There has been a lot of recent discussion within comments about various non-U.S. coins, so I thought it would be fitting to devote a post to world coins. Specifically, I wanted to outline some of the tactics, strategies, or innovations that mints around the world have employed within their coin offerings.
Generally speaking, many world mints have much greater latitude in producing their coins compared to the United States Mint. In many respects, the US Mint is limited to following the specific requirements set out by Congress. For example, all commemorative coins have their themes, denominations, and maximum mintages established by specific legislation. Even the process for selecting the design is stipulated. However, the Treasury Secretary does have some broad authority to mint and issue gold and platinum coins, which he has exercised infrequently and likely at the specific request of the US Mint. Such authority was used to create the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle.
Use of Non-Traditional Materials
For many years, world mints have been utilizing non traditional materials within selected numismatic offerings. An interesting one has been the use of a niobium core within an outer silver ring. The Austrian Mint has produced several series of coins in niobium and silver since 2003. The inner core of niobium has shown a broad array of colors, created by the diffraction of light by a thin oxide layer. The Austrian Mint has also produced Latvian coins using the same techniques. Shown below is the Coin of Time II with the core tinted dark purple.
Recently, the Royal Canadian Mint began a series of silver and niobium coins featuring the Algonquin full moons. The inner cores are selectively oxidized to create unique finishes, with no two coins exactly alike.
Besides metals, world mints have incorporated different materials into coins such as gemstones or crystal elements. The Royal Canadian Mint included a diamond within a coin to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The Perth Mint has just launched a new series of coins showcasing nocturnal animals created in Australian opal (shown below).
Smaller Sized Precious Metal Coins
As precious metals prices have risen, some world mints have introduced smaller sized gold and silver coins. This has served to maintain a low pricing point for certain precious metals coins, providing entry level products for new collectors or products which can still be given as modest gifts.
The Perth Mint was one of the earliest to try smaller sized precious metals gold and silver coins. They released the extremely tiny 0.5 gram (0.016 troy ounce) Gold Kangaroo (above, right) and the 1/10 oz. Silver Koala.
The Royal Canadian Mint has also offered tiny 0.5 gram sized coins. The recently offered Gold Cougar with a face value of 25 cents is shown above, left. Additionally, they have offered 1/25 oz gold coins and 1/2 oz silver coins.
The RCM has also offered silver coins under the “Exchange $20 for $20” series. These coins are struck in .9999 fine silver and have a weight of 7.96 grams (0.256 troy ounces). Although they are priced at a premium to their intrinsic value, the coins are priced at exactly their face value of $20. The designs for this series have been exceptionally well done. Shown above is the second release. The most recent release features a swimming polar bear.
Limited Production Bullion Coins with Rotating Designs
Many world mints offer gold or silver bullion coins that carry rotating designs and have limited mintages. Most are initially priced based on the precious metal value, but can show later premiums based on the popularity of the design and/or the low mintage level.
The Royal British Mint offers the Silver Britannia, which has been minted in bullion format since 1998. Recently, the annual mintage has been 100,000, although the earlier issues have even lower mintages. Each year features a different design featuring Britannia. The 2012 Silver Britannia re-creates the original depiction of Britannia which was sculpted by Philip Nathan.
The Royal Canadian Mint recently began a new series of one ounce silver bullion coins featuring different species of Canadian wildlife. A total of six different designs will be released over three years, with each one limited to a mintage of one million. These have been initially priced at the same levels as the substantially higher mintage Silver Maple Leaf bullion coins.
The Perth Mint offers several different lines of bullion coins, which include limited mintages for at least some of the sizes. The one capturing the most attention currently is the Australian Lunar Series II, which features the twelve animals of China’s ancient lunar calendar. For the bullion versions of the coin, limited mintages were set for the one ounce gold coin, 10 kilo gold coin, one ounce silver coin, and 10 kilo silver coin. Shown above is the one ounce 2012 Year of the Dragon Silver bullion coin, which was limited to 300,000.
Other bullion series from the Perth Mint include the Silver Koala, which has no mintage limits, the Silver Kookaburra, with a mintage limit for the one ounce size, and the Gold Kangaroo, with limits for each size except 1 kilo.
Extremely Low Mintage Collector Coins
Some world mints have offered collector coins with extremely low mintages, usually targeted towards the high end market.
The Royal British Mint has offered kilo sized gold and silver coins as part of their 2012 Olympic coin program. The silver coin had a mintage of just 2,012 coins, while the gold coin had a mintage of only 60.
The Royal Canadian Mint is in the midst of a platinum coin series featuring prehistoric animals. The coins contain one troy ounce of .9995 platinum and carry a legal tender face value of $300. The first release from 2007 featuring the Scimitar Cat had a mintage of only 200 pieces. The most recent release featured the cougar and was also limited to 200 pieces.
On the less extreme end, the Perth Mint has released numerous collector coins with mintages set at 5,000 or sometimes less. These coins are typically issued for a particular theme such as “Great Composers”, “Ships That Changed the World”, or the most recent “Dragons of Legend.”
Numbered Certificates of Authenticity
Some world mints individually number the certificates of authenticity included with collector coins. While I haven’t made a study of it, there is likely some higher demand and premium for very low numbers, or possibly round numbers and lucky numbers (such as 888).
Programs Targeted Towards Frequent Customers
The Royal Canadian Mint has the “Masters Club.” Anyone who spends $999.99 or more within one year becomes part of this club. The benefits include free shipping and handling on all orders (U.S. and Canada) with no minimum. Advance notice is given for new releases, priority access is given for limited edition coins, and alerts are given for popular coins about to sell out. The program also lists benefits such as free access to mint tours and VIP invitations to special events.
The Perth Mint in Australia offers free shipping (even to the United States) for orders placed which are above $300.
The Royal Australian Mint offers an interesting pre-order program called “Collection by Selection.” Before the start of the year, collectors have a full list of all of the numismatic products that will be offered. Collectors can choose the products they would like to receive, which will be shipped automatically as they are released. Prices are locked in, even for precious metals products. Anyone who uses the program receives a free gift and collectors with orders above a certain level have an exclusive opportunity to order a coin with a limited mintage of 500 or 1,000.
World Coin Coverage
For anyone who found this post interesting, my website Coin Update News provides extensive coverage of new world coin releases. Past coverage can be found under the World Coins category. Featured articles on the site also periodically provide interviews with important figures from various world mints.