World Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Feb. 10, 2020: Another fast sellout!

This lilliputian gold coin (smaller than a match head) is a Swiss issue honoring Albert Einstein. It sold out immediately.

Images courtesy of Swissmint.

Does this sound familiar? A mint offers a coin with novel features and an extremely low mintage, a formula that ensures a fast sellout and rising secondary market prices. Even if it does sound familiar, I am not talking about the story you are probably thinking of.

The Swissmint, Switzerland’s federal mint, on Jan. 23 offered what it calls “the smallest gold coin in the world” — a lilliputian issue so tiny (2.96 millimeters in diameter, weighing 0.063 gram, smaller than the head of a match or two grains of rice) that each coin is shipped with a magnifying glass to enable the owner to see the design elements.

And what a design. One side depicts Albert Einstein in an image based on one of the most iconic photographs of the legendary physicist, taken by United Press photographer Arthur Sasse. Sasse was trying to persuade Einstein to smile; he stuck his  tongue out instead, creating a memorable image.

The design and the novelty of the Swiss coin translated into an instant sellout. 

Jeff Starck, our senior editor for world coins, was in attendance at a Swissmint technical forum during the recent World Money Fair in Berlin, where Marius Haldimann, general manager of Swissmint, said that the tooling team at Swissmint decided it wanted to work to create something special. They decided that the coin must be die-struck, with a die created through standard milling and that the coin should depict a special theme, a person representing innovation. Hubbing required very precise mechanics to ensure the dies were centered, including requiring use of a microscope, because centering had to be within a few microns.

The mintage was limited to 999 pieces and the coin was sold at a price of around $205. One is available on eBay at this writing with a starting bid of $2,600.

The offering by the Swissmint is proof that the United States Mint is not alone in offering coins that sell out immediately. While we can have honest differences of opinion on the wisdom of low-mintage coins, the interest shown in them is evidence that strength and excitement still exist in the coin collecting hobby. 

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