The Austrian Mint is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the launch
its Philharmonic gold bullion coin.
What better way to celebrate than with a golden anniversary cake,
complete with the Philharmonic’s iconic logo featuring musical
instruments of the world famous Vienna Philharmonic, the coin’s namesake?
During the recent American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of
Money in Rosemont, Ill., I was both surprised and honored when
Austrian Mint CEO Gerhard Starsich asked if I would assist him in
cutting the cake.
Celebrations have a way of triggering flashbacks. The Austrian
Mint’s October 1989 news release announcing its entry into the gold
bullion coin market raised a few eyebrows. How could a relatively
small Mint from a country with no active gold mines compete with the
big players in the market, namely South Africa, Canada, Australia, and
the United States?
When the United States lifted restrictions on ownership of gold at
the end of 1974, the pent-up demand from U.S. buyers shocked the
world. South Africa was the first to benefit because its Krugerrand
was already in the marketplace. The Royal Canadian Mint launched the
gold Maple Leaf in 1979. Western Australia’s Perth Mint and the U.S.
Mint joined the battle for market share in 1986 with their gold Nugget
and American Eagle gold bullion coins.
Armed with a proud tradition of designing and striking beautiful
coins and a belief they could buy gold in the world market and supply
coins at a competitive price for their domestic market, Austrian Mint
officials moved forward after Austria’s government changed its
currency regulations. (Previous to the change, foreigners could buy
gold coins tax-free while Austrians were taxed.)
Initially the Philharmonic was produced in two sizes: 1 ounce and
quarter-ounce, the larger coin for the investor market and smaller
coin as “an affordable size for Austrians,” explains Kirsten Petersen,
a 20-year veteran of the Austrian Mint’s international sales team.
Demand for gold Philharmonic coins in Austria was off the charts.
Requests to buy, especially from other European countries, convinced
officials to also open sales outside the country. During the first
three months of sales, a total of 623,000 coins (totalling 419,000
ounces) were sold. In 1990 — the first full year of sales — the Vienna
Philharmonic was the top selling gold bullion coin in Europe and
ranked second as most popular worldwide. A scant two years later
(1992), the Vienna Philharmonic became the world leader, capturing 30
percent of the world gold bullion coin market.
You made all of us believers.