Here come the rebels.
The James Dean of world coins, the muted coin, is the hottest new
trend in commemorative design.
Coins typically have the nation name on one side and the date and
denomination on the other. These rule-breakers place all words and
numbers on the obverse and edge and nothing on the reverse. The
picture tells 100 percent of the story, an option once traditionally
limited to art medals.
These silent coins speak to the art lover in us. Without the
distraction of words and numbers, the coins looks more like miniature
metal canvases. This works even with ringed-bimetallic coins.
A Swiss 10-franc coin issued in 2015 weaves a tale back and forth
across the surface of the coin. The reverse depicts one of
Switzerland’s most important cultural traditions, “Alpabfahrt,”
celebrating the return of cattle from the Alpine pastures at the end
On the day of their descent, the cattle are decorated with flowers,
flags, and cow bells. The event is accompanied with town fairs full of
folk music, Alpine horn blowing, whip-cracking demonstrations, and the
consummation of Alpine cheese.
Muted coins may have complex designs like the Swiss coin or a single
centered design element.
In 2014 the Tokelau Islands celebrated “Creatures of Myth and
Legend” with a Unicorn and Pegasus 1-ounce silver commemorative pair.
Even though only two mythical horse-like animals were feted, Tokelau
issued multiple versions of each to add drama and depth to the muted
reverses, including mint-colored, gilded, Frosted Proof, Reverse
Proof, and an antiqued silver finish.
And then there is the singular element that is repeated.
If you are of a certain age, you might remember something called the
filmstrip from your school days, made up of many consecutive
photographic slides spliced together.
If you took a filmstrip of a galloping horse and applied it to a
coin, you’d have something like the muted $2 coin that Niue issued in
2014. Created for the Chinese Lunar Year of the Horse, the
donut-shaped 2-ounce silver coin has a reverse made up entirely of a
series of images showing the motion of a running horse, step by step.
Israel has created a multi-year muted coin series honoring “Biblical
Art.” The 19th and latest issue is the 2014 Jacob’s Dream coin issued
in gold and silver in 1-, 2-, and 10-new-Israeli-sheqel denominations.
The series began in 1994 with The Binding of Isaac coin making the
Israel Mint one of the first to produce muted coins.
Russia began issuing Chinese Lunar Year coins in 2003, so its muted
Matte Finish 2013 silver 3-ruble .925 fine silver coin celebrates the
Year of the Snake.
With a scale pattern looking more like a diamondback rattlesnake
than any Russian species, the detailed snake is coiled. This is
perfect for a coin’s shape, and placing it off-center is highly artistic.
Since 2010 the Cook Islands has been issuing a coin series dedicated
to Faberge eggs. The egg-shaped brightly enameled silver $5 coins are
all mute designs, except for one 2013 egg that has Roman numerals in
the design. Some of the coins have raised designs that feature leaves,
vines and small crystals, just like the Russian eggs they commemorate.
How do you depict a complex scientific theory without the use of
words or numbers?
The Austrian Mint found a way in 2014 with its muted Evolution
ringed-bimetallic silver and niobium €25 coin. The design makes good
use of the outer ring of silver while the eye is drawn to the colorful
blue and green niobium core. In addition to being a muted and
ringed-bimetallic piece, this is the first coin ever produced with two
colors of niobium, created as the result of an oxidation process.
Also in 2014, Canada issued the second coin in its series about
contemporary Canadian art. The busy miniature mural landscape with
more than 50 images is Canada through the eyes of native son artist
Tim Barnard. The $30 coin contains 2 ounces of silver.
While at first glance the Canadian coin appears to be muted, there
might need to be a new category for this coin, perhaps called the
muted puzzle. Cleverly disguised within the design are initials of
each Canadian province and territory.
Can you spot any of them?
Commemorative coins of the world have borrowed a lot from the
anything-goes world of medals lately. Coins are made in high relief,
in super sizes and nonround shapes, and are mint-colored and imbedded
with all kinds of objects and relics, from stained glass to jewels.
The muted coin is another new type that appears to be here to stay.
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