The Shape (and Size) of Things
For as long as coins have existed, they’ve come in different shapes and sizes. In fact, coins have a history of being anything but traditional, and that’s something we’ve embraced year after year.
We want to ensure there’s a coin for every collector and that’s why we offer such a wide array of collectibles. If you’re new to coin collecting, variety is what makes this journey so fascinating, so we suggest seeking out different kinds of coins, in addition to theme, to enrich your collection.
Of course, all of the options can seem overwhelming at times. To help you, here’s some information on the “S” factors – shape, size – of a coin that may influence your collection.
When it comes to shapes, change is good
There are a lot of reasons why a round shape became the norm in numismatics – for starters, round coins are easier to mint in large quantities and are less prone to uneven wear. But just because something has been done a certain way, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something different.
Canada’s coins can come in unconventional shapes: we’ve issued a combat helmet, the Stanley Cup, an RCMP statuette, a 3D diamond, a poppy and even a Canada-shaped coin.
Some shapes, like our scallop-shaped ones, may have a limited run, but there are a few recurring favourites, like our rectangular coins that allow the art to be placed vertically or horizontally; and our fine silver and gold Ukrainian Easter egg coins, which are perennial favourites.
The question is, what comes first: the coin’s shape or its theme?
“Sometimes we’ll find a way to make the theme work with the shape but we won’t force it,” explains Jamie Desrochers, Product Lead at the Royal Canadian Mint. “And sometimes the shape just naturally lends itself to a specific theme.”
“Shaped coins are far more challenging to produce, but in everything we do, it all comes down to one thing: great storytelling,” adds Josh Bednar, Senior Advisor, Strategy & Innovation. “Using different canvas shapes allows us to frame the story in a whole new way.”
Sizing up the art
Another “S” factor that shapes your viewing experience is the coin’s size or diameter, which is measured in millimetres (mm).
Again, we’re big on variety, so our coins come in a range of sizes that best serve the art. Currently, our tiniest collector piece is a 14 mm gold coin that’s smaller than a dime, while our largest pieces include a 5 kg fine silver coin that’s about the size of a salad plate. The biggest coin we ever minted is the record-setting Million Dollar coin issued in 2007 – that one had a diameter of 530 mm, roughly the size of a large round serving tray (a very rare and very heavy serving tray).
Generally speaking, larger coins provide a nice, big canvas for more complex art and special finishes that enhance the engraving, and that’s a big draw (pardon the pun) for many collectors. On the other hand, some technologies, like gold plating, enamelling or holograms, are better suited to certain sizes and that’s why you don’t often see them on our largest pieces.
There’s also affordability to consider – by offering smaller sizes, we make our pure gold coins more accessible to collectors. And accessibility is the reason our big commemorative programs, like the 2021 Bluenose collection, typically include different coin formats.
The final word
When it comes to coins, their shape and size go a long way in deepening the story told through the engraving. And when any of these characteristics differ from the rest, the result is a one-of-a-kind collectible that adds excitement to your hobby and brings diversity to your collection. Delving into these fascinating features may even change the way you define coins.