Canada is blazing new paths in minting and coin security

Published : 04/18/12
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The Royal Canadian Mint, long known as an innovative leader in both coin production and marketing, has unveiled sweeping changes to its circulating coinage that reduce production costs and at the same time add levels of security the world has never experienced.

New versions of Canada’s two highest denominated coins — $1 and $2 — began entering circulation April 11.

Although made of new alloy compositions, both coins retain their previous designs, their standard diameters and vary only slightly from their previous weights. The $1 coin is being struck on multi-ply brass-plated steel planchets and the $2 ringed-bimetallic coin has a multi-ply brass-plated aluminum bronze center surrounded by a ring of multi-ply nickel-plated steel.

If these alloy changes make you yawn, fasten your seat belts. The security features included in Canada’s new coins set circulating coinage on a new trajectory.

Visible security features include 21st century technology — laser marks and virtual images — as well as edge lettering, a security device that has been used on coins for more than three centuries.

However, it’s the unseen security that is the most fascinating. The RCM has dubbed it DNA, which stands for Digital Non-Reactive Activation. RCM’s coinage DNA technology has the capability of reading the unique surface structure of every coin to create a unique digital “fingerprint.” The aim, when fully implemented, is to have the capability to authenticate every coin manufactured by the RCM, no matter how much wear the coin experiences in its life cycle.

Although the RCM has not elaborated, it is obviously seeking to stay ahead of counterfeiters who would take aim at higher denomination coins. It envisions an infrastructure that would provide merchants and individuals the capability to quickly and easily scan any coin in question and be able to instantly confirm that it is a genuine product of the RCM.

One of the most exciting aspects of the RCM’s DNA technology is that it will not be limited to use with newly produced Canadian coins. RCM officials say it can also be used with older coins struck prior to 2012, including circulating coins, numismatic issues produced for collectors and bullion coins.

Essentially the coin DNA technology is envisioned as becoming the standard for coin authentication and identification, which has enormous implications for the rare coin marketplace as well as individual collectors. Imagine being able to positively identify any coin in a collection, whether an individual’s or holdings in an institution such as a museum, through scientific means.

Canadian officials have not projected a time line for full implementation of its DNA technology. They only say it will “come fast.”

Just as 20 years ago when the United States looked north for inspiration for what would become its 50 States circulating quarter dollar program in 1999, the U.S. Mint needs to carefully consider the paths the RCM is blazing in minting technology. However, this time rather than waiting to be nudged by Congress, U.S. Mint officials responsible for technological operations need to become proactive. The United States cannot afford to remain technologically in the 20th century. ■

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