Efforts to expand the Royal Mint’s bullion market share, especially in Asia, have been successful, according to mint officials, but also led to two embarrassing “mule” errors like the Britannia silver bullion coins struck with an obverse die intended for a Year of the Horse silver bullion coin.
Only a small portion of the Royal Mint’s bullion production was visible during our visit — one machine that can strike 30,000 sovereigns a day remained in the Base, Bullion and Medals Cell, the rest of the machinery having been moved to a new building on site dedicated to bullion coin production.
The new dedicated area was necessary after an increased focus on bullion coinage beginning in December 2012. The Royal Mint altered the fineness of its silver and gold Britannia bullion coins to .999 fine (pure), stepping away from .925 fine silver and .9167 fine gold alloys.
The abandonment of tradition was viewed as radical by some, but the move allows the Royal Mint to compete in the Asian and Indian markets where the pure gold is coveted.
Total bullion sales now exceed the overall mint sales of just a few years ago, said Shane Bissett, the Royal Mint’s director of bullion, commemorative coin and medals.
The first entry into an Asian theme was the issue of a Year of the Snake privy mark Britannia silver bullion coin for 2013. Building on that, the Royal Mint last fall launched an annual Lunar Calendar series of bullion coins, with the Year of the Horse theme for 2014.
The effort has not come without missteps — Coin World broke the news (March 17 issue) that the Royal Mint accidentally created two major “mule” errors, incorrectly pairing obverse and reverse dies for two silver coins. One mule features a reverse with Britannia and an obverse intended for the Horse silver coin, which lacks dentils, and the other error pairs the Horse reverse with the obverse intended for the Britannia issues, which features dentils around the coin.
The Royal Mint acknowledges that approximately 17,000 of the former errors and 38,000 of the latter error were created.
Other efforts have had mixed results.
About one year ago, the Royal Mint announced a partnership with MMTC Limited, an Indian company, as well as the Indian subsidiary of the Swiss company PAMP to strike gold sovereigns in India to expand its market share there. Soon after, the Indian government clamped down on gold imports in the wake of a major trade imbalance.
Bissett said in a statement that the move into India was meant for the long-term, since “the Sovereign is widely recognised in India and has a great history there.”