Canadian design, innovation recognized around the world

Once a year, for as long as I can remember, Krause Publications holds the Coin of the Year (COTY) competition.

I wish it were Canadian Coin News that hosted the competition, but I’m afraid they had the idea long before I came on the scene. I content myself by remembering that Krause was the first owner of CCN, so it’s still sort of in the family.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I am on the internatinal panel of judges for the COTY. I got the job when Jerry Remick, a numismatic expert and CCN columnist, died. Since then I have done my best to honour Jerry by voting the way he would have. By that I mean by ignoring national pride and voting for the coins that are the best.

Over the years that I have been a judge, there are some nations that are always contenders, and some that sort of come and go. The Royal Canadian Mint, and by extension our coins, are regular contenders. I can’t recall a single year when I haven’t seen Canadian coins in at least four different categories.

That speaks to a number of things. As with so many things in life, it could be spun more than one way.

On the negative side, you could argue that with literally hundreds of coins coming out a year, the Mint needs to have successes with only five or 10 per cent of its designs. That sort of makes sense, except that there are some mints that produce the same sort of volume, but don’t get the results.

I prefer, in this case, to say that the strong presence of Canadian coins is the result of two things: good design and innovation.

Let’s look at good design: If you check out the article on the front page, you will notice that there are scores and scores of coins nominated in several categories. From a design perspective, they represent the cream of the crop. There are a lot of ugly coins out there, coins that are too crowded, too busy, poorly conceived, or just poorly executed. I would be lying if I said every Canadian coin was a beauty. There are some I don’t like, but those are few and far between.

Most Canadian coins are well done, and many are quite spectacular.

Then there is the subject of innovation.

Once again, Canada leads the way. The use of colour, selective gold plating, varying die finsishes on the same coin, edge engraving, ultra-high relief, to name just a few, are examples of how the Royal Canadian Mint has embraced the idea that coins don’t have to be dull and boring.

What makes this sort of unusual is that I have pretty traditional tastes when it comes to coins.

For me, the combination of a pictorial reverse and portrait obverse, with large devices on a clean field and short inscriptions is both classic and perfection. It is a theme that worked for the ancient Greeks and Romans, got us through the Dark Ages, and serves the financial needs of our modern economy.

I guess the experience is a lot like most art: I like traditional art, but good art, regardless of the style, is always better than bad art.

For the most part, the Mint has located a stellar group of designers. Believe me, I’m not just saying that because I live here.

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