Year of the Rooster
Volume 54, Number 2, February 2017
China syndrome WHILST this is, of course, the February issue of COIN NEWS most of you will receive it in January and so may I wish you a very Happy New Year! I accept that as you’re likely to be reading this “Comment” at the end of January such a sentiment may be a littleworn but fortunately the fact that this issue is (as always) the Chinese Lunar New Year issue, showcasing the best Year of the Rooster coins the world’s mints have to offer, means that I can still just about get away with it! The Chinese have always been very particular about the observance of their New Year, investing far more meaning to it than we in the “West” do ours—for us it’s generally an excuse for a large party, a stinking hangover and a few half-hearted resolutions that most of us have broken by January 3, but the Chinese do it differently and place great meaningin the various signs of their Lunar “Zodiac” which, like the West’s is divided into 12. But, unlike ours, each sign takes up a whole year rather than just a month annually. So regardless of which month you were born in 1993, 1981, 1969 or 1945 you are still a Rooster officially from late January/early February of those years not necessarily January 1) with sub-divisions into one of five elements (Gold, Wood, Fire, Water or Earth) and this year it’s the turn of the Fire Rooster to shine. Each type of Rooster has its own specific traits and those born in 1957, or this coming year, are thought to be trustworthy, with a strong sense of responsibility and reliability. If you were born 12 years ago, however, then you are a Wood Rooster and you aren’t quite so lucky as, apparently, you’re overconfident and a bit unstable! Now you may already be mocking this, not believing in such “horoscopes”, but this is very much a western attitude, brought on by a diet of Mystic Meg, Russell Grant and daily predictions about meeting tall dark strangers. The Chinese take it far more seriously and there lies the rub. When 1.2 billion people take something seriously, that’s a pretty big market to tap into and, without wanting to sound too cynical, that’s exactly what the mints of the world have done, and for as long as I can remember the Chinese New Year has been something of a numismatic bonanza with a bandwagon veritably laden with new issues from just about every major mint/issuing authority—and who can blame them? The Chinese Zodiac is a numismatic designer’s dream, with a chance to show off some of their finer sculpting skills (for example feathers aren’t easy to reproduce “in the metal” but most of the coins I’ve seen so far this year look flawless) and the technology bods at the mints have a field day too—with a riot of colourful cockerels appearing already; but it isn’t only colour that’s been applied— there are plated coins, deep relief coins, bi-metallic coins, and even jade coins. The roosters themselves are as diverse: with the aforementioned coloured birds (blues, greens, golds, blacks), roosters with their families, roosters pulling angels in carts (yes seriously), mirrored roosters and even a rather threatening one courtesy of Palau that looks like a veteran of an Old London Town cock fight! It’s the same every year, of course, with different finishes and designs being experimented with and marketed, with those that succeed replicated the following year on the dragon, monkey, tiger, etc., alongside the next raft of new ideas. The Lunar new year allows the mints to “play around” and try new things, knowing that the vast majority of them will sell, even if only to those looking to buy them as good luck pieces rather than as serious numismatic items—and, of course, they know that we collectors will also get sucked in. The moment we buy our first piece we just know we will have to buy at least one a year for the next 11 years because we will need a full set . . . after all, when did you last hear of a coin collector willing to leave a collection incomplete? Exactly! Now many “serious” collectors get rather irate at this plethora of new issues, this gaudy display of “product” that they think has little to do with our hobby. But to them I say think of the Chinese New Year Coins as being like the Paris Fashion Week, or the Geneva Motor Show: it gives the designers and the manufacturers a chance to showcase their new processes and abilities, it allows them to show us (and more importantly governments and issuing authorities) what the coins of tomorrow may look like and whilst not every one of the new ideas you see every February will make it to the coins in our pockets, some will (as you’ll see in March when the new £1 coin with its various anti-forgery devices comes into circulation). So don’t be too scathing of the Lunar new issues, they may seem like “just a bit of fun” or even a “darned nuisance” and not at all like the coins you collect, but they serve their purpose and besides as Kiefer Sutherland once said (in the film the “Lost Boys” I believe): 1 billion Chinese people can’t be wrong—now can they?!
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