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The Perth Mint in Western Australia, which has a well-established global reputation as a leading world mint, made history 24 years ago when it became the first major mint to issue annual silver and gold coins celebrating the animals of the Chinese Lunar calendar. That series is known as Lunar Series I, and new coins continued to be issued for each of the next 12 years. Then a second series known as Lunar Series II debuted in 2008 and ended with the 2019, Year of the Pig, releases.
This September the mint launched the greatly anticipated Lunar Series III, which begins with 2020-dated Year of the Rat coins. As Perth Mint CEO Richard Hayes said: “Over the past 24 years, Australian Lunar coins have become one of our signature programs with their designs, craftsmanship and select mintage limits offering astute investors an elusive asset offering.”
The Series I coins featured polished images of each animal in a traditional artistic style against a matte background, while the Series II coins use more modern and stylized imagery, increased the diameter of the silver 1 oz coin to 40.6 millimeters and the reverse side design includes not just Chinese characters as before but also English inscriptions for “Year of the ….”
The new Series III coins continue the tradition of top-notch minting, limited mintages and beautiful designs for which Perth’s lunar coins are known all over the world. In addition, based on the Rat coin designs by Perth artist Ing Ing Jong, they also appear to mark a return to the more realistic imagery style of Series I and condense all the inscriptions for the year and animal in Chinese and English into one small area on the reverse. What’s more, for the first time ever Perth is releasing 1 oz platinum versions with a limited mintage of 5,000 coins for each Series III design.
Chinese Lunar calendar- Year of the Rat
But what is the Chinese lunar calendar, and why is the Rat always the first animal depicted as it was with Series I and II?
The 12-year cycle known as the Chinese zodiac is based on phases of the moon, which is why it is known as a lunar calendar. Although China now uses the Gregorian calendar, the lunar calendar continues to be useful for farmers, telling them when to plant and when to harvest. It also impacts the timing of certain Chinese festivals and wedding dates. This year on January 25 the calendar resets to the Year of the Rat, and Chinese New Year celebrations are held around the world.
The lunar calendar’s origins date to about 2500 BC when according to legend, the jade emperor decided to divide time into 12 annual cycles with each year represented by a different animal. To determine in which order the animals would rule, they were all invited to join a race to the Heavenly Gate. The Rat got there first by getting a ride on the ox across the river and then beat the ox to reach the emperor.
People born in the Year of the Rat (also known as the Year of the Rat) are said to be optimistic, hard-working, insightful and to have enterprising spirits. Like mice they are smart and nimble. Some famous people who are born under this cycle include: Presidents George Washington, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, Senator John McCain, movie legend Marlon Brando, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and rap star Eminem.
Perth Mint: 2020 Year of the Rat coins
The new silver Year of the Rat coins feature a naturalistic design of two mice foraging on husks of corn on their reverse as well as a special security feature – a micro-laser engraved letter, and the obverse is the new Australian effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by UK artist Jody Clark that debuted this year.
The silver coin comes in the popular 1 oz. size with a mintage of 300,000 coins that almost always sells out from the mint quickly as well as additional coins of ½ oz, 2 oz, 5 oz, 1 kilo and 10 kilos. The gold version, also designed by Ing Ing Jong, shows a Rat among stalks of wheat and is issued in the following sizes: 1 oz, the most popular piece whose mintage is limited to 30,000 plus 1/20 oz, 1/10 oz, ¼ oz, ½ oz 2 oz and 10 oz. All coins in both metals are struck to the highest standard of purity in precious metal bullion coins (.9999 fine).
Traditionally, people in Asia give lunar-themed coins as gifts for Chinese New Year such as red money packets, gifts to family and friends and coins placed under the pillows of children to guard against monsters. However today lunar coins, especially those from the Perth Mint that have long track record of performance as precious metal repositories and numismatic collectibles, are admired and collected all over the world.
The 2020 Year of the Rat coins and the forthcoming issues of Lunar Series III are sure to inspire and delight both longtime collectors of Perth’s beautiful lunar coins as well as new collectors.
An added bonus for those who purchase the collector versions of the Rat coins in original government packaging is that Perth now issues all of those coins as well as sets like the 3-coin silver proof set in black clear-lid display boxes that look great on a bookshelf.
“Perth Mint Bullion Coins Honor New Era of Ancient Calendar,” www.coinweek.com, Sept. 5, 2019
2020 Australian Bullion Coin Program: Australian Purity and Quality, The Perth Mint
“Why the mouse comes first on new Lunar coin series,” Perth Mint blog (www.blog.perthmint.com.au), Sept. 3, 2019
“Chinese Astrology – The Year of the Mouse/Rat,” www.psychic-revelation.com,
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||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|