Foreign coin collectors have always been far-sighted in terms of seeking out the most interesting and unique examples of coinage from around the world. In recent years, collectors have helped propel to popularity the exciting world of exclusive, or custom, world coins.
What is an Exclusive World Coin?
By definition, an exclusive world coin is a custom issue designed and facilitated by a private company with exclusive rights to distribute the coins worldwide. These coins are usually minted by an established world mint using the effigy of another country. One of the best known examples is the Perth Mint in Australia and its use of the Tuvalu effigy. While all coins struck by Perth on Australian legal tender must have Australian themes, this rule does not apply when using the Tuvalu effigy. Under the Tuvalu name, Perth can produce interesting and popular designs for the international marketplace that might not otherwise be relevant to Australia.
The Mint of Poland is another example of an established world mint that produces not only legal-tender Polish coins, but also mints a larger variety of collector coins on the effigies of other countries. These coins are struck for other governments or for private companies that have leased the rights to an effigy used by a smaller and less prominent country such as Niue, Tokelau, Burundi or Andorra.
Many private mints also produce a variety of different collector coins. These private mints have no authority to mint legal-tender coins on their own, but strike coins for private companies that have obtained authorization to produce a coin using a country’s effigy. Perhaps one of the best known private mints is B.H. Mayer in Germany. Mayer Mint has been minting coins since 1871 and is renowned for both the quality of its issues and its ability to mint uniquely shaped coins. The popular Tokelau Lunar Collector coin series has been produced at Mayer since the initial Lunar Snake release in 2013.
Is that really a country?
Exclusive coins offer collectors the opportunity to add coins from countries that would otherwise be unavailable. Many smaller countries in Africa and Asia (such as Eritrea, Liberia, Burundi and Benin) strike coins only for circulation. Short of acquiring new rolls of coins directly from these countries, a collector would not have the opportunity to add examples of these nations’ coinage to a collection.
Tiny island countries in the South Pacific do not produce any coins. Two of the most well-known Pacific Island nations, Niue and Tokelau, utilize the already established currency of New Zealand – the New Zealand Dollar. When these small countries lease the rights to produce legal tender coins, they are able not only to produce extra income for the country, but also to allow collectors an opportunity to own coins representing some often-overlooked lands.
Coins issued by officially sanctioned government mints have very strict design requirements. They must have a theme that directly relates to the issuing country and must pass multiple levels of scrutiny, often to the point of approval by the country’s senate or head of state. Exclusive custom issues are not held to these same standards, thus opening a world of options in design topics. Some of the recent popular exclusive issues have covered famous ships, literary works, warplanes, lunar animals, endangered animals, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mickey Mouse and more.
Endangered animals are a popular design theme; with elephants, rhinos, tigers, pandas and rare birds depicted on coins of varying shapes and metals. Recently, it has become popular to donate a small portion of the proceeds from sales of such coins to an organization that promotes the conservation and protection of endangered species. A contemporary series by an Australian company was accompanied by a donation directly the World Wildlife Fund with every purchase. These coins not only provided collectors with the opportunity to add a beautifully matched series to their collection, but also to play a small part in protecting and increasing awareness of these animals.
The variety of different design topics for exclusive issues opens an avenue into very exciting series of coins. For many collectors assembling a set with new releases of different designs brings a level of enjoyment that cannot be matched by assembling an annual set with an identical design every year. These sets follow a common theme, style, weight, size and shape but can provide a great amount of variety between each design.
History Lessons in a Box
The educational opportunities of exclusive coins are immense. Official government issued coins have to focus on the big events, the headliners. Exclusive coins can depict unusual history lessons or events that are important, but would otherwise not be featured on a coin. These issues also allow designers greater freedom to show an historic event from a different angle or from a more personal perspective. Many governments have laws regarding who can be portrayed on a coin. Exclusive coins, however, can highlight unsung heroes or controversial figures. And finally, private companies often devote a large portion of time to developing background information on current designs. A synopsis of this information is included on an issue’s Certificate of Authenticity. Combined with often astonishing and creative custom-themed packaging, these certificates are often history lessons in a box.
When compared to standard issues produced by official governments, exclusive coins have very limited mintages. Mintages are usually no more than a few thousand, with final numbers of 1,500 or less fairly common. These mintages are minute compared to modern US commemoratives with mintages that number in the hundreds of thousands. These low-mintage coins create a ninteresting opportunity for both collectors and investors. With limited availability, a quick sell-out and increased value on the secondary market is possible.
A prime example of this is the 2 Oz. Silver Tiffany Art series released by a European company. This finely-detailed coin series, which commemorated styles of architecture, inlaid of a real piece of Tiffany glass upon each coin. Each piece of glass was the same color, but was unique in its individual appearance. First released in 2004 with a mintage of 999 pieces, this series has soared in popularity and subsequent releases through 2014 have quickly sold out. The first year of issue coin from 2004 recently sold for nearly $3,000 in an online auction.
Another series with similar performance was Deadly and Dangerous, struck by the Perth Mint for an Australian dealer. This series launched in 2006 and featured spiders, scorpions, eels, snakes, crocodiles and other Australian animals that humans should stay far away from. Even with a mintage of 5,000 coins, the first year of issue coin -Red Back Spider – now sells for more than $600.
Buy What you Love
Remember, though. Purchasing exclusive coins for investment is not without risk. If a topic is too obscure or overdone, the series may never gain traction. Even so, there are instances when a series did not catch on until later coins in were released – prompting a mad dash to obtain the early issues. If you are purchasing as a collector, you should do your research, but also remember one of the cardinal rules of collecting: buy what appeals to your own tastes.
Acquiring exclusive coins can be a difficult task, but part of the joy for collectors is the thrill of the hunt. With low mintage exclusives by dealers on other continents, many coins will never make it to your local coin shop. As with all modern esoteric items, the Internet can be your friend. You may have to pay an additional premium for international shipping, but if you search for something, chances are you can find it. Your best option, however, is to work with an established dealer of world coins that focuses on continually stocking a diverse selection of new world coins. At MCM we have established relationships with international mints and dealers and are often able to source these hard to find coins for our clients.
Acquiring exclusive world coins is a fulfilling way to add variety to your collection through a diverse selection of countries and topics. Your choices are endless and provide an opportunity to assemble a lasting collection that represents YOU, as shown through your choices. The world is an open book. Have fun collecting!
Hayden Tubbs is the Vice President of ModernCoinMart (MCM), and is the in-house world coin buyer and expert. His broad knowledge in world coins and his experience as the head of eBay sales for the company place him in a unique position within the company to have a very high level of understanding in the world coin market. Visit MCM on the web at https://www.moderncoinmart.com.
This article was written by MCM for publication in Hard Assets magazine.