By Louis Golino for CoinWeek .....
Located within the city of Rome in Italy, Vatican City, or the Vatican, is the smallest independent country in the world. The Vatican issues its own stamps and coins, and like several other European micro states such as San Marino and Monaco, it relies on the sales of those items for a substantial part of its revenue. The Vatican is also part of the eurozone, and since 2002 its coins have been denominated in euros. And like the coins of the other micro states, Vatican coins are issued in very small quantities, which is part of their allure.
Vatican numismatic items are widely collected all over the world. In addition to interest among coin collectors, who are attracted by the beauty and low mintages, there are also people who collect Vatican coins for religious or other reasons. For example, Pope John Paul II, who was beatified last year, was and still is one the most admired and beloved people of all time. Coins depicting John Paul II are not surprisingly very popular.
And for these reasons and others, Vatican coins have a very solid track record of price performance, one that is not a result of increases in precious metal prices, but of limited supply and solid demand.
First year issues often command a significant premium. The 2002 Vatican proof and mint sets, which were the first euro-denominated Vatican sets and which were available when issued for a modest amount if purchased from the Vatican, are today worth approximately $1500 and $500 respectively.
The Vatican has existed in one form or another since the time of the first pope, Saint Peter, in the first century. Classic Vatican coins such as gold Zecchinos are widely collected and command very strong premiums.
One of the reasons that modern Vatican euro coins appreciate in value to an extent that most modern world or U.S. coins do not is that obtaining them at issue price is very difficult. As a result, the vast majority of collectors have to obtain their coins from coin dealers and distributors, including especially many German coin dealers, e-Bay sellers, etc. American collectors can order Vatican coins from companies including Royal Scandinavian Mint and Euro Collections , which is the North American subisidiary of the Australian company Downies.
It is possible to become a client of the Vatican and order coins and stamps directly from the UFN, or Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican, but it is not easy. One must first make a request to become a client, and I have heard that those who are fortunate enough to be approved as clients have had to wait five years or longer to be approved.
The UFN is a well-managed and professional organization, but it does not sell through its web site ( www.vaticanstate.va), and it has a small staff, which primarily caters to larger coin dealers. Coin orders must be mailed in to the UFN after clients receive order forms, which are based on what they ordered the previous year.
The UFN issues a program at the start of each year that lists the coins and stamps that will be issued during the year. Each year the Vatican releases a mint set of uncirculated coins with obverses depicting the current pope, currently Pope Benedict, and the reverses use the common euro design shared by other euro zone countries that depicts a map of the European Union and the coin’s denomination.
Proof sets are also issued, and they include the same coins that are in the BU set, but each coin is in its own capsule and is struck in proof quality. The proof sets are packaged in a very attractive case, and each year they also include a large silver medal. The proof sets are also issued in much smaller quantities than the mint sets, usually about about one-fifth of the mintage of the mint sets. Both sets are issued during the spring.
For the first time in 2012 the Vatican included a 10 euro silver coin rather than a medal in the proof set. There is also a second, much more expensive proof set that is issued each year that includes a gold medal, or in this year’s case, a gold coin. For 2012 the mintage of the BU sets was 85,000, and that of the silver and gold proof sets was 15,000.
In addition, a second set of Vatican coins are released in the fall. First, each year the Vatican issues a 2 euro commemorative coin with a changing obverse that depicts an important event of theme for the year. That coin is sold primarily in its own packaging, but it is also available in a special stamp and coin set that is issued at the end of the year in very limited quantities. The 2012 2 euro commemorative is dedicated to the 7th World Meeting of Families, and 89,000 coins were issued. The stamp and coin cover version, which is an attractively packaged item that includes the 2 euro coin and a corresponding stamp, will have a mintage of around one-tenth of the individual 2 euro commemorative.
To understand why buying directly from the UFN is so advantageous, consider that the 2 euro coin, which I recently ordered from the Vatican, only cost me 15 euros (or about $20), but the same item retails at coin dealers for 40 euros ($52) or more. And some of the earlier issues sell for $100-200 each and more and are hard to obtain.
The proof and mint sets and 2 euro commemoratives are the core Vatican products that are the most widely collected items. But each year the Vatican also issues silver and gold commemorative coins in even smaller numbers than the sets and 2 euro coins. Because they are not as widely collected these coins have a more uneven track record, where the significance of the theme tends to drive the popularity of the coin. For example, last year a gorgeous 5 euro silver coin was issued to mark the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Only 7,000 coins were minted, and the coins sold quickly and command a premium today.
Collecting modern coins, especially modern world coins, can be very rewarding from a collecting perspective and because it encourages the study of history and other subjects that enrich one’s life. But modern coins tend to have a very uneven secondary market price track record, and are often driven by fads and bubbles like the roll craze in the U.S. in the 1960’s. In my view, modern coins issued by the Vatican are one of the most interesting and collectible modern world releases.
The global economic slowdown has also take some toll on Vatican coins issued in recent years, and secondary market values have not risen quite as much in the last couple years as they did in earlier years. And some earlier euro coins and sets have seen some decreases in value on venues like e-Bay. But overall, these coins continue to sell for a strong premium, earlier issues are hard to find, and the coins hold their value much more over time than most world coins do.
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.
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