For me, the first sure sign of the end of summer is the presence of the first lunar zodiac coins. Granted, the coins are now unveiled some four months before the actual event, but in the cycle of life here at CCN, they indicate that August is drawing to a close. There is a pattern, to the second half of summer: RCNA, ANA, lunars, Labour Day. The irony is that some 20 years ago, the idea that the Royal Canadian Mint would be issuing lunar zodiac coins would have seemed funny.
Back then, we were just getting over the Canada 125 series, a program which saw a whopping 13 commemorative coin issues. When those were added to the usual mint sets, silver aviations, silver dollar, a couple of gold coins, and some platinum art pieces, that was the whole lineup. Back then, we thought things were getting out of control. But then the market changed. Somewhere along the line, mints around the world caught on to the idea that many people who are not collectors still like the idea of coins that connect to their life.
It wasn’t exactly a new idea, it was the reason for the success of the Canada 125 series, the 1967 series, the Montreal and Calgary Olympic coins, and even the 1939 Royal Visit silver dollar, or for that matter, the first Canadian circulating dollar coins, the King George V silver jubilee commemorative of 1935. So the RCM, as with other mints around the world, began to look at expanding their offerings. Now I have always been cynical of the idea of gift coins, since they are not always sustainable, but it seems that demand has held steady.
The other development, spearheaded by David Dingwall, master of the mint at the time, was the idea of dropping mintages to ensure sellouts. In 2010 the number offerings, fuelled by the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, got to the point that I had difficulty even remembering what I had covered. Now this year, we have monthly catalogues, each one with a dozen or more issues. To be fair, it isn’t unusual now to see coins issued in both gold and silver sharing a common design. We also see a reasonable number of base metal coins, often very reasonably priced, which is good for new collectors.
However, what gets me excited is that we also have a program to create new and interesting circulating commemorative coins. For years, I have been preaching that the best way to attract new collectors is to give them varied pocket change, which they can collect for face value. To me, the reasons are obvious: zero risk, the fun of looking through coins, and the fact that it reaches all Canadians because circulating coins are everywhere. Sure the coins may not be in mint condition, but that only means a prospective collector can actually touch them without worrying about altering a pristine surface. Each tiny coin is an ambassador for coin collecting. As nice as the non-circulating legal tender stuff is, the folks in Ottawa won’t set a foot wrong if they keep on making interesting circulating coins.