Kirsten Petersen


Kirsten Petersen

Kirsten has been part of the coin world for most of her professional career.  For more than 20 years now she has worked for the Austrian Mint helping to establish and build the Austrian Mint presence and successes in the international markets around the world.  Kirsten began her numismatic career with the Royal Canadian Mint where she distinguished herself by creating numismatic programs such as "Canada 125", the proof Maple Leaf issues and the original Aviation silver program.

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    New Year’s Concert – Vienna

    December 2, 2015 10:25 AM by kirsten petersen

    Already we are in the later part of November and of course, I realize that the festive season is almost upon us and the dawn of 2016 is not far behind.  To celebrate, I need to plan ahead or simply stay home with friends and family and enjoy some of the many New Year’s traditions available to all of us; college football, the Rose Bowl parade and the annual New Year’s concert.  No special tickets required just a bit of relaxation time for the first day of the year.  Football is beyond my ability but flowers and music are right up my alley.  Who does not enjoy the fantastic fantasy floral displays floating by in the parade. All one needs is a bit of sun outdoors to highlight these superb constructions.  On the other hand, indoors inside a superbly constructed architectural wonder, also be-decked in massive floral arrangements, one may listen to the melodious strains of music from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

    It is tough to become a member of this 170 year- old orchestra as direct auditions are not possible.  If interested a gifted musician must audition for the Vienna State Opera.  If accepted by the State Opera the musician must successfully perform with it for three years, a sort of proving ground, before he may apply to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for an audition.  No wonder the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is regarded as one of the finest in the world.  The standards that one must pass to be accepted are set phenomenally high. 

    By far the majority of members are men.  There are a few female members in recent years, 6 or so – I guess that this progress.

    But the uniqueness of the orchestra does not end upon admission.  The member musicians are a self-governing group.  In essence every year there are meetings in which the members determine their plans for the coming weeks, months and year by voting on various points, alternatives and decisions to be made.  Those that receive the majority of votes are accepted.  Its just that simple.  In order to have a complete overview of what will be happening there is a 12 member group elected by the orchestra members who action the numerous activities and plans for a year that require some management aspects.  If these twelve get re-elected then they know the rest of the orchestra is happy with how the year unfolded.

    The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra does not have a permanent conductor but rather they invite top-notch conductors from various parts of the world to join them for awhile in Vienna and lead the group through their performances.  The honor of being invited as the guest conductor for the New Year’s Day concert is highly prized by these leading and very gifted musicians.

    Knowing this always makes me smile when enjoying the New Year’s concert not only the musicians but the conductor leading them represent some of the finest performers of classical music in the world.  Quite the way to begin a year.

    Chandeliers and Horse Feed

    February 23, 2015 10:05 AM by
    On a recent trip to Vienna, I finally visited the Spanish Riding School, and wow, was I ever blown away.  These horses live in style!  Here are a few historical tidbits on the Lipizzaner breed.  This is the oldest horse riding school in the world and the oldest school that continues to train, ride and teach the classic “haut école” of the equestrian world.

    Turns out that the Lipizzaner breed was developed during the Renaissance period when classical equitation was back in favor. The Hapsburg Imperial family recognized the need for agile light horses by the military.  So they crossed a Spanish horse, which had Arabian and Berber stallion origins, with Iberian mares.  This was at a time when the Hapsburgs controlled Austria as well as Spain.  (I think the connection was something like this - the Habsburgs in the mid to late 15th and early 16th century experienced a great expansion of their kingdom largely through the “peaceful” strategy of dynastic marriages.  So Philip the Fair, son of Maximilian I, was married off to Joanna of Castille, aka Joan the Mad. Definitely a strategic move since the marriage of Joanna came with Castille, Aragon and most of Spain.)

    The Lipizzaner’s are born with dark colored coats – variations of brownish black.  They become light grey by the time the horses reach the ages of between 6 and 10 years.  Their trademark large eyes and small perky ears give them an endearing face.  The Lipizzaner is considered a rather “small” horse but the physical power of the stallions is very evident in their well-defined muscles and tendons of their hindquarters, shoulders and legs.  

    During early centuries horses were extremely valuable.  Some compare owning such horses in the time to the prestige of owning a Ferrari today.  The Habsburgs continued to breed the horse always having several hundred at any given time.   In fact the apartments of the crown prince were built directly above the stables of the Lipizzaners, clearly reflecting the prestige and value of these handsome animals.

    If you had to describe it in one word, the Spanish Riding School is Vienna is elegant.  There is just no other way to describe it.  The school as an entity was founded in 1572.  However, the rich baroque building that is the “winter riding school” where these horses still perform today was built more recently: 1729 to 1735.  This palatial structure is part of the Imperial Palace complex in the very center of the city. I suspect that when it was being built no expense was spared.  

    The performing hall is huge.  The riding ring has an earthen floor.  There is no foundation under the vast riding area.  The four walls that surround this area are stunningly beautiful: gorgeous columns, palatial windows through which sunlight streams in, baroque flourishes, gold trim and sparkling crystal chandeliers.  I sat in awe when I was in this performing hall (I just cannot bring myself to call it a riding ring). And picture it when I was there: there were no horses performing, the building itself is that breath-taking.

    I looked up from the few seats that are in the hall to a portrait of Emperor Charles VI who commissioned its construction.  The riders at the beginning of each performance still salute his highness, which I can understand because they get to “work” in an amazing and historic institution.

    I was very fortunate to be able to also visit the stables, which are located beside the “Winter Riding School.”  These stables are the cleanest I have ever seen.  They really do not smell.  If anything perhaps there is an air of fresh hay.  The mighty horses are nestled in their palatial stalls with marble water troughs, and brass railings, and sculpted horse heads peering down from the high walls.  Each horse has its own stable stall.  Each of the stalls is signed with the name of the horse inside and the custom feed that they will receive at the specified meal times each day. Yeah, each horse has its own individualized meal plan, depending on its nutritional needs, its duties and its age.   The names of the horses are really something because once you understand the logic of the compounded names then the horse’s lineage is totally clear.

    The sophisticated science and depth of knowledge with which these Lipizzaner stallions are treated is evident in many of the things one sees in the stable area.  Even the horses that have allergies get special treatment and are assigned to the stalls with doors that open to the outside.

    The tack room is more than precise and oh-so orderly.  It would be easy to spot the one thing that still was not back in exactly the right place.

    Of course, with such a long history, there are also superstitions.  The longest running one dates back to the beginning of the school, and has to do with a black stallion.  For whatever genetic reason, from time to time the coat of one of the stallions does not become the classic soft whitish grey colour as it matures but remains dark, almost black.  The belief is that if there were not one very dark coated mature stallion at all times, it would mean the end of this riding school.

    The stallions in Vienna also now have an automatic walker, the largest one in the world.   It is computer controlled and walks the horses round and round.  The horses in the walker are clever enough to recognize the quiet churning of the machinery when the computer changes the direction of the walk, and the horses start to turn around almost before the automated walker has completed the mechanism change.

    I was so impressed by all that was around me when I visited the stables and the performing hall or “Winter Riding School” that I am planning to visit the Spanish Riding School again in the near future.  And hopefully I’ll secure one of the coveted performance tickets to enjoy first hand this centuries-old tradition.

    The Silver Anniversary of a Golden Great

    November 24, 2014 3:21 PM by kirsten petersen
    A shiver runs down my spine as I sit in a gorgeous room, the “Brahms” room in the Musikverein (the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s performing hall), in Vienna.  A majestic fanfare is filling the sumptuous room thanks to a brass quintet of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra announcing the 25th birthday of the Vienna Philharmonic gold bullion coin.  At this moment the many experiences, even adventures of my past 20 plus years with the Vienna Philharmonic coin around the world come together.   For me business and culture meet at this point.  

    I am proud of the coin – it is gorgeous.  The little Austrian Mint that can, and does, has achieved an amazing success with the Vienna Philharmonic pure gold bullion coin. (We are only some 210 employees, and that includes all of our production people.) Reflecting over the years, I am delighted with the many experiences I have been honoured to work on and participate in.  And I am grateful to our many business partners and friends around the world for the respect that they have given, and continue to give, to the Philharmonic pure gold bullion coin.

    The complex sounds of the twinkling piano keys are heard as the pianist, who seems to have 20 fingers, performs. My thoughts drift back to the early days at the Mint when I was living in Vienna, and just how far we have come.  From a time when ledger books were still in use to today’s most high-tech production that integrates millimicrons (finer than a third of a human hair) measurements and the latest robotic technology. 

    The lovely sounds of the string quintet continues, and I think not as much about of all the official happenings over the years but rather much more about the behind the scenes stuff, the people and the happenings that make all of this come together.  Not the official press stories with lovely images and the fact that we all know the Philharmonic coin has a gorgeous design, the coins are pure silver or gold and the one ounce gold coin has a larger diameter than any of the competitors.  I chuckle to myself….

    Many times I have been in unusual places in the world promoting the Philharmonic coin. I remember the car that I was in on the back to an airport, which was apparently indeed a taxi, that didn't work all the time.  The driver had a hair-brush that every now and then when the car stalled, he would get out of the driver’s seat, open the hood and shove the hairbrush somewhere into the engine and the motor would run again.  I have had to eat live snails, goat intestines and more ewwwy things all in the name of the coin. I have spent too many nights in various hotels, flown way too many miles, missed out on a lot of weekends with friends and family, but I have learned and experienced a lot.  And I think fondly of the many “friends” within the coin hobby, who I have come to know and very much continue to enjoy their company.

    I laugh when I think of the funny site I created while presenting the Vienna Philharmonic pure gold bullion coin to a bank in an Asian country.  There I was in their brand new boardroom with 5 gentlemen in dark suites sitting around the board table listening to me.  The room was spic and span clean, the glass table shined, the brass trim around the room polished and the floor glossy.  I was standing and speaking, while at the same time handing out some background material. When I went to sit down, unbeknownst to me my chair had rolled away.  I landed on the floor.  Wow, I didn’t know that so many men could jump so fast and so high.  I found the whole thing rather hilarious and was trying not to laugh as they were so very serious while trying to scoop me up off the floor.

    I look around the lovely concert room and see the former presidents of the Austrian Mint whom I have worked with.   I smile fondly when I remember an adventure that happened when travelling in Europe with the then president of the Austrian Mint and some work colleagues.  There was an unexpected train strike and after we had landed at an airport, we still had to get to the next town that day for a meeting.  I made a deal with a car rental company and thankfully our president had his driver’s license with him; the rest of us didn’t.  None of us could figure out how to get the car out of the parking space in the underground garage, the reverse gear was not evident at all.  So with the president steering the car and the rest of us dressed in our business suits we pushed the car.  Finally we got it “backed-up and were underway.  After arriving in our destination town, we went to the hotel and just gave the keys to the doorman.  We knew he would be able to get it back to the rental company easier than the any of us.

    Accompanying another president of the Austrian Mint to an Asian market, on his first tour of Asia reminds me of a time at a press interview with a major Asian newspaper.  Everything was very formal: seating, tea service, translation services, and so on.  And we were in a lounge-like area of this newspaper for the interview.  All of us were a bit nervous because of the importance of this interview but once we got started the president found his groove and did very well.  I was simply there as a support person with numbers and the like, just in case some statistics were needed.  The interview lasted about 30 minutes because of the translation.  The thing I remember most was how the newspaper must have thought I was an overly respectful person since I was leaning forward slightly bent looking down for the whole interview, while the president did most of the speaking.  In fact, what had happened was that when we were seated the president sat on one side of my suit coat so I couldn’t move.  He was so intense on the interview, and there was no way I would interrupt his concentration.  For me the moral of the story is to always make sure that my suit coat is fully buttoned when sitting down.

    The Philharmonic coin has been the top selling coin in the world four times.  Its jumbo year was 1995, well before the crazy years we have had during the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) since 2008.  In 1995, we sold 747,100 ounces of gold.  That’s the magic number of a jumbo jet.  In the early years the market was much slower than today.  But during the GFC the Philharmonic reached new heights that are very impressive.  In 2009 the gold Philharmonic sold well over 1 million ounces.  Wow, such a crazy and very different market.

    A once in a lifetime experience was to be part of the changeover of the denomination of the Philharmonic coin from the old Schilling currency of Austria, to the new European currency, the euro.  I remember the oh-so- many details that had to be looked after when changing a currency: all the official documents as well as everything from cash registers, to drink dispensers, food prices, bus fares, the daily newspaper – all of these changed in some way.  The Philharmonic coins were also changed to the euro denomination.  Already more than 12 years ago. There was hardly one aspect of daily life that remained as before.  

    Of course, a huge highlight was when the Austrian Mint introduced the largest gold coin of the world in 2004.  It was the first goliath-sized coin to be issued.  Only 15 of these were made and they sold within 24 hours of the simultaneous global launch.  Sometimes, even today, I hear that someone is looking for just one of these coins.  But they seem to have remained with the lucky few who bought them.

    Our little mint was launching this product worldwide.  The global launch was hosted by our President in Tokyo, the Executive Director in Vienna and me in New York.  It was really thrilling to reveal the coin, which has come to be known as “Big Phil.”  It contains 1,000 ounces of fine gold and weighs 31 kilos which is just shy of 70 pounds.  We had shipped the coin to New York and on the day of the launch, we drove the car into a truck lock at an underground vault to pick it up.  The one thing I had forgotten to organize was how to get it upstairs into the room where the press conference would be held.  We did have extra security with us on this day and thank goodness for strong security guards.  Two big fellows somehow manhandled Big Phil into the elevator and into the room and back again.  I did take the opportunity as well to pick up the Big Phil, wearing white gloves so that no finger prints were left behind.  I huffed and puffed and somehow lifted it, but there was no way I was going anywhere with that rather large item.  Man was it heavy!  Its weight alone gives Big Phil a built-in anti-theft device.

    My thoughts return to this beautiful room and the amazing music being played by members of the Orchestra, which is the namesake of the coin.  I am touched by so many thoughts and wonderful memories.  There are amazing people in the world of coins: collectors, investors, journalists, dealers, minters, engravers, production, marketers, musicians and so many more.  Then the philharmonic orchestra musicians delight all of us with a surprise rendition of Happy Birthday for the Philharmonic pure bullion coins.  Hard to think of another industry where culture and business come together in truly perfect harmony.

    “Back from the Dead, Dinosaurs”

    October 17, 2014 9:03 AM by
    Imagine in today’s world an animal that is taller than a 3 story building.  Not just one of these, but several of these, such as the Brachiosaurus wandering about outside your window.  Or how about a flying reptile, the Pterosaur with a wingspan of over 30 feet?  Of course, the T-Rex is nothing to snub your nose at, it could eat some 500 pounds of meat a day.  My goodness the world would be so much different if instead of the lovely verdant hills and gently flowing streams of our world, we’d have an environment that was hot and steamy.  And, we’d still be connected with Asia!  The world of dinosuars is so long ago, but it’s easy to imagine how minuscule we would be standing in a swampy land with palm trees and trying to keep out of the T-rex’s jaws.  We’d be tender wee morsels for dinner.

    The “Back from the Dead” silver coin series from Austria allows one to readily imagine such a world.  Through this series I’ve learned that there were regional differences in dinosaurs around the world.  The little country of Austria has one dinosaur named in its honor, the “Struthiosaurus austriacus”.  Several fossils of this dinosaur have been found in Austria. The name seems appropriate since the dinosaur is relatively small as dino’s go – only about 5 feet – and it was found within Austria.  This almost delicate dinosaur that had a hard shell-like coat or armor to protect itself is found on the Cretaceous period coin.  

    These silver coins are real treats with so much design detail.  My blog is called “Metalmatics” and it sounds a bit like metal-magic and I think this series really has achieved new heights of design magic.  Of course, the free App that is available makes this whole series just come alive.  Go ahead and try it.  I think you’ll get a kick out of trying to catch the silver coin before the roaming dinosaurs do, just click on

    I also imagine a world where life began in the sea like the ichthyosaurus and nothosauras found on the first coin, the Triassic coin.  How about going for a dip with one of these?  I can imagine it because the mint engravers have so carefully detailed what is known about dinosaurs.  As with most Austrian coins, you get 2 designs for the price of one.  One side of the dino coin has a painstakingly engraved fossil as well as a representation of what it is believed it looked like, in real-life.  The reverse of the coin is like the action shot that brings all the pieces together such as the featured dinosaur in its habitat, allowing us to get fully absorbed in this prehistoric world. 

    The other cool thing on the obverse is the time line that begins with the first coin and will bring these ancient times forward to the fifth and final coin of the series.  The timeline begins over 250 million years ago, the Triassic period.  The most recent coin, the Tertiary coin is only 2.5 million years ago, almost within our “recent” memory.

    One of the highlights during this journey through time was the Jurassic coin, just like the movie of the same name.  By then the world had already evolved to more resemble our world today with huge rivers and valleys being formed and the smaller Rhamphorhynchus could be seen flying the skies.  Life had evolved from of the sea and was now chalking up frequent flyer miles in the air.

    "Freedom" The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    September 18, 2014 4:37 PM by

    I am so moved by this coin and the memory of this world event.  Most of us remember where we were when the “Wall” began to crumble. It was the end of communism in Europe and the reunification of so many families divided far too long by something over which they had no control.  The story comes alive when looking at the silver coin that commemorates this time in our history. 

    The obverse shows a young man cutting through the Wall leaving behind the barbed wire of the communist world on the left side and going towards freedom and greener grass on the right side.

    The reverse of the coin shows the young man coming through the wall and into freedom. The barbed wire is now behind him and he looks forward to see global symbols of freedom: the Statue of Liberty, the Brandenburg Gate  (which was on the very front of this wall),the Elisabeth bridge connecting eastern Hungary to the West, the giant Ferris wheel of Vienna and the Charles Bridge in Prague, all symbols that bridge to the free world. Superimposed on this are the stars of a free and united Europe.

    The wall began to crumble on June 27,1989.  The foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary met at the barbed wire fence along these borders, separating the West from the East.  The time had come for the end of the divide in post-war Europe.  A picture flashed around the world that showed these men wearing suits and using a heavy wire cutter together cutting through the barbed wire, thus marking the  beginning of the end of communism in Europe and the crumbling of the Iron Curtain.

    Personally when I heard the news, I didn’t  believe it for some time.  Not until the  weeks leading up to November 9, 1989 as the “Wall” continued to crumble all the way north to Berlin did I begin to think this might really happen. Within just 5 months the end of the physically divided East and West had come – a dream come true for so many people. 

    I remember the “Wall” very well.  Not that I lived in Berlin, but anytime I was in Berlin I saw how it effected daily life. Perhaps if you lived in Berlin, you would get used to it.  But in my case I always saw and felt its  presence. The experience of crossing into the East was memorable; it took such   a long time and it was such a serious process. Once on the eastern side you could see the vast areas of barren land all along the wall, the deserted houses that were in its shadow, the guard towers,the dog runs, and who knows what else I couldn’t see.  All of this was very poignant.

    On one occasion I entered the then just liberated East Germany at night.  We crossed by car through a zone that would have been flooded with search -lights.  But by then, only a matter of weeks later,the whole area was virtually dark with empty guard towers silhouetted against the dark sky.  It was truly an eerie sight. 

    The notorious Wall was 155 km long, of which 43 were in Berlin.  There were 302 watchtowers,along with 105.5 km of anti-vehicle ditches, as well as 259 dog runs.  It was a formidable barrier through which more than 100,000 easterners tried to escape. It is thought that more than 600 were killed in these attempts either shot or killed by the guards, or by their own escape efforts (such as drowning),or committed suicide when they were caught.

    Today only one kilometer of the Wall still stands as a memorial to these years and all that happened.  Many people, who were called Mauerspechte(wall woodpeckers), chipped away at the wall and took home a piece as a memento.  In the city of Berlin there is a continuous line built into the streets, sidewalks and parks, which delineates where the wall used to stand.

    So much has changed in the intervening 25 years.  The former cobblestone highways   of the east have been updated to the western standard of modern times. The city of Berlin is alive and modern.  Elegant modern architecture is everywhere, including the massive US Embassy right beside the Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate has been restored.  I am moved emotionally whenever I’ve been able to wander back and forth through the Gate, admiring its classic architecture and reflecting about what it means to be able to freely do this.