By Al Doyle for CoinWeek....
Imagine an island of 221 square miles that doesn't have its own mint. Even with those obstacles, the Isle of Man issues a wide range of coins ranging from low-value circulation strikes to ongoing series of silver and gold pieces. The privately owned Pobjoy Mint cranks out coinage for the self-governing British Crown Dependency located in the Irish Sea.
In addition to traditional numismatists and bullion investors, the Isle of Man's long-running series of silver and gold Cat coins are popular with two other distinct markets. Feline fanciers (not a small group) are naturally drawn to the various cat breeds and scenes, while the 1/10 and 1/25-ounce gold pieces are a perfect item for the jewelry trade.
Despite the natural market limitations for a dot on the map, the Isle of Man is quite willing to experiment and try new coinage concepts. Virenium - a patented base metal alloy of copper, nickel and other ingredients - was turned into planchets for a series of 2 and 5-pound commemoratives. A copper-nickel 50-pence featuring a desktop computer of the era (it looks clunky today) was issued from 1988 to 1997. Along with the unusual theme, the 50 pence was a seven-sided piece.
What else is available in Isle of Man coins? Platinum and palladium issues have been struck for the bullion market. Copper specialists can obtain some interesting and unusual themes, as one-pence pieces of 1988 to 1995 pair the traditional portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with a machinist's lathe. That changed to a rugby ball from 1996 to 1998.
Local bird species are displayed on two-pence coppers. The list includes the peregrine falcon, the Manx shearwater and the red-billed chough. A pair of helmeted bicyclists were placed on the reverse from 1996 to 1998. Golf themes on the five-pence coinage of 1990 to 1998 should appeal to many, while a trio of stylized Atlantic herring appears on the seven-sided 20-pence of the 1980s. The three-legged triskele is the national symbol, and it appears on many Manx coins. Some of the lower-denomination pieces have been struck in silver and gold for the collector market.
Then there's a series that could be a much bigger seller with more effort in marketing. First issued in 1980, 50-pence pieces with a new Christmas vignette each year combining seasonal portraits with skilled artistry. A 19th-century carriage kicked off the series.
Most of the Christmas coinage evokes nostalgia. The 1982 50-pence shows Victorian-era carolers gathered around a large tree. A Ford Model T was part of the scene in 1983. A vintage plane making the first Christmas air mail delivery in 1935 can be found on the 1985-dated coin, and an old-time trolley graces the seven-sided piece of 1989.
It's all too easy to imagine Christmas gifts for the entire island arriving at port on TSS Lady of Mann in 1990. The Nativity scene of 1991 is the numismatic version of simple elegance. Manx Christmas coinage of 1995 and 1996 is less solemn, as sledding and choirboys throwing snowballs bring the out the light-hearted aspect of the season.
Check out the top-hatted postman and children on the 2001 version. Scrooge in bed ("Christmas? Bah, humbug!") is the theme for 2002, while four calling birds appear on the 2008-dated 50 pence. Just 37 different Manx Christmas coins were available on eBay on December 5, which is a surprisingly low number. Even though some silver and gold 50-pence Christmas pieces have been issued, there were none on eBay among the 37. Often available for less than $10 in cupro-nickel alloy, this series looks like a potential big seller with competent marketing.
Few people ever have the opportunity to visit the Isle of Man, but there's nothing to stop the collector from obtaining one of the more fascinating areas of modern coinage.