2014-2020 SHENGXIAO LUNARS by the Royal Mint

One of the most eagerly awaited of the various annually changing silver bullion coins for some years has been the Perth Mint’s perenially popular Lunar Series, now ten coins through its second cycle. The Lunar market is exceptionally diverse and well liked so it should’ve come as no surprise that other mints would look to emulate that success. Treasures of Oz did a fine job with their Tokelau Lunar range, now sadly defunct only a few coins in, and their are some smaller ranges around filling in the gaps. In 2014, one of the industries biggest players decided it wanted a slice of the pie, the Royal Mint.

The mints flagship Britannia bullion range had enjoyed semi-regularly changing designs, but that stopped in 2014 when they decided to open the mintage up and fix on Philip Nathan’s iconic artwork. To plug the semi-numismatic bullion coin gap, the mint employed British-Chinese artist Wuon-Gean Ho to design a coin range called Shengxiao Lunars. The 2014 Year of the Horse coin was the first.

Available in gold and silver, just a single size is available in each, that being the ever in demand one-ounce format. For the 2015 Year of the Sheep, the mint did produce 5,000 ¼ ounce gold coins, but that hasn’t reappeared and can’t be considered a regular part of the range. A 1/10 ounce coin in a similar finish is available every year, but sold as a boxed numismatic like the proof range and thus priced accordingly. To all intents and purposes, the one-ounce format is the bullion range.

Designs are certainly different to the Perth Mint range. Wuon-Gean has produced some fine, if controversial stylistic designs, a long way from Perths more realistic approach, so collectors usually find themselves leaning one way or the other. The Shengxiao Lunars have smaller mintages and a tighter, more traditional proof range, Perth catering to a huge variety of bullion sizes and an oversized variety of specials. . However, for the 2019 coin the lead artist has been changed to Harry Brockway. His style is less stylistic and leans a little more to the Perth Mint style than Wuon-Gean’s work. It’s equally divisive. As of 2021, this series is dead, abandoned by the Royal Mint with just 7 of the 12 issues released. The proof range continues.

One worth keeping an eye out for is the 2014 Year of the Horse ‘mule’. In 2014 the mint accidently struck 38,000 coins with the crenellated Britannia obverse and 17,000 Britannia coins with the lunar obverse. These are selling for decent premiums above the normal coins and make an interesting addition for the committed collector. The Britannia in our image above is an annual special loosely related, having a lunar privy mark struck into the edge at approximately 45º intervals. Made for a US dealer, they’re fairly easy to pick up.


DESIGN: Depicts a leaping horse under which is a depiction of the Uffington Horse in Oxfordshire. At the top is the inscription YEAR OF THE HORSE 2014 and the Chinese character for horse.


DESIGN: For the Lunar Year of the Sheep design, Wuon-Gean was inspired by her veterinary experience and memories of the lambing season. She worked in shifts with hours of waiting before periods  of busy and rewarding work, seeing new lambs come into the world and watching the mother and child bond. She recalls observing sheep as part of the British landscape – in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, on the hillsides of the Peak district and in the rolling Brecon Beacons – their presence part of British life.


DESIGN: Wuon-Gean has depicted two rhesus monkeys in her composition, part of the ‘Old World’ family of monkeys originating in Europe, Africa and Asia. Wuon-Gean explains: “Rhesus monkeys and humans shared a common ancestor about 25 million years ago. They are extremely intelligent, sociable and family oriented, and are equally good at climbing and swimming.”


DESIGN: During her research process Wuon-Gean made detailed observations of roosters and hens to capture a real sense of their personality and movement.

“The breed I have depicted on the coin is a Marsh Daisy from the Lancashire/Liverpool area of the UK – I wanted to root the design firmly in a real place. The Marsh Daisy is a gentle and friendly breed, well-adapted to sandy marshland. They are beautiful birds with a very flat, pillow-like comb called a rose-comb.”

“The flowers in the design are also called Marsh Daisies, an affectionate name for the flower also called sea-thrift, common to the areas where the birds live.”


DESIGN: “The dog I have depicted is a mixed breed, like a West Highland White Terrier crossed with a Jack Russell. I wanted to show the energy and exuberance of a more compact dog. Bouncy, full of life and very playful, terriers have a quick intelligence, lots of loyalty and big personalities,” said Wuon-Gean.

The background design behind the leaping terrier on the coin design is biometric nose print of a greyhound belonging to Wuon Gean’s friend. “In a similar way to fingerprints in people, dogs each have their own unique nose prints. The nose print ties into the British regard for dogs as individuals and refers to the tradition of dog portraiture. The pixelated nature of the nose print is a contemporary take on the digitised information that surrounds us in the twenty-first century.”said Wuon Gean.


DESIGN: The pig is the sixth design in the series, and is the twelfth and final sign of the Chinese zodiac, appearing once every 12 years. Harry Brockway, the coin’s designer, has ensured qualities of people born in the Year of the Pig are evident in his design.

Behind the sow, who is lying comfortably with her children who are feeding, is a countryside landscape at night, featuring a traditional country home. This design shows the generosity, compassion and diligence associated with people born in the Year of the Pig, and defines their relationships with those close to them. The country home signifies the trait of feeling calm, through the drowsy night sky and smoke emanating from the warm fire within the home


The Rat is considered the first animal in the actual lunar cycle, so the Royal Mint have seemingly taken the opportunity to abandon the divisive ‘stylistic’ approach of the first few coins in their series to start afresh with a more realistic approach. Ironically, the Perth Mint has taken the same route, perhaps a reflection of the increasing awareness of the natural world brought about by the intense climate debate.

In our view, the new style is beautiful and a clear improvement, just as the Perth Mint coins are.


COMPOSITION 0.9999 gold 0.9999 gold 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 31.21 grams 7.78 grams 31.21 grams
DIAMETER 32.69 mm 22.00 mm 38.61 mm
FINISH Bullion Bullion Bullion
MINTAGE Variable Variable Variable
TUBE / BOX 10 / 100 TBC 25 / 500


As a British release, plainly the obverse will carry the obligatory effigy of Queen Elizabeth II and that is indeed the case. The first two annual issues, in 2014 and 2015, used the widespread Ian Rank Broadley effigy, one that the Commonwealth countries also use, with the notable exception of Canada with its home-grown Susanna Blunt effort.

In 2016, the Royal Mint debuted a new effigy designed by the artist responsible for the sublime 2014 Britannia, Jody Clark. Currently used by the Royal Mint exclusively (excepting a recent April 2017 East India produced coin) it will no doubt remain on the back of this series until the accession of Charles to the throne. It isn’t hugely different from the IRB design, but Clark’s ‘Fifth effigy’ is a good change.

Inscribed on the obverse are the the denomination, ‘ELIZABETH II’, and ‘D G REG F D’ The latter stands for “Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor”, which means ‘By the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith’. The word Regina would change to Rex should there be a King instead of a Queen.  The rim is reeded.

Another change occurred in 2017 when the clean polished background finish changed to the ‘crinkled’ finish that had appeared on the Britannia shortly before. Around the edge of this new obverse is a ring of crennellations previously found on the Britannia (and the Lunar Horse mule). Possibly a response to complaints about the quality of the smooth finish, we expected this to be the norm going forward, but we were wrong. For the 2019 coin there was yet another change. The crennelations are gone, as is the crinkled finish, to be replaced by a geometric guilloche pattern. It’s quite unusual to see a bullion coin series from a major mint have more than one or two obverse layouts in its history. Four obverse designs in six years is almost comical.