With the rising prominence of China’s economy and the spread of Chinese culture by immigrants moving to all corners of the globe, the impact has been felt in industries that include precious metal coins and bars. The Perth Mint of Australia was the first to capitalize on the popularity of Chinese culture, developing a Lunar Series coin program in 1996 that honored the 12-year cycle of the Zodiac. Following the massive success of the original program, the Perth Mint launched a Lunar Series II in 2008, with equal success.
The Perth Mint put lunar coins on the map for investors and collectors alike when it introduced the Lunar Series I collection. This program ran from 1996 to 2008. Immediately following the conclusion of the Lunar Series I collection, the Perth Mint introduced the Lunar Series II program. There was one unique release that occurred in this overlap period that has not been duplicated since. 2008 marks the restart of the official Zodiac cycle with the Year of the Mouse. The Perth Mint introduced two separate Year of the Mouse designs for 2008, one to conclude the Lunar Series I program (giving it 13 coin designs in all) and one to launch the new Lunar Series II collection.
In 2020, the Perth Mint launched its definitive Lunar Series III collection with an all-new Year of the Mouse design. The collection will follow the same cycle as its predecessors by starting with the Year of the Mouse and concluding with the Year of the Pig. The designs, in total, will always include (in order):
The design of Perth Mint Gold Lunar series coins has advanced significantly between Lunar Series I coins and the latest Lunar Series II coins. For example, the original 1996 1 oz Gold Year of the Mouse (Rat) coin from the Perth Mint featured a blank, matte background on the reverse with a central image of a rat. Engravings were simplistic, and the outside of the coin was surrounded by a beaded design that completed a full circle.
By contrast, the 2008 1 oz Gold Year of the Mouse (Rat) coin featured an all-new design that focused on the mouse in the middle of the design, with elements of its natural habitat visible behind it. The beaded circle around the edge was gone, and an engraving of “Year of the Mouse” was added along the bottom. Additionally, inside each of the engravings was a deeply-mirrored, clear background field that contrasted nicely with the matte-like background of the rest of the coin.
To be clear, none of the Lunar Series II coins have featured the same design elements of the Lunar Series I coins. Each of the animals is represented with a refreshed design on the reverse, as well as an applicable engraving identifying the specific animal (such as “Year of the Horse”).
When it comes to the obverse design elements of Lunar Series coins from the Perth Mint. Three different effigies of Queen Elizabeth II have featured in the series, though one has been far more dominant than the other two through the debut of the Lunar Series III collection. These include:
Regardless of the series that your Perth Mint Gold Lunar Coin comes from, there are a number of similarities that exist across the versions and series. First and foremost, all coins are struck using .9999 pure gold and carry status as legal tender coins in the nation of Australia. When it comes to the bullion version of these coins, the Perth Mint has always struck the Lunar Series I and Lunar Series II in the following weights:
On occasion, the Perth Mint has struck higher weight coins in 2 oz, 10 oz, and 1 Kilogram. Generally speaking though, this is reserved for special-edition coins and/or proof coins. Production of these higher weight coins does not take place regularly.
The face value of each of the coins is listed in Australian Dollars (AUD), and starts at $100 for the 1 oz coin. Each of the fractional-weight coins has a face value representative of its fractional value. As such, the values for the fractional weights are $50 (½ oz), $25 (¼ oz), $10 (1/10 oz), and $5 (1/20 oz).
The Perth Mint Gold Lunar coins in proof were restricted in production to a much greater degree than the bullion version. Beginning with the Lunar Series II, the mint expanded the program to include proof coins. The proof coins are only struck in 1 oz, ¼ oz, and 1/10 oz weights. Mintage was typically limited on the proof coins in each year to 3,000 1 oz coins, 5,000 ¼ oz coins, and 5,000 1/10 oz coins. An additional 1,000 coins were struck in each weight for use in a 3-coin set released only in proof.
Finally, starting in 2012 with the Year of the Dragon, the Perth Mint introduced a gold proof coin in Lunar Series II with a colorized design set on the reverse side. Now the specific animal represented in a given year was colorized to match real-world expectations for that creatures color. These coins were not available in a 3-coin set like the standard proof coins, but did feature the same weights (1 oz, ¼ oz, and 1/10 oz) and same mintage limitations.
The origins of the Zodiac in ancient Chinese culture are similar to those of the ten heavenly stems and twelve earthly branches. Legend has it that the gods ordered that animals be used as representatives of the signs of each year. In response to this order, the Jade Emperor called a meeting of the animals of the world. A so-called Great Race ensued in which all of the animals of the world raced to answer the call.
In the end, the first 12 animals to arrive where selected to represent different years on the lunar calendar. The order in which the animals arrived following the Jade Emperor’s call for a meeting determined their placement on the Zodiac. For example, the mouse finished first and represents the first year in the 12-year cycle.
During British colonial rule of Australia, vast resources of gold and silver were discovered on the continent, particularly in the Outback and western stretches of the continent. In order to profit from this discovery and export the precious metals around the globe, the Royal Mint of London established a mint system in the country to process, refine, and distribute the gold and silver throughout the empire.
The Sydney Mint was the first facility in the system to open, in 1855, and the first to close in 1926. The Melbourne Mint was the second to open, in 1872, and closed in 1967. The Perth Mint was the third and final Royal Mint facility to open in Australia, commencing operations in 1899. Today it enjoys status as the oldest operating facility in Australia and the South Pacific.
During its time as a Royal Mint facility, the Perth Mint produced gold and sovereigns and half-sovereigns for use as currency inside of Australia and throughout the British Empire. Among its many feats, as of 2000, the Perth Mint has refined and produced 3.25% of mankind’s total gold production. As of 1970, the facility is a state-owned entity of the government in Western Australia. While it is not affiliated with the Royal Australian Mint, the federal government’s official facility, its coins are considered legal tender under the Currency Act of 1965.
Many of these coins were limited to strict mintages by the Perth Mint, just adding to their collectability.
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