by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
From February 1-3 the largest world coin show in the world, the World Money Fair, was held in Berlin, Germany. This was the 42nd WMF, and the sixth time it was held in Berlin. 15,000 people attended the show, and there were 320 exhibitors, highlighted by the presence of major world mints which were there to showcase their best recent issues and their plans for the coming year.
I recently interview Ola Borgejordet, founder and owner of the Royal Scandinavian Mint (www.rsmint.com) in Salt Lake City, to discuss the Berlin event, which he attended. His company is the North American distributor for many of the mints that were represented at the show.
What is your overall assessment of this year’s World Fair of Money held in Berlin compared to previous years when you attended the show
OB- I have read in magazines that it was bigger than ever. However, in my view it was much easier to get around and didn't at all seem as crowded as before. I was on the floor only before lunch on opening day, which is typically mayhem, but I had no problem getting around looking at booths and talking to exhibitors. The lobby of the Estrel also seemed more maneuverable.
Which countries’ coins were most in demand, and which series were selling best from what you could determine?
OB- There is always pressure on the Guest of Honor-booth (France), as well as the host country (Germany). The most buzz was probably for the Polish Mint's 3-sided coin [This is the “Fortuna Redux” coin issued by the Mint of Poland for Niue, and the world’s first cylinder-shaped coin –LG]. They were raffling away one piece at the fair, and this caused a lot of interest.
I know the 2 euro commemoratives are widely collected and enjoy collecting them myself, but what explains the fact that people are willing to stand in very long lines to obtain them at face value when in most cases they are not that much more expensive from a dealer and not hard to obtain?
OB- To a collector, I think a line of people signals that others might have an interest and that this is something worthwhile. I know that I have fallen into this trap myself many a time. Also, a lot of mints have the designer present at the stand for autographs, or they have a raffle or are giving away freebies. People love free stuff. Also, the fact that some 2 euro issues are very scarce can bear the promise that your effort might be worth something down the line. The Elysee Treaty 2 euro was the featured coin of the French Mint, so naturally this caused a lot of interest. [The Elysee Treaty signed 50 years ago between French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer cemented the close relationship between the two countries. -LG]
Was there much discussion about the latest Mongolian antique-finish wildlife coin, the Argali Ovis Ammon 500 Togrog? A lot of buyers are unhappy about the pre-order prices for this coin, which have been averaging $500 and more on e-Bay and from European coin dealers. I personally think it is risky to spend so much on a one ounce coin as prices could well fizzle out down the road, although it is clearly a very compelling design and the first issue in the series (the Gulo Gulo, which won Coin of the Year in 2009) has done very well in the market. What do you think of this coin?
OB- No. This is not necessarily a bad thing since RSM does not carry this item and we would naturally not have been approached by the manufacturer or any of its European resellers. However, I did not pick up on any specific buzz about this issue from my contacts. I do like the coin series and its design, though.
Was there much interest in the various Lunar coins for 2013, i.e., the Year of the Snake that so many different world mints have issued? I have the sense that last year’s dragons were a bigger hit at least among Americans. What do you think?
OB- The year of the snake is definitely less "popular" than the year of the dragon. As I was born in the year of the dragon myself, I find this to be perfectly normal. All kidding aside, I believe that the dramatic and interesting design possibilities of the dragon have a lot to do with the fact that collectors liked the dragon designs better. Most year of the dragon coins were very well done, especially the ones in color for a change. This year, there are a lot of different snake coins out there, but very few have the dramatic design necessary to stoke the collecting fire. I think it could be because the dragon is a fantasy creature, whereas the snake already exists in people's lives in specific shapes. There are more design opportunities (and liberties) with fantasy than reality.
Did you think that Krause’s Coin of the Year awards played a substantial role in driving interest in certain world coin issues such as the Dutch coin that won this year’s top honors?
RSM does get some interest in these coins through email and telephone. However, since most of them are either sold out or discontinued from the mints because of the time lapse between issue and award, they are hard to source for customers after the fact. Often times it takes as much as two years from issue until Krause awards them a prize. I guess this should tell collectors not to wait too long to buy coins with great designs if they like them instinctively. The award doesn't as much drive interest as highlight the broad specter of manufacturing that is the world coin market. Personally, I think it is very interesting to see different cultures reflected in coin themes and designs. Many times you can look at a coin and know that it could only have been done by that one mint at that one point in time.
What would you say are the highlights of the coins that will be coming out during the coming year from what you heard from the various world mints?
OB- I think we're seeing a further narrowing in the gap between private and government mints in that more government mints are now issuing coins that have not only color, but crystals, weird and interesting shapes, and inserts of various kinds, be they glass or other material. There is definitely a widening of the definition of what constitutes a coin, where esthetics and art gets to be more involved in the customer's purchasing decision than before. I think there's room for both, and in the end it should be the design that is key to buying a coin or not. A coin should be a work of art first and foremost, and gimmicks based solely on attributes should probably be avoided. And let's never forget that coins are actually legal tender somewhere...
Did you encounter many American collectors at the show? Were European collectors buying American coins from dealers?
OB- To the first part, there are a lot of Americans present but they are mostly in the business end of numismatics. In previous years we have bumped into one or two of RSM's customers at shows - much more so at the ANA of course - but not this year. Probably because we were only there for a short time. To the second part, we have no idea since we are not involved in the secondary market.
Was there any one world mint that really stood out as far as how it was represented at the show, its displays, etc. the way some people said the British Royal Mint was last year?
OB- Like I said, I only walked around the floor on Friday morning, so my take on this is based on a very short period of time. However, I like it when mints have something happening at the show that attracts people because of its level of interest, and not necessarily because they are giving away free stuff. This year, the Romanian Mint brought a coin artist who was creating sculptures in real-time in front of the crowd. Very interesting to see, and a nice reminder that coins are first and foremost works of art.
CoinWeek extends its thanks to Mr. Borgetjordet for his participation In this discussion.
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.