this a real coin?”
This €10 silver coin was produced by the Mint of Finland for the 100th anniversary of a famous Finnish folk musician and composer. The style of the coin and particularly the obverse portrait were chosen to convey an impression of the historical figure. The designer stated, “Konsta Jylhä was a rather modest person. For this reason I wanted my work to breathe a certain kind of simple modesty, I didn’t want the coin to have too many details.” The reverse of the coin shows the openings at the top of a violin.
Too many portraits appearing on US coins are very close reproductions of period portraits or photographs. The CCAC has referred to this as a “trace and bake” approach. To some extent, it should be expected that a likeness on a coin would closely resemble a photographic representation, but an expression as art should convey or allude to something deeper.
As the price of gold and silver has risen, some world mints have responded by making smaller sized coins. Above are the 1/10 oz 2011 Silver Koala and 1/2 gram (0.016 troy ounce) 2010 Mini Roo, both from the Perth Mint in Australia. Obviously the premiums are much higher than if purchasing higher weight coins, but that is a recognized and expected factor. The motivations of someone purchasing a one half gram coin as opposed to a one ounce coin are clearly different anyway. These tiny offerings serve to preserve a low pricing point, despite rising precious metals prices.
The US Mint has taken the opposite approach and eliminated smaller weight offerings as precious metals prices have risen. At the end of 2008, the US Mint discontinued fractional weight numismatic products for the Gold Buffalo, Platinum Eagle, and Gold Eagle.
Perpetuating this opposite approach, the US Mint has actually released higher weight coins with the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins, containing 5 troy ounces of silver each.
When writing about world coins, I always like to include a Bulgarian coin, since my wife is Bulgarian and my children are half Bulgarian. This 10 leva coin was issued to commemorate 125 years of unification. The 92.5% silver coin includes a selective gold plating over the stamp of the Bulgarian Secret Central Revolutionary Committee pictured on the reverse. While some colorized or enhanced world coins look garish, this selective gold plating appropriately highlights a portion of the design in an effective manner.
The US Mint has never produced coins with colorization or selective gold plating, and has only produced a single bimetallic coin (2000-W Library of Congress $10 Commemorative). While it would not be appropriate or necessary for every coin, it would be nice to see something different once in a while.
Not a coin and not from a world mint, but something I wanted to include in the post. This is the official medal issued for the ANA 119th Anniversary Convention in Boston designed by Jamie Franki (designer of the new Jefferson Nickel obverse). The obverse of the medal depicts Paul Revere on his midnight ride. The reverse of the coin with a rising sun and pine tree was based on a 2-shilling note that had been engraved by Paul Revere. As part of the design process, Franki dressed in period authentic clothing and spent an afternoon riding a horse. Only 150 two-medal sets were produced.
As soon as I saw the design for this coin, I immediately tried to order one. A week later, the ANA returned my check with a notice that the medals had already sold out. This, of course, made me want the medal more. I started running weekly searches on eBay, waiting for a set to show up at auction. If this didn’t work, I planned to run some classified ads within hobby periodicals. After nearly a year, the two medal set finally showed up at auction and I was able to buy it for exactly the original issue price, even though I would have paid more.
Besides having an excellent design, these medals were intentionally limited to a very low number and proved difficult to acquire.
Every once in a while, the US Mint should create extremely limited product offerings. In recent years, the US Mint seems to have gone to lengths to avoid this situation. When the 2009 Proof Gold and Silver Eagles were canceled, the Mint Director had stated that they could have produced a limited number of coins, but it wouldn’t be enough for every collector who wanted one. So instead of allowing some collectors to get the coins, the offering was canceled so everyone would get nothing.
More recently, there have been some limited products through the 2010 America the Beautiful Five Ounce Silver Coins, but these seem to have been created unintentionally, due to circumstances of production.
It hasn’t always been this way. Back in 1997, the US Mint offered the Botanic Gardens Coinage and Currency Set with a limited production of 25,000 units. The set included the 1997-P matte proof Jefferson Nickel, only available within the set. Around the same time, the US Mint reduced the mintages of Proof Gold Eagles, specifically to help preserve secondary market values.
The Mint Director was quoted in a press release, “We’re lowering the Proof Eagle mintages in response to our customers’ interest in secondary market prices of our products. We recognize that our customers expect that our products retain a significant portion of their purchase price in the after-market. We believe lowering mintages will help us achieve that goal. This is part of a new philosophy we’re pursuing in 1997 as an extension of our tradition of offering limited edition products — such as the recent Botanic Garden Coinage & Currency Set. We believe that these lower mintage limits will make our products consistently more appealing to the collector. You can expect to see future issues structured in a similar way — to raise the value of all our products, for all collectors.”
In contrast, this year the US Mint raised the mintages of the 2011 Proof Platinum Eagle and 2011 Proof Gold Eagles.
Granted, the creation of intentionally limited products is something that can get out of hand. However, occasionally creating something special and making it available in a fair manner could be a welcome development. It would reward faithful US Mint customers and create some excitement, which would carry over to other offerings.