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World Mints Mark Year of the Dragon
By Kerry Rodgers, World Coin News
December 19, 2011

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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It all started 32 years ago when Singapore Mint launched its first $10 to celebrate the Lunar New Year. There had been a couple earlier lunar issues, but it was Singapore that ignited the spark of what has become the largest annual coin program on the planet. And it is not as if it is organized under the auspices of some international body. Perhaps that is why it flourishes. It certainly shows no signs of abating.

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And on Jan. 23 of solar year 2012, the 29th year of the 80th 60-year zodiacal lunar cycle will dawn. It will run until Feb. 9, 2013.

It is a Year of the Dragon (YoD). The Dragon or, preferably, the Lung came in fifth in the Great Race organized by the August Personage of Jade to determine the order of animals in the lunar zodiac. The Dragon was pipped at the post by last year’s Rabbit. Those into Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches will know it is a Rénchén or Water Dragon year.

To mark this auspicious occasion, the world’s mints have devoted the past six months to ensuring a vast flow of Water Dragons from their presses. The two Australian mints alone will contribute more than 40 new legal tender coins. The Aussies are accompanied by the usual suspects:

Singapore, the Royal Canadian Mint, People’s Bank of China, New Zealand Mint, and Monnaie de Paris. Last year the Mint of Finland, Niue and Cook Islands joined the fray. This year the Polish Mint, Laos and Tuvalu provide newcomers. Mongolia and Pitcairn have possibly dropped out.

All the standard products are out there: bullion, proofs, specimens, plus those specialties that make ideal lai see money – the expected New Year’s gift from adults to junior relatives, particularly when packaged in red.

To state the obvious: the roller coaster ride of the 2011 bullion market is having a profound influence on prices of lunar items, particularly the more massive gold and silver issues. Those 1-kilo and 10-kilo monsters have become increasingly commonplace, with Canada, Singapore and the Royal Australian Mint now moving to supply this market.

This lunar year is the first I have become aware of slabbed and graded lunar issues being offered within weeks of issue. Gold Perth proof dragons were being advertised in grades from Prf-68 to Prf-70 from early last October – at a healthy mark-up over spot price.



Dragon Tales

The August Personage of Jade was mystified as to why the swift-flying Dragon not only failed to take first place in The Great Race but only managed a paltry fifth. Was there a chance the great beast had been nobbled? Could it perhaps have taken a back-hander from the celestial bookies?

At the subsequent enquiry, the Dragon explained he had been delayed. Firstly, he was diverted by a need to bring rain to drought-afflicted regions. And, as he rejoined the contest, he spotted the Rabbit clinging helplessly to its log. He paused long enough to blow the distressed bunny to the bank with a warm puff.

The Jade Emperor was impressed. He had no problems with allowing the Dragon to take its place in the zodiac. However, its finishing position could not be altered. The Imperial Book of Etiquette allows for no excuses.

Western readers need to appreciate that the English word “Dragon” for the Chinese beastie is a misnomer. A number of this year’s designs underline this cultural confusion.

China’s animal is the “Lung” or “Long,” depending on your preferred transliteration. Whatever the precise spelling, it was never the virgin-munching, fire-breathing, gold-hoarding drake that St. George and other environmentally insensitive do-gooders exterminated throughout Europe for fun and profit. China’s Lung is a noble and superior beast. It exercises potent and auspicious influences, especially over water and rainfall. It is ever a symbol of power and good fortune.

Lung come in many and varied types. The Huang Lung, a.k.a. Yellow or Golden Lung, is most closely associated with China’s emperor. Like all Lung, this beast is physically perfect. It displays nine resemblances: the head of a camel, the horns of a deer, the eyes of a hare, the ears of a bull, the neck of a snake, the belly of a frog, the scales of a carp, the claws of an eagle and the paws of a tiger. Many of these likenesses are apparent on some but not all of the current lunar coin designs. All Lung have 117 scales of which 81 are yang and 36 yin. Most Lung lack wings but fly.

Depictions of Lung should always be accompanied by clouds, even if only in stylized form. In Mandarin, the words for cloud and fortune are homonyms. The clouds remind us that these beasts not only dwell in the heavens but also bring good fortune. And the clouds should partially conceal the body of any celestial/imperial Lung. Mortal eyes must never behold the entire animal. A number of this year’s coins show a five clawed imperial beastie but with concealing clouds few on the ground – let alone in the sky.

And the number of eagle claws in those tiger-paws is important. A five-clawed Lung was the preserve of the emperor. Imperial nobles and some high-ranking officials could display a four-clawed Lung. The three-clawed beast was available to deserving members of the public. It was a capital offence for anyone other than the emperor to use the golden, five-toed Huang Lung motif. Incorrect use of toe number was treason and punishable by execution of the offender’s entire clan.



The Dragons Among Us

Folk born in a Dragon year are highly unconventional. In keeping with their guiding Lung’s association with emperors, such Dragons are born leaders. Their power is indisputable. They get things started and keep them moving. They know how to exert authority. While they may be gently persuasive to their followers, they can also be tyrannical. They abhor orders except when handing them out.

Dragons are gifted, intelligent, tenacious, willing and generous. They can do anything they set their minds to. They shine in whatever career they chose.

Dragons are idealists, perfectionists to the point of being downright inflexible. They march to their own drum. They are determined and forceful, becoming irritable and stubborn when frustrated. They easily lose their tempers. Their hunger for power is coupled with an intense fear of growing old lest their youthful strength should ebb.

Many Dragons have big mouths. Their words are often light years ahead of their brains. Despite this, their opinions are worth considering.

Dragons are dauntless, dynamic and delightful. They are feisty, gifted with power and blessed with good fortune. When a Dragon enters a gathering, they become the focus. They are self-assured although many display inflated egos to accompany their big mouths.

Dragons are never short of potential lovers. Dragon women are the most sought-after of partners with female Water Dragons regarded as extremely attractive. Their desirability often generates much drama. Rats, Rabbits, Monkeys and Pigs provide the best life companions for any Dragon.



Perth’s Manifold Fu-ts’ang-Lung

Perth Mint was first across the finishing line in this year’s lunar coin race. It is a position the Mint has held for many years, although being pipped at the post in the Year of the Rabbit.

The fifth issues of the Mint’s Lunar Series II appeared in early July last with release of proofs. The annual bullion and special editions put in their appearance in August through September. They are detailed below but readers are advised to check Perth’s website: www.perthmint.com.au. Last year a late release slipped below the radar.

If your local dealer can’t supply, the Perth’s web shop is the place to buy.

Proofs: The reverses of the .9999 fine gold proofs all show a classic Lung in pursuit of a fiery pearl and clad in fairly minimalist clouds.

As in previous years, the three gold proofs consist of: $15 (1/10 ounce), $25 (1/4 ounce) and $100 (1 ounce), with mintages of 5,000, 5,000 and 3,000, respectively.

In addition, 3,000 three-coin sets containing one of each denomination are available housed in an oval presentation case. The diameters of the three coins are: $15 – 18.60 mm, $25 – 22.60 mm, and $100 – 39.34 mm.

The reverses of the .999 fine silver frosted proofs display a second version of an Imperial Lung. The cloud cover is a little improved and once again there is that omnipresent flaming sphere. This inflammatory object has been variously identified as a ruby or carbuncle (red garnet) or, even, the Pearl of Wisdom of Confucius.

These four silver proofs come as 50 cents (1/2 ounce), $1 (1 ounce), $2 (2 ounce) and $30 (1 kilo). As in previous years, mintages are limited to 5,000 of the $1 and 500 of the $30. The 50-cent and $2 proofs are available solely within 1,000 three-coin sets that also include the $1 coins. The diameters of the four coins are: 50 cents – 36.60 mm, $1 – 45.60 mm, $2 – 55.60 mm, and $30 – 100.60 mm.

Bullion: Perth’s .9999 fine gold YoD bullion is the 17th such lunar issue and matches that of last year.

Coin denominations are: $5 (1/20 ounce), $15 (1/10 ounce), $25 (1/4 ounce), $50 (1/2 ounce), $100 (1 ounce), $200 (2 ounce), $1,000 (10 ounce), $3,000 (1 kilo) and $30,000 (10 kilo). The reverse design is as for the gold proofs and shows the Version 1 Lung. The coins’ dimensions are as for the proofs.

As with past issues in this series, there is no mintage limit for the $5, $15, $25, $50, $200, $1,000 and $3,000 coins but production will close at the end of 2012 when the mint will declare each coin’s final mintage. No more than 30,000 of the $100 coins will be struck and production will cease when the mintage is fully sold or at the end of the series, whichever comes first.

A maximum of 100 of the $30,000 gold coins will be produced on a mint-to-order basis with production ceasing at the end of 2012, when this coin’s final mintage will be declared.

For the .999 fine silver bullion, it is the 14th year of issue. The five denominations are as for last year, i.e. different from the preceding two years. They are: 50 cents (1/2 ounce), $1 (1 ounce), $2 (2 ounce), $8 (5 ounce), $10 (10 ounce), $30 (1 kilo) and $300 (10 kilo). All feature the Version 2 Lung used for the silver proofs.

No mintage limit applies to the 50-cent, $2, $8, $10 and $30 coins. Except for the $30, production of these coins will cease at the end of 2012 when the mint will declare each coin’s official mintage. Production of the $30 coins will cease at the end of Series II.

A maximum of 500 of the $300 10 kilo coins will be struck on a mint-to-order basis with production closing at the end of 2012 when the coin’s final mintage will be declared.

Up to 300,000 of the $1 1-ounce coins will be produced with production ceasing when the mintage is fully sold or at the end of the series, whichever comes first.

Transmogrifications: Once again, for the delight of lunar collectors across the globe, Perth’s 1-ounce .999 fine silver dollar comes not only in the bullion and proof strikings described above, but also in gilded and colored versions.

Lung Version 2 comes gilded with 24 karat gold with 50,000 of these coins struck as BU specimens. Cases are available for the full 12-coin Series II gilded set.

And for the fifth year in a row there is the colored proof, but this time around the mintage is limited to 10,000.

But there’s more! This year a 1/2-ounce colorized proof 50-cents is available with a mintage of 10,000.

As in past years, all four silver dollars – proof, gilded, colored and bullion – are available as a single packaged set; the ideal gift for any Dragon in your life.

And this year the gold proof issues are available with colored reverses. This is a first from Perth with the pearl-pursuing Version 1 Lung in a delectable carmine picked out in pink and lavender. The $15, $25 and $100 are the same size and weight as the conventional proofs. Mintages are 5,000 of each denomination.

A 1/20-ounce gold colored proof will be released in January. This coin is a continuation of a series that began in 2008 with the Year of the Rat/Mouse.

The YoD sees the fifth of Perth’s innovative gemstone lunar coins: a colorized 1-kilo .999 fine silver $30 in which one of the Lung’s hare-like eyes is ruby-red – because it is indeed a ruby. Mintage is 5,000.

The obverse of all of Perth’s coins shows the Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Queen Elizabeth II, the 2012 solar year-date, the monetary denomination and, where appropriate, the weight, composition and fineness of the precious metal.



RAM’s Ch’iu-Lung – And Extras

This year is the sixth that the RAM has produced lunar coins designed by Vladimir Gottwald. And the mint is continuing with its procedure of its first three and fifth lunar issues with the release of three coins: a 25 mm, 9 gram aluminum-bronze BU dollar with an unlimited mintage; a 25 mm, 11.66 gram .999 fine silver proof dollar with a mintage of 10,000; and a 17.53 mm, 1/10 ounce .9999 fine gold $10 proof with a mintage of 2,500. These coins can be sourced from www.ramint.gov.au.

In mid-November the RAM announced six new lunar bullion coins were available: 1 ounce, 5 ounce and 1 kilo in both silver and gold. Although legal tender in Australia, no denominations were specified. Mintages are: silver 1 ounce, 50,000; 5 ounce, 10,000; 1 kilo 3,500; and gold 1 ounce, 1,500; 5 ounce, 3,500; 1 kilo, 100. One source for these issues is www.downies.com.



Laos’ Jade Ch’ing-Lung

For its entry into the annual lunar stakes, Laos has produced a single coin: a 55 mm, 2-ounce .999 fine silver proof 2,000 kip. The reverse contains an inset ring of Burmese jade carrying gold plated inscriptions in both Chinese and English. The Chinese reads, “Good fortune in the Year of the Dragon.”

The silver ring that encloses the jade core bears two classic imperial Lung that pursue one another in a manner reminiscent of yesteryear when such a pair featured on the imperial crest competing for the flaming pearl. Mintage is 2,888.



Canada’s Diverse Ying-Lung

The Royal Canadian Mint was quick off the mark with its YoD lunar coins issues. The bulk were released before the end of August, although a couple of stragglers only made it out of the starting gate in late October.

Last year saw the final issue of Harvey Chan’s $150 remarkable holographic lunar series. In its stead we now have Canada’s first gold and silver lunar 1-kilo silver and gold coins that accompany the latest issues of the RCM’s Aries Cheung and Lunar Lotus series.

The new kilo coins feature a most traditional, if seemingly declawed, Lung romping in a bed of auspicious Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera. This same design appears on the reverse of the $15 silver Lunar Lotus coin.

The .9999 fine gold coin has a face value of $2,500 and a mintage limited to 38. The .9999 fine silver $250 has a mintage of 5,888.

Artist Aries Cheung has opted for an original and distinctly Chinese interpretation of her dragon. The .750 fine gold $150 proof has a mintage of 2,500. The .9999 fine silver $15 has a mintage of 48,888. Both coins are the third in their respective series. The entire set of gold proofs for the full 12-year lunar cycle is available by annual subscription and comes with a complimentary hardwood case.

It is also the third year of issue for Canada’s distinctively-shaped, scalloped Lunar Lotus .9999 fine silver $15. The plain-edged, 26.29 gram coin has a diameter of 38 mm. Mintage is 48,888. This series too is available by annual subscription that includes a complimentary hardwood case. In addition, the RCM has produced two special edition YoD coins. These are one-offs. They are not part of any series. One consists of a 16 mm, 3.13 gram .9999 fine gold $5 with a mintage of 38,888; the other, a 34 mm, 15.87 gram .9999 fine silver $10, has a mintage of 588,888. Both coins are struck with a specimen finish. The common reverse is by Three Degrees Creative Group. All coins feature the RCM’s distinctive, uncrowned effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt. Prospective purchasers can try www.mint.ca if their friendly neighborhood dealer proves unable to supply.



Assorted Pacific Lungwang

The Cook Islands joined the lunar festivities last year. They have repeated the dose for the YoD, courtesy of Perth Mint, with four rectangular (47.60 by 27.60 mm) 1-ounce .999 fine silver dollars.

Each reverse features a different colored classical Lung bounding through the heavens in pursuit of the pearl of wisdom but with somewhat reduced cloud cover. The obverse bears the Raphael Maklouf effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. The coins are available solely as a set of four with a mintage of 3,000 sets.

From Tuvalu’s eight tiny islands comes the country’s very first contribution to the lunar stakes: a .999 fine silver 50-cents. The reverse shows an endearing baby dragon that is sadly suffering a cultural identity crisis. Its mother, if not its father, was certainly Draco occidentalis rather that Draco orientalis. St. George and other dragon-slaying do-gooders would have kebabed the little critter at first sight, despite it coming bearing gifts. The coin is 36.60 mm across and weighs in at 15.591 grams. Mintage is 7,500. The Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of the queen adorns the obverse.

From Niue comes a Golden Lung via the Polish Mint. The proof $5 coin has been struck in 1/4 ounce of .900 fine gold on a 22 mm $5 flan. The reverse shows the Golden Dragon statue at Thailand’s Chonburi Temple. This coin can be sourced from www.downies.com.

Also from Niue via New Zealand Mint, come three .999 fine silver coins. A 36 mm, 15.55 gram $2 shows a colored Lung on the reverse, devoid of clouds but having caught its pearl. Mintage is 8,000. A 31.10 gram $2, 40.7 mm across, has a mintage of 4,000. Its Lung has lost both pearl and clouds but acquired a fan of prosperity and a most un-Lung-like grin. An oval (55 by 33 mm) 31.10 gram proof $2 shows a beast that could well have auditioned for the role of Smaug in Peter Jackson’s upcoming Hobbit movie. It would even have supplied its own golden hoard. Among Chinese beasties only a Fucanglung might ever be caught in this situation. Mintage is 8,000. All these coins are available from www.newzealandmint.com.

Fiji joined the annual numismatic lunacy in the Year of the Rabbit courtesy of the Mint of Finland with a filigree bunny and Ying Yang dollars. This lunar year similar designs are the work of Erkki Vainio.

The 38.6 mm, 20.5 gram .999 fine silver proof dollar consist of a ring of silver. In its central hole a fine silver thread has been worked to show a filigree rendition of the Chinese character for Lung or, if you prefer, Dragon. Mintage is 4,000.

And, again, the zodiacal Ying Yang shape has been incorporated in two additional Fijian proof colorized dollars. Each has been struck in 33.62 grams of .925 fine silver and has a mintage of 4,000. The two red and blue dragon dollars join to form a circle 49.90 mm across. The pair can be sourced from www.downies.com.



Macau’s Calligraphic Teng

Once again the designs of the lunar commemoratives struck by the Singapore Mint for the Monetary Authority of Macau blend Western and Eastern cultures. This year sees the fourth issue in this series that commenced in 2008 with the Year of the Rat.

The obverse shows a second cousin once removed of a classic Lung, a legless but flying Teng. The curves of its body outline the contemporary Chinese character for “dragon.” The style serves not only to emphasize the animal’s power but underlined its importance in Chinese culture. Those abundant clouds symbolize bountiful good fortune.

The common reverse shows the UNESCO World Heritage Senado Square at the centre of Macau. Mintages, denominations and metals are as for previous years’ issues: 21.96 mm, 1/4 ounce (7.776 grams) .9999 fine gold colorized proof 250 patacas with a mintage of 3,000, a 65.0 mm 5 ounce (155.52 grams) .999 fine colorized silver proof 100 patacas with a mintage of just 500, and a 40.70 mm, 1 ounce (31.10 grams) .999 fine silver colorized proof 20 patacas with a mintage of 6,000.

All coins are available from www.mint.com.sg unless sold out.



Singapore’s Electrifying Huanglong

The reverses of Singapore’s YoD coins, released last Nov. 11, all sport a classic Hunaglong replete with its many resemblances. Its scaly torso bears an auspicious peony. In the background are ancient Chinese seal characters taken from the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches that serve to show the beastie’s traditional roots. The obverse of all coins bears the Singapore Arms and 2012 solar date.

This is the 32nd year Singapore has issued its lunar coins. This year’s coins are the eighth in the current (third) series that commenced in 2005. All of this series’ designs are by Xu Yunfei of the Shanghai Mint.

The .9999 fine gold coins include all of Singapore’s traditional issues: $200 (5 ounce, 60 mm, mintage 200), $100 (1 ounce, 33.00 mm, 2,000), $5 (1/4 ounce, 21.96 mm, 2,000), and $1 (0.3 gram, 7 mm, 10,000). The mintage of this last coin has been increased from 3,000 in previous years to 10,000. It is has long proved a popular lai see gift for junior relatives.

Top of this year’s silver coins is a brand new issue and the heaviest and largest coin Singapore has ever produced: a 1-kilo .999 fine silver, 100 mm $80. Mintage is just 1,000. It is accompanied by both previous issues: a 65 mm, 5-ounce 0.999 fine silver $25 coin with a mintage of 250, and 20-gram, 38.7 mm silver $2 proof with a 10,000 mintage, an increase of 4,000 on last year.

The prize of Singapore’s silver collection is the 45 mm, 2-ounce .999 fine silver $10 piedfort that shows our peony-emblazoned dragon a-prance in full color. Mintage is 20,000. For those not into precious metals, a 20-gram cupronickel proof-like, 38.70 mm $2 is once again available. Mintage is 80,000.

The lunar coins are also available in Singapore’s two-in-one and three-in-one sets. Each set contains an eight-sided, floral-shaped ingot featuring a pair of Hunaglong vying for a flaming pearl amidst auspicious clouds.

Singapore’s regular circulating coins for 2012 also come in dragon-embellished, bright red and gold Hong Bao packs with a mintage of 60,000.

If that isn’t enough to satisfy the most jaded of lunar palates, an undenominated 1-kilo .999 fine silver gilded medallion is available on which a pair of Huanglong squabble over a flaming Swarovski crystal.

The coins themselves are available from www.mint.com.sg or, if you are a most fortunate Dragon, from your favorite coin dealer.



China’s Imperial Rénchén

Some specs of lunar issues of The People’s Bank of China have changed from previous years and some mintages show a significant increase on those of the Year of the Rabbit. To confirm details, readers should consult China Great Wall Coins at www.chinacoin.com.hk.

Once again, a choice of 15 different .999 fine gold and .999 fine silver coins is available. Again they come as rounds, rectangles, fans and plum blossoms. Those fans and plum blossoms signify abundant good wishes for the recipient in the coming year, particularly those plum blossoms. For those seeking love, plum blossoms are where it is at.

The reverse design of all the uncolorized coins (proofs, rectangles, fans and plum blossoms) all follow the pattern of recent PRC lunar issues. They show a classical Huang Lung, complete with flaming pearl, crouching beneath a stylized Lung spirit, along with value and the words Rénchén in Chinese characters. The obverses all show the national emblem of the PRC either enclosed in a wreath of lotus and fish or flanked by columns of lotus and fish, denoting the coming year as one of plenty.

Four of these coins are conventional circular proofs: a 40 mm, 1 ounce silver 10-yen with a mintage of 200,000; a 100 mm, 1 kilo silver 300-yen (mintage 3,800); an 18 mm, 1/10 ounce gold 50-yen (mintage 120,000); a 180 mm, 10 kilo gold 100,000-yen whose mintage is just 18 pieces. Three are plum-blossom-shaped proofs: a 40 mm, 1 ounce silver 10-yen with a 60,000 mintage; a 27 mm, 1/2 ounce gold 200-yen (mintage 8,000); a 100 mm, 1 kilo gold 10,000 yen (mintage 118). Two rectangular proofs are: a 80 by 50 mm, 5 ounce silver 50-yen (mintage 20,0000) and a 64 by 40 mm, 5 ounce gold 2,000-yen (mintage 2,000).

Two proof strikes are fan-shaped: a 1 ounce silver 10-yen (mintage 80,000) and a 1/2 ounce gold 200-yen (mintage 30,000).

The reverses of four selectively colored proofs show a traditional Chinese folk Lung bounding across an auspicious cloudscape. The coins include a 40 mm, 1 ounce silver 10-yen (mintage 220,000); a 70 mm, 5 ounce silver 50-yen (mintage 30,000); an 18 mm, 1/10 ounce gold 50-yen (mintage 120,000); a 60 mm, 5 ounce gold 2,000-yen (mintage 3,000). The obverses of these coins are as for the round proofs.

All coins are legal tender of the People’s Republic of China.

If your local dealer cannot supply any of the above, try Panda America at www.PandaAmerica.com or China Great Wall Coins at www.chinacoin.com.hk or Mrs. Anita Chou at anita@gwcoin.imsbiz.com.hk.



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