By Louis Golino for CoinWeek....
This article discusses world coins from 2011 that I believe are the best of the year either because they are significant and interesting issues, or because I think they will appreciate in value over time.
It includes numismatic releases and collectible bullion coins with limited mintages. All were issued last year, but some are dated 2012. Australia and some other countries put the following year on coins issued during the last quarter.
Almost all are silver coins, and the lunar dragon releases dominate this survey because they largely dominated the modern world coin scene in the past year.
The selection of coins is also based on in part on the past price performance of similar coins, or coins in the same series. Past performance with coins, as with stocks or anything else, is no guarantee of future performance.
These kind of coins are purchased primarily because the buyer likes the design, or the coin has some other personal significance or resonance for them.
But many also have solid worldwide demand and very low mintages and therefore may increase in value separate from their metal content.
Year of the Dragon releases: Perth Mint coins
The number and variety of dragon-themed 2012 coins is remarkable. It is the “largest annual coin program on the planet” as explained in an excellent recent survey that appeared in Numismaster .
The coins were issued by many countries, particularly in Asia and a number of Commonwealth countries, to mark the 12th and most popular sign of the Chinese Lunar calendar, the dragon. The Chinese Lunar season begins in February.
These various dragon coins have been so popular worldwide that bullion producers have even released a number of dragon-themed silver and gold bars and rounds to cash in on “dragon-mania”.
The coins issued by the Perth Mint in Western Australia have attracted the most interest of all the 2012 dragon coins because of a combination of attractive designs, low mintages, and Perth’s reputation for excellence.
The limited edition sets of proof silver dragons, the dragon lunar type set, and the rectangular colored dragon set elicited the most interest. These sets sold out in hours between September and December 2011.
Prices have moderated after peaking following the sell-outs, as almost always happens with limited issue modern coins – American and foreign.
But they still sell for substantial premiums over issue price, and as those sets change hands from speculators to collectors, prices should eventually go even higher given the limited supply.
American collectors tend to focus so intensely on U.S. coins that I think we can lose sight of what appeals to people in other countries.
Foreign collectors, as John Winkelmann of Talisman Coins explained in my interview with him last year, are much more interested in world coins than Americans are, although the number of world collectors in the U.S. is growing.
Jeff Garrett recently wrote a commentary for NGC in which he predicted that world coins will become more popular and more valuable this year.
The U.S. market for Perth Mint coins is strong. Just be careful to shop around and study e-Bay closing prices over time to get a sense of the real value of an item before purchasing it for an inflated retail price.
For example, a couple months ago I was able to purchase a gilded Perth dragon issued in 2000 and graded MS-69 by NGC (with a very low population) for less than $200 even though the same coin retails for $500 at several major dealers.
The 2012 one ounce silver bullion dragon, limited to 300,000, currently sells for about $90-100. If one looks at the performance of earlier Perth dragon releases from 2000, I think the 2012 bullion coin is worth purchasing.
In addition, the one ounce gold bullion dragon, limited to 30,000 pieces, which sells for about a $300 premium over the gold price also has good long-term potential. There are smaller gold dragons in the same design as well as two ounce and larger coins.
The 2 ounce silver proof Dragon, which was only released as part of a 1,000-edition set, is my favorite coin from the vast Perth 2012 dragon line-up. It is a truly scarce coin with sold demand. It is a larger diameter than most two ounce coins.
Once in a while an NGC-slabbed example is offered on e-Bay, but this does not happen often, and I know of only one U.S. dealer who has carried this coin; John Maben’s Modern Coin Mart.
Other dragon releases
In addition, there are some beautiful and very low mintage dragon issues from other countries. Rather than list them all, I will highlight a couple that readers may not be aware of and which I find to be interesting coins.
France released an attractive lunar coin that has an intricate depiction of a dragon on the obverse, and an image of famous French fable writer Jean de La Fontaine on the reverse, and a mintage of 10,000. The coin is available in the U.S. from Royal Scandinavian Mint .
The Mint of Finland produced what is one of the more unusual dragon releases for the country of Fiji.
Many smaller countries have European mints produce their coins for them. Poland made a color pad dragon for the Asian-Pacific island nation of Niue.
The Fiji release is the Yin and Yang dragon, which uses color pad printing, and consists of two pieces that fit together and which are reversible. It is a very popular coin, but only 4,000 are available, which has already driven prices from about $135 to a current retail value of $200.
Finland also made a filigree dragon for Fiji. It is a very elegant coin also limited to 4,000 pieces.
Canadian Wildlife Series
This is a new bullion series modeled on the highly successful half ounce wolf coin released in 2006 and featuring animals that live in Canada. Each coin is limited to 1,000,000 pieces, and with worldwide demand most dealers regularly sell out of their relatively limited supply of these coins.
The coins released so far include the grizzly, wolf, and cougar. The first two already carry a premium and sell for about $50 each. The cougar, the most recent issue, is still available for about the same price as an American silver eagle (2011 mintage of almost 40 million), making it an excellent way to purchase silver.
The Kookaburra is the national animal of Australia. Each year since 1990 the Perth Mint has issued one, two, and ten ounce and one kilo bullion coins depicting kookaburras.
The one ounce coins are limited to 500,000 and carry a premium over silver content. Retail prices for the coins vary a lot depending on the dealer.
From what I have seen the ten ounce coins seem to carry the highest retail premiums for past releases. Even the 2012 ten ounce coin is hard to find and usually sells for a relatively high premium over melt value compared to other large bullion coins.
The Italian Mint issues very attractive 10 euro proof silver coins that are issued in limited numbers.They are among the harder to find world issues. Their level of artistic achievement is extraordinary.
The two from 2011 I would highlight are a coin honoring Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom the American continent is named, and a coin marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of famous Italian painter and architect, Giorgio Vasari, who also founded the field of art history.
The Vasari coin is probably the most attractive world coin issued in 2011. It's also available from Royal Scandinavian Mint. This coin is part of a series honoring Italian artists.
Finally, another well-designed bullion coin to consider is the 2012 silver Britannia from Great Britain. It is the latest in series that started in 1998. It is limited to 100,000 coins, but can be obtained for under $40. Some earlier issues sell for several multiples of that price.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.