Latest ‘R&D Lab’ coin leads July RCM catalogue

By Jesse Robitaille

The Royal Canadian Mint has released a relatively smaller slate of issues – just five new coins – as part of its July numismatic catalogue.

Among the five coins unveiled on June 29, two days before the Canada Day federal holiday, is a 2020-dated two-ounce Fine silver coin featuring a first-of-its-kind production technique. The latest offering from the Crown corporation’s research and development department (which it calls the “R&D Lab”), the $1 collector coin was issued last year as a silver collector version of the “Flying Loon” dollar designed by Jean-Luc Grondin in 1997. One thing, however, has been changed.

“The idea for this technology came about when we were exploring the fundamental assumptions we often take for granted about coins,” Ottawa engineer Kevin Wright, a nearly five-year member of the research and development team, is quoted as saying on the Mint website.

“For this product, we were curious enough to ask, ‘Do coins need to be planar?’ We were excited to discover that they do not need to be planar. It is possible to highlight a coin’s main feature and physically raise it above the surface.”

In a process called “lifted engraving” – “a numismatic first,” according to the Mint – the coin’s main design element, the iconic loon, is raised above its engraved surface. The loon lifting up from the coin’s surface is “not an embellishment – it’s part of the coin,” according to Mint officials.

“And so is the integrated hinge, which provides just the right amount of lift for the loon and the new technology to take flight on this prototype.”

A new type of die allowed R&D Lab staff to strike “the world’s first integrated hinge” onto the coin’s surface rather than adding it later. After cutting into the coin, staff then separate the key relief (the loon) from the rest of the design using proprietary methods to “‘peel’ away the field,” according to the Mint.

Because the new issue was created as “part of the initial test run for our new technology,” it has a limited mintage of 425, Mint officials added.

Packaged in a wooden box and with an R&D Lab certificate, the coin weighs 59.5 grams with a 50-millimetre diameter.

‘SNOWBIRDS 50’

As part of its July catalogue, the Mint is honouring the Snowbirds – the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) military aerobatics team – as it celebrates its 50th consecutive airshow season in North America.

Formed in 1971 to demonstrate the Canadian Forces’ skill, professionalism and teamwork, the Snowbirds’ pilots are renowned for the “precision and grace of their thrilling aerobatic show set to music,” Mint officials said. More than 150 million spectators have watched a live Snowbirds performance during one of the 2,700 official airshows held in nearly 400 different towns and cities across the continent in the past 50 years.

Officially known as the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds are featured on the third $5 quarter-ounce Fine silver coin from the Mint’s “Moments to Hold” series, launched in February.

Each of the series’ coins highlights “anniversaries of historical significance in Canada,” according to the Mint. The theme of the series’ fourth and final coin, slated to launch in November, is still to be announced.

Designed by Dave O’Malley, the reverse of the “Snowbirds 50” coin features a bottom view of the team’s signature formation, the nine-plane “Big Diamond.” The coin also shows the “speedbird” design gracing the bottom of the Snowbird Tutor jet trainers since the paint scheme was introduced in 1974.

Packaged in a Snowbirds-themed folder with a removable coin capsule, the coin weighs 7.96 grams with a 27-millimetre diameter and a mintage of 100,000.

The July catalogue features another “Snowbirds 50” issue, a $50 five-ounce Fine silver coin marking the team’s milestone with selective gold plating. Also designed by O’Malley, the coin features the Canadian-designed and -built CT-114 Tutor, the Snowbirds’ mount since its inception 50 years ago. The design’s inspiration comes from a photograph by Canadian aviation photographer and publisher Mike Reyno.

For both Snowbirds coins, additional “initiative and production liaison” was provided by former Snowbird commander and team leader Dan Dempsey, according to the Mint.

Packaged in a maroon clamshell with a black beauty box, the coin weighs 157.6 grams with a 65.25-millimetre diameter and a mintage of 1,000.

‘THE FUR TRADE’

As part of its July catalogue, the Mint also continued its annual $200 coin series – launched in 1990 – with a half-ounce pure gold piece looking back at the fur trade.

Dubbed “The Fur Trade,” the coin offers a snapshot of the 1700s fur-trade era from a Nishiiyuu (Cree) perspective.

“In the fur-rich region of James Bay, they were the skilled hunters, trappers and middlemen who supplied the coveted pelts, often transporting them by canoe to nearby trading posts, as depicted on this limited-edition piece,” according to Mint officials. “Initially, European traders and the Nishiiyuu mutually benefitted from this exchange of goods, but as time went on, it proved to be an agent of change. The fur trade shaped this country’s history but it also impacted the traditional ways of the Nishiiyuu, who were important partners and contributors to one of Canada’s earliest industries.”

Designed by Sheila Orr, the coin portrays life in Eeyou Istchee, a more than 5,200-square-kilometre First Nations region in Québec, where the Grand Council of the Crees represents 11 Cree communities.

“The first encounters with Europeans, dating back to the beginning of the 17th century, revolved around the fur trade, which lasted nearly 300 years,” reads the Eeyou Istchee Baie-James Tourism website, escapelikeneverbefore.com.

“With the passing years, the Crees considerably changed their lifestyle. To meet the demands of the fur trade, they gradually set aside big game hunting and their nomadic way of life, and trapping became a major activity. The trading post sites became the location of today’s Cree communities.”

Packaged in a black clamshell with a black beauty box, the coin weighs 15.43 grams with a 29-millimetre diameter and a mintage of 1,200.

It’s part of the “Early Canadian History” series launched in 2018. Earlier issues honoured Canada’s First Nations (2018), the first Europeans’ arrival in present-day Canada (2019) and French colonists’ settlement of New France (2020).

‘OUR NATIONAL COLOURS’

Closing out the July catalogue is a 10-ounce Fine silver coin, “Our National Colours,” featuring a red enamel maple leaf in the centre.

Designed by Michelle Grant, the $100 coin serves as a celebration of national symbology, with two anniversaries – a quarter century for Canada’s national arboreal emblem and a century for its official colours – highlighted in selective colouring. The reverse design’s swirling arrangement of different Canadian maple leaves shows the diversity of Canada’s national arboreal emblem, which consists of 10 maple species. Selective enamelling and frosting in red and white – Canada’s official colours since 1921 – cover the maple leaf and double dates (“1921-2021”), respectively.

With a special “25” maple leaf privy mark, the coin is part of the Mint’s 2021 “Arboreal Anniversary” collection marking the 25th anniversary of the maple’s designation as Canada’s national arboreal emblem. As with all coins in the collection, its serialized certificate is customized to feature a colour element and the Arboreal Anniversary logo.

Packaged in a black clamshell with a black beauty box, the coin weighs 311.54 grams with a 76.25-millimetre diameter and a mintage of 800. While it was unveiled on June 29, it won’t start shipping until September.

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