Several weeks ago, senior staff writer/world coin guru Jeff Starck and I went to Berlin for the World Money Fair, Feb. 7 to 9. We met with representatives of dozens of mints from around the world and distributors who market and sell their products. Some definite trends emerged:
➤ Smaller mintages. More mints are issuing innovative coins in small mintages, favoring an approach that offers collectors a variety of issues in a given year. While this tactic makes it harder for collectors to finish complete sets, it makes it more possible for people to find a coin that speaks to them.
➤ Innovations in production. As the number of small-mintage coins proliferates, mints are becoming increasingly innovative in finding ways to differentiate their products. For example, the Republic of Congo’s 2014 2-ounce silver 2,000-franc coin features actual DNA extracted from a cheetah, dyed blue and embedded in a vial to allow it to be seen. The coin has a limited mintage of just 999 coins.
Many of these innovations are being driven by firms who use private mints to strike these coins, issuing them under the name of a country that has granted the firm the right to use its name.
➤ Multiyear series. Mints around the world are looking at collector coin programs that span years. Many nations are striking coins each year celebrating the new year under the Chinese lunar calendar. For 2014 — the Year of the Horse — the Chinese New Year started Jan. 31. The goal is multipronged. First, there’s the hope that the coins — often bullion in nature — will appeal to Asian buyers. Second, mints anticipate that collectors will want to collect sets.
➤ Increased variation within a given series. Once coin buyers are collecting a series, mints seem increasingly willing to create variations of the same design (again, with limited mintages) within a given year.
➤ Licensing. Private mints are further differentiating themselves in a crowded market by using licensing agreements to create coins with popular subjects. For example the private New Zealand Mint has coinage programs for the game Magic: The Gathering, the television show Doctor Who and photographer Anne Geddes. Coming in 2014, the firm has a special agreement with Disney to create Mickey Mouse coins.
➤ Tiny gold coins. As gold becomes more expensive, mints are looking for ways to create affordable gold coins, typically by going smaller. Since 2004 the Royal Canadian Mint has struck 1/25-ounce gold coins with a 50-cent denomination. Designs are varied each year. Some mints are even issuing 0.5-gram gold coins, or small gold coins struck from nonstandard finenesses like .500, to bring that cost down. Mints — both private and public — are looking at creative ways that people can affordably collect new gold issues.
➤ Marketing beyond collectors. Mints are looking beyond the typical coin collector base to get new customers. For example the Mint of Finland has a marketing campaign that has a video titled “Give a gift that has value.” The video shows a young man receiving a Graduation Coin set as a high school graduation gift, a bride receives a coin as a good luck charm and a young girl gets a coin as a gift. Other mints have selected themes and packaging meant to appeal to a younger audience.
The U.S. Mint has latched on to many of these trends in recent years, especially creating variations within a given series for the American Eagle silver bullion coin program and by producing sets intended as gifts.