By Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
Since the summer when the first Lunar Year of the Horse 2014 coin was issued by the small nation of Tokelau, which is near New Zealand, horse-themed coins have largely dominated modern world coin collecting. The Lunar series coins are issued by more countries than any other coin, and are among the most widely collected modern issues, especially in China and other parts of Asia. In fact, Chinese Lunar coins are the largest modern world coin program in modern history.
The new Lunar year really got going on September 2 with the launch of the first collector horse-themed issues by the Perth Mint in Western Australia. The three-coin proof sets with a mintage of only 1,000 (though each coin is also sold in other options that bring their total mintages higher*) sold out instantly on Perth’s web site (www.perthmint.com.au) as well as at major distributors for Perth products. The sets had an issue price of $290 and now bring an average retail price of $400. Buyers of Perth Mint coins were pleased to see this year’s releases offered at lower price points than last year’s if purchased directly from Perth.
Perth also issues a very popular series of bullion Lunar coins with limited mintages. The current series is known as the Lunar II series, and the 2014 horse release features the usual reverse proof finish and a mintage for the one ounce coin of 300,000. The coin, whose design has received widespread acclaim, also comes in sizes from a half ounce all the way to a kilo, but only the ounce coin has a limited mintage. Some of the other sizes do tend to develop some numismatic premiums over time if the coin is very popular. The design for this year’s horse obverse that appears on all of Perth’s releases was done by artist Tom Vaughan.
Various numismatic versions of Perth’s horse coins will be released during the coming months. Collectors are eagerly anticipating the October 1 release of the annual type set, which is a four-coin set with a mintage for the set of 1500, though the coins are also sold separately. The set includes the bullion and proof coins, the gilded version, and a special colorized version, which is a bullion specimen coin, not a proof. The specimen coin is much harder to get as a separate coin as it is generally only available later from dealers and is made for the Asian market.
A separate colorized proof that will be released the same day will be issued in both one and half ounce sizes with a mintage of 10,000 each. The gilded coin that is also in the set will be issued separately, and there is the kilo gemstone coin with a mintage of 5,000 pieces and white diamonds in the eyes of the two horses as well as three colorized proof gold coins in one ounce, one-quarter ounce, and tenth ounce sizes and several other non-horse releases all coming out on the first of October.
A collector friend of mine recently said he thinks the demand for the various horse coin releases from Perth and numerous other mints will not be that strong. He was surprised by how quickly the proof sets sold out.
The dragon releases of 2012 and 2000 are clearly the most widely collected Lunar coins in part because of the special place dragons hold in Chinese culture, and the fact that the dragon designs are especially compelling. The 2013 snake coins did not sell as strongly overall as the dragons, though they were also popular, especially the more sought-after releases like the Perth proof set.
The extent to which such coins hold their value over time is a good indication of demand levels, and to be sure, the dragons have held up better than the snakes. So the question arises: will the horses sell more like the dragons did, or more like the snakes?
A lot will depend on the design of the horse coins. So far quite a few attractive designs have graced horse-themed releases for 2014 with the cream of the crop being the absolutely stunning five-ounce ultra-high relief, selectively gilded proof coin made by Pamp, the famous Swiss bullion company, for the nation of Niue. The coin has a mintage of 500, and each coin is individually numbered. It was originally released at an issue price of about $500, then it was briefly available about a month after the release from a couple dealers for around $400, but now prices are back firmly in the $500-600 level. I have seen this coin in person, and it must be seen to be fully appreciated. It is without question the most beautiful large-format silver coin I have ever seen.
Some other notable horse coins include several issued by New Zealand, including both a half ounce and ounce coin and some others; a five-ounce silver coin from the Cook Islands with a large mother of pearl insert and a two-ounce coin from Laos with a jade insert, which are coming soon; the yin and yang and filigree coins that are coming later also from Fiji; a proof version of the silver coin from Tokelau plus a silver color proof also from Tokelau with an oval shape; a gilded high-relief silver coin from Palau; and of course there will be many others.
Like most modern world coins it is highly advisable to buy these coins for their aesthetic qualities and the enjoyment they bring. They should not be seen as investments. Many do have very low mintages and if the design is strong, they will sell well, and secondary prices may rise, or they will at least hold their value. Just be careful as some will also drop in prices after the excitement levels off. It is easy to get caught up in “horse fever,” even if it does not quite rise to the level of “dragon-mania,” so be selective. And have fun, as that is really what collecting modern world coins is all about.
*The half-ounce proof horse from Perth has a maximum mintage of 9000; the popular one-ounce coin a mintage of 8500; and the two-ounce coin, the key to the set, has a mintage of 2,000, but the 1,000 coins not included with the set mintage are only available to people who bought a special 12-coin set of the Lunar series II two-ounce coins last year, who will be notified by Perth when they can purchase their coin.
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.