There’s been some intense competition in the art-architectural coin market for some years now. The pedestal that Coin Invest Trust’s seminal Tiffany Art series has sat on for over a decade has been gradually chipped away at by an increasing number of rival series that have raised the quality threshold to hitherto unreached heights. Chief amongst these competitors is Mineral Arts, a series ironically also produced, but not issued by, CIT.
Mineral Arts are typical architecture coins from the specification standpoint and follow Tiffany Art quite closely in that regard. The main difference is that these are tightly focused on specific buildings instead of general architectural styles. This series welcomes a new addition every year and has been doing so since the debut coin in 2009. The first coin to launch featured the fabled Amber Room and was a nicely detailed design, if a little two-dimensional, quite similar to the 2010 Sagrada Familia coin. From 2011 onwards we begin to see a better depth of relief with a design that starts to take more advantage of it. By the time we get to the latest coin, these are fully capable of going head to head with the best in the genre.
In general, one side of the coin depicts the subject structures exterior, and the other face, most often the obverse, goes with interior details. There have been exceptions. For example, the Amber Room is only an interior structure, and the Sagrada Familia concentrates on the admittedly stunning exterior, the interior we’d imagine being very difficult to depict well on a coin. Again, from 2011 we see a stricter design brief being implemented and more uniformity. The mineral window (an amber variant) is usually well integrated into the design, but some are obviously more successful than others. The Forbidden City coin moved away from that approach in 2015 in a nod to older Chinese coins that had a square hole through the middle of them.
The obverse depicts the shield emblem of the Pacific island state of Palau, a common recipient of CIT issues. It’s one of the better-looking emblems out there and is usually handled very well, not distracting too much from the design, although again, the Sagrada coin is a bit of an exception. From 2015 onwards the reverse face now has a new series logo incorporated into the design composed of the series name, the coin issue date, and a small image of crystals, no doubt meant to symbolise minerals. Can’t say we’re fans of it here, it’s an unnecessary distraction although a nice design in itself.
To help with collectability, the mintage of each release was dropped from 2,500 in 2009-2010 to a tighter 999, a number much more in keeping with the competition. This higher level of quality and lower mintage seems to have given new impetus to the range and they appear to be quite eagerly awaited every year. A big disappointment has been the lack of good presentation. While Tiffany and Sacred Art have moved to having some very nice packaging, this series still comes in just a capsule with a small certificate of authenticity. We’d expect more from a two-ounce silver coin that debuts at €200 or more. Now up to eight releases at the time of writing, we’re of the opinion that this is without question one of the top three architectural series of numismatics available today.
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty—the years 1420 to 1912. It is located in the centre of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. It served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government for almost 500 years. Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 ha (180 acres). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
When Hongwu Emperor’s son Zhu Di became the Yongle Emperor, he moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, and construction began in 1406 on what would become the Forbidden City. Construction lasted 14 years and required more than a million workers. Material used include whole logs of precious Phoebe zhennan wood found in the jungles of south-western China, and large blocks of marble from quarries near Beijing. The floors of major halls were paved with “golden bricks”, specially baked paving bricks from Suzhou.
From 1420 to 1644, the Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming dynasty. In April 1644, it was captured by rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, who proclaimed himself emperor of the Shun dynasty. He soon fled before the combined armies of former Ming general Wu Sangui and Manchu forces, setting fire to parts of the Forbidden City in the process. By October, the Manchus had achieved supremacy in northern China, and a ceremony was held at the Forbidden City to proclaim the young Shunzhi Emperor as ruler of all China under the Qing dynasty. The Qing rulers changed the names on some of the principal buildings, to emphasise “Harmony” rather than “Supremacy”, made the name plates bilingual (Chinese and Manchu), and introduced Shamanist elements to the palace.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, Anglo-French forces took control of the Forbidden City and occupied it until the end of the war. In 1900 Empress Dowager Cixi fled from the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion, leaving it to be occupied by forces of the treaty powers until the following year. After being the home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty – the Forbidden City ceased being the political centre of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China.
One of the largest places of worship in the world, the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican is a Renaissance church in Vatican City, a sovereign papal enclave situated within the boundaries of the Italian capital, Rome. One of the holiest sites in Catholisism, is is said to be the burial site of St. Peter, one of Christ’s Apostles and also the first in a millennia long line of Popes. St. Peter’s tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica.
The church is huge and widely regarded as the ultimate expression of Renaissance architecture. Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were primarily responsible for the design. The largest church in the world, it has a 211.5 m long nave with a dome 42 m in diameter and soaring 132.5 m high. Maderno’s front facade, clad in travertine, was modified from Michaelangelo’s original concept, although not heavily. Almost 115 m wide and 45.5 m high, the facade is topped with 5.7 m tall statues of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and all the apostles except St. Peter.
There has been a church on the site since the time of the reforming Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, but the present building began construction on 18 April 1506 and was completed over 120 years later on 18 November 1626. The basilica has a surface area of 15,160 square m and can accommodate 60,000 people. The interior is richly decorated, and adorned with statues and monuments, many by Italian master Gian Lorenzo Bernini, considered one of the greatest artists in history.
Neuschwanstein Castle (“New Swanstone Castle”) is a nineteenth-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds.
Neuschwanstein Castle consists of several individual structures which were erected over a length of 150 metres on the top of a cliff ridge. The elongate building is furnished with numerous towers, ornamental turrets, gables, balconies, pinnacles and sculptures. Following Romanesque style, most window openings are fashioned as bi- and triforia. Before the backdrop of the Tegelberg and the Pöllat Gorge in the south and the Alpine foothills with their lakes in the north, the ensemble of individual buildings provides varying picturesque views of the palace from all directions. It was designed as the romantic ideal of a knight’s castle. Unlike “real” castles, whose building stock is in most cases the result of centuries of building activity, Neuschwanstein was planned from the inception as an intentionally asymmetric building, and erected in consecutive stages. Typical attributes of a castle were included, but real fortifications – the most important feature of a medieval aristocratic estate – were dispensed with.
The Throne Hall, 20 by 12 metres, is situated in the west wing of the Palas. With its height of 13 metres it occupies the third and fourth floors. Julius Hofmann modelled it after the Allerheiligen-Hofkirche in the Munich Residenz. On three sides it is surrounded by colorful arcades, ending in an apse that was intended to hold Ludwig’s throne – which was never completed. The throne dais is surrounded by paintings of Jesus, the Twelve Apostles and six canonized kings. The mural paintings were created by Wilhelm Hauschild. The floor mosaic was completed after the king’s death. The chandelier is fashioned after a Byzantine crown. The Throne Hall makes a sacral impression. Following the king’s wish, it amalgamated the Grail Hall from Parzival with a symbol of the divine right of kings, an incorporation of unrestricted sovereign power, which Ludwig as the head of a constitutional monarchy no longer held. The union of the sacral and regal is emphasized by the portraits in the apse of six canonized kings: Saint Louis of France, Saint Stephen of Hungary, Saint Edward the Confessor of England, Saint Wenceslaus of Bohemia, Saint Olaf of Norway and Saint Henry, Holy Roman Emperor.
The Amber Room or Yantarnaya Komnata, is a world-famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, located in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. Originally constructed in the 18th century in Prussia, the Amber Room disappeared during World War II and was recreated in 2003. Before the room was lost, it was considered an “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Construction of the Amber Room first took place around 1701 in Prussia. The room was designed by German baroque sculptor Andreas Schlüter and Danish amber craftsman Gottfried Wolfram. Schlüter and Wolfram worked on the room until 1707, when work was continued by amber masters Gottfried Turau and Ernst Schacht from Danzig. The amber cabinet remained in the Berlin City Palace until 1716 when it was given by the Prussian King Frederick William I to his then ally, Tsar Peter the Great of the Russian Empire. In Russia, the room was expanded and after several renovations, it covered more than 55 square metres and contained over 6 tonnes of amber.
The Amber Room was looted during World War II by Army Group North of Nazi Germany and brought to Königsberg for reconstruction and display. Its current whereabouts remain a mystery. In 1979, efforts were undertaken to rebuild the Amber Room at Tsarskoye Selo. In 2003, after decades of work by Russian craftsmen and donations from Germany, the reconstructed Amber Room was inaugurated at the Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg.