Year of the rat
Volume 57, Number 2, February 2020
Defining boundaries AS IS our habit we are once again dedicating the February front cover of COIN NEWS to the Chinese Lunar New Year coins that already abound. This year, as Dr Kerry Rodgers so eloquently points out in his article (pages 39–41) is the Year of the Rat (or more precisely the year of the “Metal Rat”) with people born in this year apparently particularly favoured (good with money, exceptional taste, etc.). The Chinese new year cycle is based around 12 animals, much as the western zodiac is based around 12 signs, and each animal being itself divided into five elements (earth, water, metal, fire and wood), so each animal marries with each element only once every 60 years. This is fine if you’re, say, an earth monkey, a little scary perhaps if you’re a fire sheep—it conjures up all sorts of images! To many of us there will be some animals that seem “sexier” than others—we might well wish to be a powerful dragon, majestic horse, regal tiger or even mischievous monkey and yet instead find we are in fact a pig, rabbit, sheep or rat! Numismatically of course, it doesn’t matter what sign you were born under, nor whether the animal is “sexy” or not—coins bearing this year’s animal will sell and sell in their millions. The Chinese New Year market is a global phenomenon with Mints worldwide ensuring that they are firmly on a bandwagon that shows no sign of slowing down. Many of the coins struck are sold to those of Chinese heritage, others to people whose interest in Chinese mysticism (for want of a better word) transcends their own cultural background whilst still more are sold to collectors who find themselves now unable to stop buying because, as we all know, as a collector you need one of everything in order to complete your collection! Or do you? If you are a collector of older coins the one of everything approach is fine; if you are, for example, collecting milled pennies then you know how many you have to acquire: there’s a finite catalogued number for you to look out for. Certainly some may be more difficult than others, some almost impossible, but at least you know that before you start; with new issue coins the boundaries are less easily defined and somebody who set out three decades ago to buy “one of every” Chinese New Year coin is almost certainly broke by now. The rules around new issue collecting have to be different than those that govern the collecting of other coins and often it is these different rules that either stop collectors of other coins from venturing in to the new issue market or confuse new collectors so much that they quickly drop the hobby altogether. I touched on this a while back when I was discussing collecting 50p coins (whether one had to collect one of everything or whether a collection could be considered complete if you just stuck to circulating 50 pences and ignored commemoratives and non-circulating pieces) but it is I think worth revisiting the topic now. If you collect new issues then clearly a goal of collecting “one of everything”, even of a defined topic, is going to be both expensive and frustrating. You will simply not be able to get your hands on every single Chinese New Year coin or Tokyo Olympic coin that is issued this year, such is the sheer volume of coins that are being produced, and even if you were, the fact is the world’s mints make these coins in so many different metals and finishes that your bank balance would take a severe thrashing. So in order to make the most of your collection you must decide on some limits—my suggestion would be either try to stick to one country’s issues or, if you feel like a little more variety, simply try to get a single coin from each issuing authority (the metal that coin is struck in depends entirely on your budget). This may seem like basic advice but you would be surprised how often I hear collectors moaning about the new issue market, complaining that there are simply too many coins to choose from. Yes, yes there are—so don’t even try. The parameters that a milled or hammered collector has laid out before him are not of his making, he is constrained by the number of coins struck and the availability of them on the open market. The new issue collector has no such constraints, there are hundreds of thousands (at least of the non-precious metal coins) struck and everything is easily and readily available. Thus in order to truly enjoy our hobby a new issue collector must impose his or her own limitations, but actually that can become fun in itself. Many collectors of older coins balk at the sheer enormity of the new issues that are being offered by the mints and numismatic bureaux of the world and worry about venturing into the world of modern coins for fear of being engulfed in something far different from their own ordered collecting lives—but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are considering collecting modern coins don’t assume you simply have to gorge on everything offered, instead take a little time to find out what suits you best and then, once you’ve found the parameters that you can work within, you may well find new issues just as exciting as any other branch of numismatics.
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