Small change and mys­te­ri­ous money

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached atrussell.wanger­ Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

I put money in the cof­fee ma­chine at work and, as part of the change, the ma­chine kicked out one of those 1973 Cana­dian quar­ters com­mem­o­rat­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the North-West Mounted Po­lice (later the RCMP).

I re­mem­ber that de­sign well - a Moun­tie on a horse with a pen­nant on a pike. It was one of the first quar­ters I can re­mem­ber that de­vi­ated from the then-stan­dard cari­bou de­sign. (Ex­cept, of course, for the 1967 cen­ten­nial set of Cana­dian an­i­mal coins de­signed by artist Alex Colville, still a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of coinage.)

Now, how­ever, it seems that new coins - es­pe­cially quar­ters - pop up ev­ery week or so.

Pro­duc­ing them ap­par­ently costs noth­ing - or, at least, noth­ing I or any­one else is al­lowed to know.

Take the Royal Cana­dian Mint’s plan for Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary in 2017.

The mint launched a healthy cam­paign to pick new coin de­signs. There’s a glossy brochure, de­liv­ered by direct mail, to let Cana­di­ans make their choice from 25 al­ready-drafted de­signs, in­clud­ing a snow­man hold­ing a hockey stick, an as­tro­naut with the Canadarm in the back­ground, etc. There was a vot­ing web­site, and on and on.

I was curious, so I wrote to the Mint: “I was won­der­ing if I could get a cost break­down for the Mint’s re­cent ‘ Vote for Your Favourite De­signs’ cam­paign for 2017 coins. (That would in­clude such things as any costs for ini­tial de­signs, the direct mail cam­paign, web­site de­sign, etc.)”

The Mint wrote back - or, at least, the se­nior man­ager of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Alex Reeves, did: “The de­tailed costs of the ‘My Canada, My In­spi­ra­tion’ coin de­sign con­test are com­mer­cially sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion which can­not be dis­closed. I can how­ever con­firm that this pro­gram is self-fund­ing, at no cost to tax­pay­ers, through the rev­enues our Canada 150 cir­cu­la­tion coins will gen­er­ate.”

How does that work? Here’s Reeves again: “Since the Mint sells cir­cu­la­tion coins to the Gov­ern­ment of Canada at cost, which is al­ways less than their face value, the dif­fer­ence be­tween what the gov­ern­ment pays for a coin and the face value at which it is sold to banks and busi­nesses gen­er­ates sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive rev­enues for the gov­ern­ment. As such, the cost of pro­mot­ing and ex­e­cut­ing com­mem­o­ra­tive cir­cu­la­tion coin pro­grams like ‘My Canada, My In­spi­ra­tion’ rep­re­sent only a frac­tion of the rev­enues gen­er­ated by their sale.”

That is a bit of an ex­is­ten­tial mind-bend. You prob­a­bly thought that a cur­rency was a gov­ern­ment-is­sued medium of ex­change; turns out it’s sim­ply a prod­uct up-sold for gov­ern­ment rev­enue.

Surely, though, there must be ad­di­tional costs for our ev­er­chang­ing coinage, if for no other rea­son than that de­tailed coin dies have to be made.

I asked if there was “a ball­park cost for the cre­ation, de­sign, en­grav­ing and pro­duc­tion of new dies, etc., for ex­am­ple, for a new quar­ter.”

But if there is, and where that cost lands, isn’t go­ing to be ex­plained by the Mint.

“Fi­nally, we can’t dis­close the cost of pro­duc­ing any of our cir­cu­lat­ing de­nom­i­na­tions as we com­pete with other mints for in­ter­na­tional cir­cu­la­tion coin con­tracts,” Reeves wrote. Sigh. The Moun­tie quar­ter? It’s not even my favourite cof­fee-ma­chine quar­ter; the same ma­chine gifted me a sil­ver 1963 quar­ter that’s ap­par­ently worth five dol­lars for the sil­ver con­tent alone.

And the Colville coins? Even back in 1967, the gov­ern­ment was will­ing to re­veal it paid Colville $2,500 for the win­ning de­sign.

Look how far we’ve come.

You prob­a­bly thought that a cur­rency was a gov­ern­ment-is­sued medium of ex­change; turns out it’s sim­ply a prod­uct up-sold for gov­ern­ment rev­enue.

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