Cashing in on investment value of collecting coins
The UK’s official coin manufacturer The Royal Mint has launched its first ever legal tender lunar coin to woo wealthy Chinese collectors as coin collection becomes increasingly widespread in China.
The coin, put on the market last month, commemorates the forthcoming lunar year of the horse. It features a powerful horse on one side and the portrait of the British Queen on the other.
The Royal Mint says the horse coin will be the first of a series, which covers the Chinese zodiac and over 12 years will feature all the animals in the zodiac.
“China is a significant market for us,” says Shane Bissett, head of commemorative coins at The Royal Mint.
Bissett says China was the biggest market for The Royal Mint’s commemorative coins for the 2012 London Olympics, and a market even larger than the UK’s domestic market. To reach out to its Chinese buyers, The Royal Mint has also established an account on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter.
He says the lunar coins would be attractive for Chinese buyers as both a collector’s item and a present for others, and believes the Chinese coin collection circle has grown in recent years.
The horse coin has been designed by British Chinese artist Wuon-Gean Ho. It combines elements from both British and Chinese heritage.
The foreground of the design features a powerful leaping horse with a big tail high in the wind. Beneath the horse’s feet lies the famous Uffington Horse, a pre- historic white horse carved into the chalk hills of Oxfordshire, which is a unique British heritage site.
The horse is thought to represent a tribal symbol perhaps connected with the builders of Uffington Castle. It is 110 meters long and is believed to date back to the Iron Age (800 BC-AD 100) or the late Bronze Age (1000-700 BC).
Ho says that she did extensive research on the history of horses in China and the UK and particularly enjoyed looking at how horses are depicted in Chinese traditional paintings.
She then spent one month working on the draft copy of the horse design, revising it several times, taking about two months to complete the project.
Ho, who was born and grew up in Oxford to Malaysian and Singaporean parents, graduated with a BA in History of Art and a professional license as a veterinary surgeon from Cambridge University, before taking up a Japanese government scholarship in 1998 to study woodblock printmaking in Japan.
“Although I am involved in arts now, studying anatomy and closely observing animals for my degree in veterinary medicine was good training for this project,” she says.
Even though Ho grew up in the UK, she says that she is very much fascinated by Asian art and has traveled across Asia, visiting countries including China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
“I think the Asian way of creating things and looking at things is very much embedded in my landscapes. When you go to a country and breathe the air and eat the food, it changes your outlook on life,” she says.
The new horse coin design features on a number of different coins, made from either 999.9 fine gold or 999 fine silver. The range includes a 10th of an ounce gold brilliant uncirculated coin, a 1-ounce gold proof coin and a 1-ounce gold bullion coin.
In silver, there is the 1-ounce silver proof coin, a 5-ounce silver proof coin and a 1-ounce silver bullion coin. Prices range from 82.5 pounds ($134) for the silver 1-ounce proof coin to 1,950 pounds for the 1-ounce gold proof coin.
Bissett says these coins have already become popular with coin collectors internationally. There are about 250,000 pieces of the 1-ounce silver bullion coins, and more than 50 percent of them have been sold already, he says.
The Royal Mint’s reputation is one factor that has made the coins attractive for overseas buyers, he says, but he also believes the design contributes greatly to the attraction.
“The horse is very striking and, in the background, the Uffington horse adds something to it. So I think we’ve got a very good story to it. That’s the feedback we’ve received.”
The fact the horse coin is the first in a series of coins has also helped with its popularity among collectors. The Chinese inspiration of the coin also helped to make the coins unique, he says.
“I think it’s a rise in the awareness of Chinese traditions — and that’s transcended outside the Chinese community into other communities, who are now replicating these traditions as well.
“As the number of Chinese people in the UK grows, their network and resonance in the UK grow, and they share what their traditions are,” he says.
The Royal Mint traces its origin back more than 1,100 years, but since 2010 it has operated as Royal Mint Ltd, a company that has an exclusive contract with HM Treasury to supply all coinage for the UK. It is fully owned by the UK Treasury.
“Given our own lengthy heritage, we felt we were uniquely placed to apply our craftsmanship and artistic skills to another centuries-old tradition, that of giving zodiac coins at the lunar New Year,” Bissett says.
Wuon-Gean Ho, British Chinese artist and designer of Royal Mint’s lunar coin