A New Spin on Coin Innovation
When is a coin not just a coin? When it’s also a working carousel — miniaturized, of course. Royal Canadian Mint Product Manager Uyen Vo explains the cutting-edge technology behind a new $50 Fine Silver coin that has to be seen to be believed.
In theme parks and on fairgrounds, in small towns and big cities, Canada has a rich legacy of beautiful, ornate antique carousels dating back to the turn of the 20th century. They’re magical machines that continue to invoke a sense of wonder and nostalgia in Canadians today.
That gave the team at the Royal Canadian Mint an idea.
“We’re always trying to create something new, something that will excite people,” says Product Manager Uyen Vo. “So we thought, if we’re going to make a coin that commemorates Canada’s antique carousels, why not make a coin that is a carousel?”
The result — the partially gold-plated $50 Fine Silver Antique Carousel coin — is a world first in interactive minting technology. The reverse face features a functioning 3D carousel whose miniature horses rise up and down as it rotates, controlled by a magnet that ships with the coin.
“Most R&D coins take time,” says Vo, “but this may have been the most involved yet. Multiple technologies had to interrelate, multiple departments had to work together. Then again, nobody said innovation is easy!”
From inspiration to execution
Originally, the coin was to be modeled on an actual antique carousel built in 1928 that is currently located at Canada’s Wonderland north of Toronto. After some further thought, the Mint team opted to go for a more universal design.
“We always want our coins to be Canadian in the broadest way possible,” explains Vo. “We took inspiration from the carousel at Canada’s Wonderland but also worked in elements from others across the country. We feel like we’ve created something that will resonate with everyone.”
Once the art was finalized, the engineering challenge of creating a functional carousel on a coin began. The process took more than a year. Fortunately, the team didn’t have to start from scratch: in 2017, the Mint released a 90th anniversary Peace Tower Clock coin with a moveable clock gear made from copper from the actual Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.
While Vo says the Peace Tower coin was not nearly as complicated as making a working carousel, it provided some valuable lessons for realizing new design.
One of the biggest challenges, ironically, was the smallness of the parts.
“We had to find a balance between the delicacy required by the beautiful design and the durability needed for the interactive element,” Vo explains. “I think it took eight castings just to make sure everything was working right and that the whole piece together was strong enough. When we make a coin, it’s meant to last forever.”
The pocket in the coin where the carousel sits was created using Mint R&D department’s new mini-mill machine. The coin itself was cast using the same machine the Mint uses to make medals rather than standard coining machinery.
An instant classic
While Antique Carousel is decidedly a feat of engineering, it is also a stunning example of coin art created by Calder Moore, a graduate of the Centre for Arts and Technology’s animation program. Moore has provided several previous coin designs for the Royal Canadian Mint, notably the Loon and the Beaver.
The $50 Fine Silver carousel coin features rococo stylings and a scalloped rounding board lined by a row of gold bulbs that evoke a carousel’s lights. Selective gold plating over 99.99% pure silver enhances the coin’s engraved scrollwork. The mirror finish is framed by a gold-pated rim.
Limited to a mintage of just 1,000 coins, Vo expects Antique Carousel’s unique design and world-first features will make it a prized collector’s item.
“We’ve already received interest and attention from all over the world,” she says. “We think we’ve got something very special here, and we can’t wait to share it with our collectors.”