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Year of the Rat
By Kerry Rodgers, World Coin News
February 11, 2008


On Feb. 7 of solar year 2008, the new lunar year of 4705 will dawn. In the Chinese system of Earthly Branches it is designated a Year of the Rat (YoR) and is consequently more than usually auspicious.

Each YoR inaugurates a new 12-year cycle. It was the rat that won the race devised by the August Personage of Jade to determine the order of precedence among the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. For those westerners of a somewhat sensitive disposition, it will be the Year of the Mouse (YoM).

Long before any lunar new year commences, a myriad of lunar coins start to clink and clunk from presses around the globe. Every year another country seeks to cash in on the annual festivities. This year it is Pitcairn Island. Although lunar zodiacal issues are now a major collecting field in their own right, the main significance of the coins, particularly for the Chinese, is in giving - and in receiving - them as gifts.

Lai see or red packet money is one of the main traditions of the first day of the New Year. It is usually presented by adults to children and/or junior relatives, the red of the envelope symbolizing good fortune. The amount of money lets a recipient know the depth of their tie with the donor. Traditionally, a suitable sum involves numerous auspicious eights in its total, and today smart mints package their lunar coins in red or involve "8" in one way or another.

The more stroppy youngsters in Chinese households will taunt their elders with the New Year greeting, "G?ngx? f?cái, hóngb?o nálái," which translates loosely as, "Live long and prosper. Now give me the red envelope."

For those who need to know, 4705 is the 26th year of the 79th 60-year zodiacal cycle. It is an earth rat or wuzi year. Rat people of the world tend to be upfront, disciplined, methodical, painstaking, charming, conscientious, articulate, outgoing, and perceptive. They can, however, be controlling, unkind, autocratic, inflexible, self-seeking, stubborn, aggressive, and narrow-minded.

Fortunately, the earthen aspect modulates a rat's character. It adds stability and equanimity. Earth rats are conventional. They are good achievers content to secure the future for themselves and their families. They can be tight-fisted, but they possess warm feelings for their nearest and dearest. Like all rats, they are resourceful and have considerable intelligence, with these capacities qualified by a strong sense of reality that restrains them from impulsive actions. Essentially they are honorable creatures imbued with an inner peace.



Perth's Mouse House

As always, Perth Mint was first cab off the rank in the annual lunar coin scramble. Its first issues commenced back in September of solar year 2007. And, as ever, the variety of lunar coins showering from Perth outnumber those of all other world mints combined. Along with proof and bullion issues, there are those extra-special items, both the new and the old that we have come to know and love. Check out Perth's Web site for details: www.perthmint.com.au

The Mint's media releases refer to the new 2008/4705 issues as Series II, presumably reflecting the start of the new 12-year lunar cycle. And, as they are gentle wee souls in Western Australia, they are celebrating a Year of the Mouse.

Lunar bullion: Perth's .9999 fine gold lunar bullion is into its 13th issue or, if you prefer, the first of Series II. In contrast the .999 fine silver bullion coins are just the Mint's 10th issue of this range. Sizes, (denominations) and mintages are:

Gold: 1/20 oz ($5) unlimited, 1/10 oz ($15) unlimited, ¼ oz ($25) unlimited, ½ oz ($50) unlimited, 1 oz ($100) 30,000, 2 oz ($200) unlimited, 10 oz ($1,000) unlimited, 1 kilo ($3,000) unlimited, 10 kilo ($30,000) 100.

Silver: ½ oz ($0.50) 500,000, 1 oz ($1) 300,000, 2 oz ($2) unlimited, 5 oz ($8) unlimited, 10 oz ($10) unlimited, ½ kilo ($15) unlimited, 1 kilo ($30) unlimited, 10 kilo ($300)1,000.

Minting of all coins will cease at the end of 2008 when the actual mintages will be declared, but no more than 300,000 1 oz silver or 30,000 1 oz gold coins will be struck. The reverse design for the gold coins depicts a mouse crouching on cobbles beneath a cluster of chili peppers. The silver shows a pair of alert mice on a bed of straw in front of a couple of small pumpkins or gourds.

Proofs: The .9999 fine gold proof coins also commence a second twelve year zodiacal cycle at Perth. Their reverses all show the mouse-on-cobbles-with-peppers-above design, along with the Chinese character for "mouse", the Mint's "P" mintmark, and the solar year 2008 date. The coins include 3,000 1 oz ($100), 5,000 ¼ oz ($25) and 5,000 1/10 oz ($15) coins plus 3,000 three-coin sets containing one each of the 1/10oz, ¼ oz and 1 oz coins housed in a new-styled oval timber and metal presentation case. The Mint has varied the diameters of these coins from Series I. The 1 oz is now 38.80 mm, the ¼ oz is 22.10 mm, and the 1/10th oz 18.10 mm.

The .999 fine silver frosted proof YoM issues are the 10th the Perth Mint has struck in this lunar series. They include 5,000 1 oz ($1) and 500 1 kilo ($30). In addition ½ oz ($.50) and 2 oz ($2) proofs are available solely in 1000 three coin sets that include a 1 oz ($1) proof coin. All reverses show the mice-on-straw-with-gourds design, along with the Chinese character for "mouse," the Mint's "P" mintmark, and the solar year 2008 date. Like their gold proofs the diameters of these silver coins have increased, apart from the 1 kilo. The 2 oz is now 55.10 mm, the 1 oz 45.10 mm and the ½ oz 36.10 mm.

But there's more! As in past years, Perth is again making available its ever-popular colored and gilded 1 oz ($1) silver lunar coins. The mice-on-straw-with-gourds design comes gilded in 24-carat and 50,000 of these coins are being struck in specimen quality. An exquisitely colored version has a worldwide mintage of 170,000 with only 3,800 available in Australia.

With Series II the Mint continues its signature coin from Series I that displays diamond-eyed critters on the reverse of the massive 1 kilo .999 fine silver $30. This time around a partially-crouching mouse eyes a 0.02 carat hand-set diamond, all contained in a beneficent border of purple and yellow bats and clouds.

The same partly crouching mouse design also comes as 1 oz and 2 oz .999 silver coins, lacking the diamond but with a 1 oz gilded mouse below a border of bats and clouds. But there is indeed more. A second 1 kilo .999 fine silver $30 is available that features the colored version of the pair-of-mice-on-straw-with-gourds design but each of the mice displays that extra-special glint in their eyes that comes from a hand-set blue sapphire.

The obverse of all of Perth's lunar coins shows the Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the monetary denomination.



Royal Canadian Mint

The Royal Canadian Mint launched its YoR coins back in late October 2007. And as in past years the reverse of both coins continues themes established in earlier years by Hong Kong-born designer Harvey Chan.

The 40 mm sterling silver $15 proof coin is the 11th issue of a bimetallic lunar series that the Mint inaugurated in 1998. The 2008 coin highlights the year's Rat in a central gold-plated, octagonal, 17.5 mm diameter cameo. Vignettes of all 12 lunar animals appear in a circular arrangement around the silver rim, including the 10 that have so far appeared in this series, plus this year's Rat and the Ox that is waiting in the wings to front next year's issue.

The coin's obverse bears the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by artist Dora de Pé[e acute]dery-Hunt. It is the only 2008 coin that carries this effigy of the Queen that was used on Canada's coins from 1990-2003. As in previous years, the auspicious number 8 appears in the unusual 48,888 mintage for this coin.

All of the RCM's previous 0.750 fine gold, 0.250 silver proof $150 lunar coins have displayed exceptional and colorful holographic images of the appropriate lunar animal. That for the YoR is no exception. The pair of stylized rats is a prime candidate for the most artistic, albeit confusing lunar design of 4705. It is the ninth coin in this series. The obverse features RCM's distinctive, uncrowned effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt. The coin's diameter is 28 mm and its weight is 11.84 g. Mintage is 4,888.

The overall quality and colorfulness of the Canadian Mint's coins, along with their limited but auspicious mintages, makes them ideal Lunar New Year gifts. Prospective purchasers can try www.mint.ca if their friendly neighborhood dealer proves unable to supply.



Royal Australian Mint

The Royal Australian Mint's second essay into lunar coins appeared on Dec. 3. All reverse designs are the same and the work of Vladimir Gottwald.

Top of the line is a 17.53 mm, 1/10th oz .999 fine gold, $10 coin. It is accompanied by two 25 mm $1 coins: an 11.66 g, .999 fine, proof silver and a 9.00 g BU aluminum-bronze. The mintage of the proof gold is 2,500 and that of the proof silver 10,000. The BU $1 has an unlimited mintage. If your friendly neighborhood dealer cannot supply, they can all be purchased from the Mint's Web site: www.ramint.gov.au

Pitcairn's First Lunar Coin

Since the New Zealand Mint took over striking Pitcairn's coins its goal has been to use themes directly related to the tiny island nation. The YoR has provided an ideal opportunity to introduce Pitcairn's first Lunar New Year coin.

The island has no native mammalian species. Its only resident mammal is the introduced Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans) and that now disports on the new Pitcairn proof-like, .999 fine silver, 1 oz, 40.7 mm $2 coin. Mintage is 30,000 and the coin can be purchased directly from www.newzealandmint.com



L'année du Rat Français

For the past two lunar years Monnaie de Paris has been a fully paid-up member of the Lunar Coin Club, albeit with a peculiar biculturalism in its coin designs. The year 2008/4705 continues this theme.

Two Année du Rat coins are on offer:

• A .900 fine silver, .71 oz, 37 mm ¼ euro BU with a mintage of 10,000
• A .920 fine gold, .25 oz, 22 mm 10 euro proof with a mintage of 500.
The obverse shows Jean de La Fontaine, the 17th century French fabulist, along with all 12 lunar zodiacal animals many of whom figured in his tales. The reverse displays a most ratty rat.



Singapore's Cowerin' Beasties

But there's even more! Singapore Mint was the first to initiate a regular lunar series and 4705 will be the 28th year they have issued these seasonal coins. The first series ran from 1981 through 1992 and featured realistic representations of the 12 lunar animals. The second cycle from 1993 to 2004 depicted the animals as traditional Chinese cut-paper effigies. Since 2005, series three designs are the work of Xu Yunfei of the Shanghai Mint who draws his inspiration from traditional Chinese calligraphy. The prize of the collection is the 2 oz, .999 fine silver $10 piedfort on which a most endearing and crouching rat is shown in full glorious color. This is Singapore's fourth colored lunar coin.

As in recent years, three 0.9999 fine gold coins are available: $5 ( ¼[quarter]oz, mintage 2000), $100 (1 oz, 2000) and $200 (5 oz, 200). In addition the ever-popular tiny, 7mm, 0.3 g $1 gold coin is available again. It comes mounted on a card that features a rat family indulging themselves on a feast of auspicious grapes, peaches and pineapples. Mintage is 3,000. It makes a great lai see gift.

The massive 5 oz 0.999 fine $25 silver coin is the largest coin issued by Singapore Mint with a diameter of 65mm. It has a mintage of only 250 pieces and is complemented by a small 20 g $2 silver coin of which 6,000 have been struck. For those not into precious metals, a $2 cupro-nickel proof-like coin is also available.

As in the case of Perth, the coins come singly or in sets. The trendy three-in-one set contains the $100 gold, the colored $10 silver piedfort, and the $2 cupro-nickel coin, as well as an eight-petall, floral-shaped ingot that shows the rat family and fruit feast portrait from the $1 gold coin card. Just 500 of these sets are available.

For that extra special rat in your life, one of Singapore's 5 oz sets would make a great gift. It contains one $200 gold and one $25 silver coin, displayed in the form of that most auspicious of numbers: '8'. Naturally the mintage of these sets is 88.

And if that is not enough, a combination of the $10 silver piedfort proof, the $2 cupronickel proof, and the floral ingot is also available. But even the regular circulating coin sets of the Singapore Mint in 2008 are being issued in rat-embellished packs along with a propitious Chinese New Year blessing.

The obverse of all coins bears the Singapore Arms and 2008 solar date. Interested readers can try www.mint.com.sg for details or possibly, your favorite coin dealer.

No images of the distinctive lunar coins of the Peoples' Bank of China were available at the time of writing. But mintages have been published and suggest that 4705 year issues will match China's Year of the Pig coins in denominations, metals, and general design. Try www.pandaamerica.com

Similarly Mongolia's designs for 4705 were unknown but some prime rats are scheduled to feature on this country's second lunar cycle series on both its 500, 1000, and massive 2500 tugrik silver issues as well as the 10,000 and 50,000 tugrik gold coins.



Famous Rats

Alan Alder, Ursula Andres, Louis Armstrong, Lauren Bacilli, Irving Berlin, Lacertian Bogie, Marlon Brandon, Charlotte Bronte, George Bush Jar, Jimmy Carter, Doris Day, Carmen Electra, T.S. Eliot, Ermine, Clark Gable, Galileo Galilee, Al Gore, Hugh Grant, Thomas Hardy, Mata Hair, Joseph Hayden, Charlton Hesston, Buddy Holly, Engle Bert Humperdinck, Jeremy Irons, Glenda Jackson, Olivia Newton John, Gene Kelly, Yves St Laurent, Lulu, Claude Monet, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Nixon, Sean Penn, Vanesssa Redgrave, Burt Reynolds, Bill Shakespeare, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Jules Verne, George Washington, Andrea Lloyd Webber, Andrew Windsor and Elizabeth Windsor Sr.



Famous Earth Rats

François René Chateaubriand, Maurice Chevalier, Gérard Depardieu, Leo Tolstoï and Charles Windsor.





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