Tuesday 17th July 2018

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More than just money

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

by Greg Klein

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

Although often extending the bounds of traditional coinage, the Mint acknowledged its heritage
with a Colonial Currency of the Atlantic Provinces set that mimics the condition of used currency.
(All photos: Royal Canadian Mint)

 

Money’s appeal couldn’t be more obvious, yet coins specifically bring to mind values intrinsic, speculative or esthetic. By no means neglecting the first two, the Royal Canadian Mint has been emphasizing the third, and in ways increasingly innovative. Issuing over 200 such products each year, its “coins” have become more and more exotic. That shows in two recent releases, which can be said to source their materials from the end of the Earth and beyond.

“As a commercial Crown corporation, we don’t rely on any taxpayer funding to finance our operations,” explains communications officer Alex Reeves. “So we need to finance ourselves and that has led us to a number of competitive fields, collector coins being one, bullion being a big part of it as well, and foreign circulating coins also.”

Although this year’s Q1 results suggest more modest gains, the Mint reported a 2017 consolidated profit of $36.1 million, up from $24.5 million the previous year and buoyed partly by Canada 150 collectibles. Ottawa raked in $93.2 million in dividends last year.

While the Bank of Canada prints paper money, the Mint strikes currency coins for Canada as well as countries on every continent. Its bullion, especially the one-ounce Maple Leaf gold coin, is sought after by the world’s speculators and hoarders, as well as collectors.

But can the Mint’s increasingly creative collectibles still be considered coinage? Yes, according to Reeves. “They are coins by definition as legal tender, having a denomination and identifying country of origin,” he points out. That doesn’t mean they can’t be innovative.

“Collectors come to us from all over the world so innovation helps us stand out in a crowded marketplace. We use it to get people’s attention and increase the appeal of our products.”

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

That’s illustrated in the two newest releases. Each commemorating a special date, one coin contains purely Nunavut-mined gold, the other a little chunk of meteorite.

The gold coin gets its yellow metal from TMAC Resources’ (TSX:TMR) Hope Bay and Agnico Eagle Mines’ (TSX:AEM) Meadowbank to present Andrew Qappik’s images of a walrus, ptarmigan, polar bear, bowhead whale and narwhal. In another innovation, the one-tenth-ounce piece has the same diameter as a quarter-ounce coin, providing a larger canvas for the Inuk artist’s work. Part of the Symbols of the North series, the coin anticipates Nunavut’s 20th anniversary next April.

“Our Inuit employees, suppliers and partners can all take great pride in knowing that they have participated in making this unique coin that celebrates their heritage and culture,” commented Agnico Eagle CEO Sean Boyd. With a face value of $20, the coin sells for $359 in a limited mintage of 1,500.

At a ceremony attended by former Canadian astronaut Dave Williams, the Mint used the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s 150th anniversary to unveil “a truly out-of-this-world collectible.” As if to make the one-ounce silver coin impractical for vending machines, a bit of rock from Campo del Cielo sticks out of the surface. The fragment fell to earth about 4,500 years ago when the Argentinian field underwent a meteorite bombardment.

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

Using designs from Canadian artist Alexandra Lefort, the coin depicts the Eagle Nebula and its pillars of interstellar gas and dust along with the Moon, the Andromeda Galaxy and a blazing meteorite in addition to the genuine iron-enriched supplement.

Also with a $20 face value, 5,500 versions—each unique for the shape of its other-worldly content—went on the market for $149.95 each.

In April the Mint marked another extra-terrestrial event with an elliptical black-light-glowing piece portraying Manitoba’s 1967 Falcon Lake UFO sighting.

Last year’s glow-in-the-dark toonie was named Most Innovative Circulating Coin by the International Mint Directors Conference.

The Mint’s collectibles date back to a 1935 silver dollar commemorating King George V’s Silver Jubilee and portraying a voyageur paddling his canoe against a faint Northern Lights backdrop. “It gradually evolved to commemorative circulation coins, coin sets and then, with the advent of the Montreal Olympics, we started producing a higher volume of annual collector coins in silver and some in gold as well,” Reeves says. “We’ve continued to grow that part of our business.”

The Royal Canadian Mint breaks the numismatic mould to cast creative coins

Some other unusual creations this month included a six-ounce silver coin with a gold-plated miniature carousel that rotates with the help of a magnet. “Even the horses move up and down on this dazzling creation which is limited to a worldwide mintage of only 1,000,” states a promo.

But musical accompaniment, apparently, has thus far escaped the Mint’s R&D ingeniousness.

Still, last May Mint boffins announced one of their most complicated technical projects ever with a “coin” that’s half of a miniature Stanley Cup. “If you put two of them together, you would have an entire Stanley Cup replica, albeit a fraction of the size of the actual trophy,” the Mint quoted techie Michael Groves. He compared the project’s complexity to that of the Mint’s 100-kilo, million-dollar gold coin and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics medals.

To keep the ideas flowing, the Mint maintains two R&D departments, one at the Winnipeg home of circulating coin production, the other in Ottawa, location of the head office, as well as bullion and collectible production.

“We do have a broad range of expertise in our staff and it’s something we take seriously and keep investing in,” Reeves says. “We see ourselves as industry leaders for innovation” with some examples including colouring processes and security features. “We’ve made security features on our bullion coins that can’t be found elsewhere, and we have a broad range of innovation on our collector products as well. It benefits the industry if you’re able to raise the bar, create something new and inspire others to look at their own ways of improving coin-making or coming up with something brand new.”

Whether others have been inspired to imitate the Mint’s ideas or steal them is a question currently before Australian courts. The Mint has demanded its Down Under counterpart turn over or destroy some $2 million worth of collectibles that allegedly appropriated a patented method of applying colour to metal. Australia responded with a counter-claim asking that Canada’s patent be declared invalid.

But high-tech expertise notwithstanding, Canada’s coin creator won’t be venturing into the world of cryptocurrencies, Reeves insists. “The Mint is a manufacturer of physical coins, of cash in other words, and for the foreseeable future we see cash continuing to play an important role in Canadian daily commerce. We’re going to continue innovating in that area in ways that increase the security and durability of our products.”

Learn more about the Royal Canadian Mint.


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