By Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
The iconic American silver eagle, the most widely collected and traded silver coin in the world, now has an Australian cousin that was created by the same person who designed the American eagle, retired U.S. Mint coin sculptor-engraver, John Mercanti.
On January 7 the Perth Mint in Western Australia released a wedge-tailed high relief eagle coin in silver and gold, each one a one-ounce piece. The silver coin is made from .999 silver and has a global mintage of 10,000, while the gold coin is made of .9999 gold and has a mintage of 1,000.
Depending on where purchased the silver coin runs about $100, while the gold coin comes in at about $2700, or more than twice its melt value.
The coins are not available to U.S. customers from Perth, which directs American buyers to New York Mint (www.newyorkmint.com) to obtain the coin. Officials from the Perth Mint explained to CoinWeek that the coin is a joint project of the Perth Mint in consultation with a U.S.-based company, GovMint (www.govmint.com). New York Mint and GovMint are the same company.
The coins can also be purchased on e-Bay, or from Australian dealers such as Downies (www.downies.com) and DirectCoins (www.directcoins.com.au). Sales appear to be brisk for both coins as one of these dealers already sold out of the gold coin, and the other just sold out of the silver version.
The coin’s obverse, like all Australian legal tender coins features the usual bust of Queen Elizabeth II that is familiar to collectors of Australian coins and which was designed by Ian Rank-Broadley. The reverse depicts in intricate detail a majestic wedge-tailed eagle in flight preparing to land on the branch of a dead tree. It is a stunning image with exceptional detail on the eagle’s wings, and looks especially attractive in high relief.
Few world mints are able to issue high relief coins, and Perth is well-known for its line of high relief versions of its widely collected silver coins such as the Lunar series, koalas, and kookaburras, and has also issued other high relief silver and gold coins. High relief coins are very popular with collectors because of their beauty and the fact that they are different from regular relief coins, which do not have the same visual appeal as high reliefs.
The U.S. Mint issued an ultra high relief double eagle gold coin in 2009, but has not issued a silver high relief coin apart from the 1921 peace dollar, which was struck in much higher relief than the other coins in that series. In the past couple years, the Mint has been surveying its customers about the possibility of issuing a high relief silver eagle, which would be very popular with collectors.
Perhaps the most notable fact about the new eagle from Perth is that its reverse design was created by John Mercanti, one of the most widely admired coin sculptor-engravers in the world, who served as the U.S. Mint’s Chief Engraver from 2006 to 2010. During an amazing career at the Mint that started in 1974, Mr. Mercanti designed more U.S. coins and medals than any official Mint employee has ever created, as explained in his book American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program, co-authored with PCGS grader and modern coin expert, Michael “Miles” Standish and now in its second edition.
Mr. Mercanti is probably best-known for his work on the American silver eagle minted since 1986. He made some subtle modifications to the famous Adolph Weinmann walking liberty half dollar obverse for the coin’s obverse, and then created a heraldic eagle design for the reverse of the coin. One of the main reasons silver eagles are so widely collected is because the coin’s design is so widely considered to be beautiful.
This is the first time a former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver has designed a coin for another world mint. According to Perth: “John brought his extraordinary talents to bear on the Australian wedge-tailed eagle project on behalf of the Perth Mint. Despite being honored for so many outstanding achievements in American coin design, he is kind enough to describe the opportunity to sculpt the image for an Australian legal tender issue as “one of the highlights of my career.”
Perth also explains: “The eagle is traditionally a symbol of freedom, spirit, vision and strength, one which still inspires him from a design perspective. His immediate thought was to present it in an original way: “I asked myself, how could I use the same subject that has been used before, but depict it differently and make it interesting?”
“The wedge-tailed eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey and one of the biggest eagles in the world. Defining characteristics include its huge wingspan, fully feathered legs (in contrast to its North American cousin, the bald eagle) and, of course, its wedge-shaped tail.”
“There is no doubting the power and splendor of this mighty bird from John’s superb portrayal. To satisfy the requirement for a unique viewpoint, he chose to capture an eagle preparing to land on the branch of a dead tree. “I decided to show the eagle in flight, approaching the stump, wings spread so that the viewer could see the majesty of the wings,” he elaborates.”
“The beauty of the design is enhanced by John’s stunning representation of the eagle’s intricately layered feathers. Conspicuous against an uncluttered, mirror-like table, the crisp, high-relief strike maximizes an onlooker’s appreciation of this immense detailing.”
This coin seems destined to be an instant modern world classic because of its compelling design and the fact that it is a Mercanti creation. Based on what I have read in various online coin forums, it appears to already be very popular with collectors around the world, especially those who collect American silver eagles, and those who enjoy depictions of eagles on coins, which is an especially popular theme in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, a number of different coin web sites in addition to being a contributor to “American Hard Assets magazine”. 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.