Precious Metals

Palladium bullion coin highly unlikely for 2016

While the U.S. Mint's design development team at the Philadelphia Mint is feverishly working toward producing an American Eagle, High Relief 1-ounce $25 palladium bullion coin, it's highly unlikely the task can be executed for a coin dated 2016, U.S. Mint Acting Quality Manager Ronald J. Harrigal said June 27.

Harrigal was in Colorado Springs, Colo., to brief members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee on the U.S. Mint's progress in the development of the palladium coin. The CCAC was meeting in Colorado in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association Summer Seminar.

Harrigal says the success of any palladium bullion coin is predicated on the Mint's ability to build a network of multiple vendors to supply sufficient quantities of planchets that meet Mint specifications.

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"The supply chain is key," Harrigal said. The Mint is currently in the process of securing those vendors, he said.

Harrigal said specifications are currently being developed for blanks of sufficient dimensions to successfully render the mandated obverse and reverse designs in high relief. Although it is not yet pinpointed, Harrigal said, the diameter of the palladium coin will be between 32.7 millimeters, the diameter of the American Eagle 1-ounce gold $50 coin, and 38.1 millimeters, the diameter of commemorative silver dollars.

Harrigal disclosed that several years ago, the U.S. Mint secured some palladium blanks from Goldcorp, one of its suppliers for gold blanks for the American Eagle coins. The pieces were used to strike, in quarter dollar size diameter (24.3 millimeters), test pieces using Martha Washington "nonsense dies." The nonsense dies bear an obverse portrait of Martha Washington with nonsense inscriptions and various reverses the Mint uses for test strikes.

While the results looked promising, Harrigal said, the blanks then weren't produced to the Mint specifications currently being developed, Harrigal said.

Harrigal said U.S. Mint officials are consulting with officials at the Royal Canadian Mint who have experience with producing palladium coins. The RCM ceased regular production of a Maple Leaf palladium bullion coin because of the fluctuation in demand.

U.S. Mint officials also talked with potential palladium blank vendors earlier in 2016 at the World Money Fair in Berlin, Harrigal said.

How the palladium Eagle came to be 

The palladium coin was originally authorized under provisions of the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010 pursuant to the outcome of a feasibility study, which was conducted in 2012. The study determined that a bullion coin would not be economically feasible except for the inaugural year, with more interest shown for a Proof or other collector version.

The palladium coin initiative was put on the back burner until Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., sponsored successful legislation signed into law in December by President Obama that tosses out the feasibility study, but leaves all other provisions of the 2010 act intact.

What will the the coin look like?

The initiative mandates the Mint produce the 1-ounce .9995 fine palladium coin at the West Point Mint, or if needed, at any of the three other U.S. Mint production facilities. The Proof or collector version is mandated to be struck only at the West Point facility with the W Mint mark. Harrigal said the finish on the Proof versions would have to change annually and be different than the previous year's issue, but the law does not preclude a finish being repeated. Finishes could include Reverse Proof finishes and other selective Proof polishing finishes, he said.

The bullion coin would exhibit a "wire brush" finish, Harrigal said.

The obverse design for the American Eagle palladium coin is to replicate sculptor Adolph A. Weinman's Winged Liberty Head introduce on the dime's obverse in 1916. The reverse is mandated to be the eagle design Weinman rendered in 1906 for the reverse of the American Institute of Architects' gold medal first presented in 1907.

Harrigal said the U.S. Mint received AIA approval earlier in 2016 to access the original 14-inch plaster model for the gold medal. Harrigal said the plaster and the reverse of a finished AIA gold medal are being digitally scanned in the development of dies for the palladium issue. The Mint already has digitized obverse details from the original dime models that were used when replicating the obverse for the 2016-W Winged Liberty Head, Centennial gold dime.

Among the difficulties in die and blank development will be the execution of the upsetting process to form a raised rim, as well as incorporating all of the mandated reverse inscriptions, which include the denomination, weight and metal fineness.

The AIA medal reverse design is similar to Weinman's eagle rendered for the Walking Liberty half dollar introduced in 1916.

The U.S. Mint is already conducting some test strikes using palladium blanks, Harrigal said, and is finding the metal not as difficult to strike as platinum. Quality control includes consideration of the metal's grain and surface hardness, among other factors, Harrigal said.

"This could be a fairly efficient program for us," Harrigal said.

Another factor the U.S. Mint will have to keep in mind is the highly reactive nature of palladium. The metal picks up contaminants quickly, Harrigal said, which is why it is often used in emission controls in automobile catalytic converters.

What is palladium?

Palladium is a precious metal that is labeled Pd on the periodic table of elements, where it has the atomic number 46.

While it's in the platinum family of metals, palladium is not in the same ballpark in terms of value. 

According to Kitco, one ounce of palladium was valued at $588 at 4:59 p.m. ET on June 29, while platinum's spot price was $1,008 per ounce.

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