By Ron Drzewucki - Modern Coin Wholesale .....
Question: Which bullion coins have face values denominated in euros?
Well, let’s start by seeing how many European bullion coins are out there? You might expect Europe to be full of countries churning them out, but it’s not. You’ve got the United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine and Austria. That’s it.
And if you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you know that Russia still uses the ruble, no matter how far it falls in value (they are a proud people).
Ukrainians get a linguistic workout every time they use the hryvnia (HREEV-nee-yuh?), which has been the national currency since 1996 and is currently suffering from hyperinflation.
The UK still uses the familiar pound.
That leaves Austria, and its glorious series of gold and silver bullion coins, the Vienna Philharmonic.
So of all the continentals, why Austria? Why not France or Germany, the twin economic engines of the EU? Much like the U.S. Mint, the Austrian Mint has to pay for itself. It became a public company in 1989, and the gold Vienna Philharmonic followed later that year. By that time, bullion coins had proven their selling power on the international market.
In 1992, the Philharmonic was the best-selling gold bullion coin in the world, a feat that it’s repeated a handful of times since.
The Vienna Philharmonic
The Philharmonic gold coin, named in honor of Vienna’s world-renown orchestra, was first issued on October 10, 1989. Since the euro wasn’t adopted until 2002, the original face value was 2,000 Austrian shillings. Nowadays, it’s worth €100.
The coin weighs over 31 g (one troy ounce). It has a 2 mm-thick reeded edge and is 37 mm across. It consists of 24-carat, 99.99% pure gold (or .9999 fine, if you prefer).
The obverse was designed by Thomas Pesendorfer (View Designer's Profile), one of the Austrian Mint’s house designers, in 1989. It features the pipe-organ-in-residence of the Wiener Musikverein (Musikverein for short), a Viennese concert hall and home to the Vienna Philharmonic. The inscription REPUBLIK OSTERREICH (Republic of Austria) appears over the organ, and the weight and face value appear under it.
The reverse was also designed by Pesendorfer, and features a cello surrounded by four violins, a bassoon, a harp, and a Vienna horn. If you don’t know what a Vienna horn is or what it sounds like, YouTube it (it’s worth it).
The inscription WIENER PHILHARMONIKER (Vienna Philharmonic) forms an arc over the orchestral assembly.
In the first year of issue, the coin was available in one-ounce and quarter-ounce varieties. The quarter-ounce weighs about 7.8g, is 22mm in diameter, 1.2mm thick, and carries a face value of €25.
A 3g, one-tenth-ounce coin was introduced in 1991, with a 16mm diameter and 1.2mm thickness. It features a face value of €10.
The half-ounce Philharmonic, weighing 15.6g, came along in 1994. It’s 1.6 mm thick and has a diameter of 28mm. Logically, its face value is €50.
And a one-twenty-fifth-ounce coin came out earlier this year, with a face value of €4, weight of 1.24g and diameter of 13mm.
The only differences between them are the inscribed weights and face values.
Special commemorative issues have been released to celebrate key anniversaries. Of particular note is the "Big Phil", a special gold Philharmonic issued in 2004, the 15th anniversary of the series. What a monster! Consisting of one thousand ounces (31 kilograms) of 99.99% pure gold, this €100,000 bad boy was the biggest coin in the world until the Royal Canadian Mint’s 2007 million-dollar gold Maple Leaf.
Only 15 “Big Phils” were ever produced. It should surprise no one that the coin industry is numerologically-obsessed.
A 20th anniversary coin was minted in 2009. It was sold at a premium over the price of gold. I don’t know where the surcharge went.
And the one-twenty-fifth-ounce coins mentioned previously were created to commemorate the 25th year of production in 2014, along with special anniversary sets available from the Austrian Mint.
What’s that? Oh yeah, there’s a silver version, too.
Introduced in February 2008, the silver Philharmonic consists of 31g of 99.9% pure (.999 fine) silver. Its diameter is 37mm, same as the gold Phil, but the silver Phil is 3.2mm thick.
That’s a hockey puck right there.
It has a smooth edge (you know, so you can tell it apart from the gold version), and a face value of €1.50.
The Austrian Mint
Unlike, say, China, which seems to prefer anonymity, the Austrian Mint is quite the “personality” on the world stage. It’s only fitting, because the Austrian Mint has a rich history and tradition.
According to their website, the first coins minted in Vienna were made in 1194 from the silver used to ransom King Richard I the Lionheart from Duke Leopold. Apparently, Richard had insulted Leopold on some prior occasion, and while Richard was traveling through Europe on his way back from the Crusades, Leopold seized the day (and Richard, too).
(By the way, ever heard of Robin Hood? Some speculate that his real mission was the “acquiring” of funds to help ransom the King. At any rate, Richard’s wife, the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine, even taxed the church to rescue the king, so who knows?)
The Vienna Mint is first named in the historical record in 1371. It moved around a bit over the centuries, but settled into the Heumarkt in 1835, where you can visit it today.
In 1715 it was named the Principal Mint of Austria.
In 1741 it minted the first Maria Theresa thaler, one of the most famous coins in the world. When the empress Maria Theresa died in 1780, the thaler’s date was frozen and has remained frozen ever since.
When Austria became a republic after World War I, the Vienna Mint became the sole mint responsible for manufacturing the nation’s coins, a position it retains.
It changed its name to the Austrian Mint in 1989 when it became a public limited company and subsidiary of the National Bank of Austria. The bank itself has been around since 1816. Now that it was a public company and had to fend for itself, marketing a gold bullion coin was a great way to stay in the financial black.
Thus the Philharmonic was born (forged?).
Of course, silver Phils came along in 2008, but before that, the Austrian Mint developed the first bimetallic, silver-niobium coins in 2003. If you haven’t seen one of these works of art, they’re amazing. The silver-niobium series consistently wins Coin of the Year awards, including this year’s  bimetallic category.
These are some of the reasons we collect coins in the first place. For these reasons and more, products from the Austrian Mint are some of the most intriguing in the world. And the Vienna Philharmonic is one of the most popular, and certainly one of the most reliable, bullion coins in existence.
One more bit of trivia before I go: even though it’s the only bullion coin denominated in euros, the Philharmonic is legal tender only in the Republic of Austria. Go figure.
Austrian Silver Philharmonics Currently Available on eBay
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