World Coins

Which coin is the world’s first mint-colored coin?

Editor's note: This is the first part of a multi-part series prepared by Rita Laws for Coin World's February 2015 monthly issue about the world's first mint-colored coin. 

Which coin is the world’s first mint-colored coin?

Definitions are critical to this question.

To be considered a “mint-colored coin,” a coin must first of all be a coin, meaning it is legal tender in the nation of issue. And if a coin is vying for a title like “World’s First Colored Coin,” the nation that the coin represents had better be recognized. This means that it has been acknowledged by an international body such as the United Nations, or by mutual agreement of the nation itself and the recognized government that was in control before independence. 

Next, a coin must have had its color added or applied at the mint where it was made or by another entity that was authorized by the government of the issuing nation. 

A mint-colored medal does not meet the definition of a mint-colored coin, nor does a coin colored by an after-market company.

So which nation issued the first one? Some point to the Pacific island of Palau, and Palau is well known for both colored coins and mermaid coins. 

Coin Invest Trust, or CIT, a private mint in Liechtenstein, developed an early process for coloring coins and applied this for the first time in 1992 to the first-ever issues of Palau. Several different Palau dollar denominations were colorized. Some of these were even sold accompanied by a printed certificate of authenticity by Preferred Customer Service, a company out of Minneapolis that is no longer in business. The certificate of authenticity declared the 1992 Palau dollar to be the “World’s First Full-Color Coin.” And the certificate of authenticity was wrong.

Palau was a trust territory of the United States of America in 1992, and had been since 1947. A trust territory is a United Nations term for a territory that will receive eventual independence. In fact, Palau did not gain its independence from America until 1994. 

The Compact of Free Association with the United States was ratified in 1993 and went into effect on Oct. 1, 1994, making Palau independent de jure (in law) in that year. 

Palau was independent de facto (in fact) on May 25, 1994, when the trusteeship was canceled, but either way, actual independence occurred in 1994. 

Palau itself issued a special dollar in 1994 proclaiming its independence as occurring that year. Therefore, the 1992 and 1993 Palau issues are definitely not legal tender (or are technically “illegal” tender) because Palau, as part of the United States, had no authority to mint its own coins. To this day, the U.S. dollar remains the currency of this nation, but only since 1994 has Palau had the right to mint its own collector coinage.

So what are the 1992 and 1993 colored dollars of Palau, if not coins? They are something between a fantasy and a pattern. A fantasy is a coin-like item with no legal value and created without government sanction. Patterns are the officially produced test coins of a nation. 

If there was a numismatic term defining a “pre-nationhood pattern,” then the 1992 and 1993 Palau coins might qualify. Failing that, these are technically the fantasy coins of a U.S. territory.

The Palau coins dated 1994 and beyond are legal tender. In 1994, Palau also issued a colored 5-ounce silver coin. By any definition, this is the world’s first colored 5-ounce silver coin. But this leaves us with the question of which coin weighing something other than 5 ounces is the world’s first.

No nation issued a mint-colored coin prior to or during 1992. That brings us to 1993. In this year, two nations issued colored commemorative coins, both as parts of series, and both minted at the same place, an undetermined mint in South Africa (the South African Mint in Pretoria did not respond to an inquiry about whether they were involved with the production of these coins). 

The title of “World’s First Mint-Colored Coin” goes to both Uganda and Equatorial Guinea. It’s a tie. 

It is no surprise that they were struck by the same mint. The 1993 to 1994 Equatorial Guinea colored Dinosaur series and the 1993 to 1994 Uganda Famous Places program comprise coins with very different themes, but the overall appearance of the applied color is very similar with both series.

Keep reading this series:

Colorful fantasy coins pave way for official coins with color

Three main methods exist for adding color to world coins

What is the future for colorful world coins?

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