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Coins Commemorating Authors – a Missing Market?

August 9, 2017 0 Comments

Most national mints – and the US Mint is no exception – issue both circulation and commemorative coins in a wide variety of themes. Sportsmen, Presidents, historic figures, and even movie characters all feature on different designs, and in various series. A conspicuous absence is famous writers, who have never found themselves depicted on American coins, unless writing was secondary to some other reason for fame. As might be expected, the British, who have a good share of the most famous writers in the English language, are not so shy about appealing to the bookish, and we have to wonder if the US Mint is missing out on a lucrative segment of the market. After all, with famous writers as varied as Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker, and of course F. Scott Fitzgerald, America is not short of suitable subject.

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These musings are triggered by the announcement that the UK’s Royal Mint is releasing coins to commemorate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, on July 18, 1817. Considering her fame among American readers, who have turned her into a cult figure of the highest standing, it seems that the US Mint might have missed out on a big opportunity.

The British are releasing a £2 circulation coin, as well as both a gold and a silver commemorative version. The first circulation coins will be released in the Winchester and Basingstoke areas, locations with lots of Austen associations, and ones familiar to Austen aficionados making the pilgrimage to her home. Lucky travelers this fall may even get one in their change from the local pub, but they will need to go to the Royal Mint site to buy one of just 884 gold coins being minted, or perhaps one of the 4,000 silver versions. The number of circulation coins to be released has not been specified, but one can imagine they will not stay in circulation long, given the enthusiasm for this author.

The obverse will feature the standard profile of the Queen, but the reverse has been created by the Royal Mint Graphic Designer, Dominique Evans. British £2 coins have a silver center and a broad gold outer rim, and this requirement has been deftly turned into a silhouette profile of Austen placed in a circular picture frame in Regency style. The gold rim becomes a backdrop of striped wallpaper popular at that time. Across the portrait is a reproduction of Austen’s signature. Around the rim are the words, JANE AUSTEN 1817 – 2017, and TWO POUNDS.

The gold proof coin is 15.97 grams of 22 carat gold, with yellow gold in the core and red gold for the rim. The silver coin is 12 grams of .925 silver, and gold-plating creates the contrasting rim. For the circulation coin, also weighing 12 grams, the core is cupro-nickel and the rim is nickel-brass.

This is not the first time the UK Mint has honored authors, both William Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter had special coins minted in 2016, and if these Jane Austen coins prove popular, perhaps it won’t be long before the US Mint follows the lead, and decides to shine its own spotlight on the American literary world. A whole new market niche could open up for it.

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