We can always expect a smattering of coins featuring the iconic maple leaf that so epitomises Canada’s national identity being released every month, as well as something gimmicky in an attempt to push coin design forward, but in amongst all that there’s always a real gem. In our view at least, the coin that fits that bill in April is this gorgeous depiction of a famous 19th century attempt to find the fabled North West passage.
Many of you may know of the expedition through the fantastical 2019 television series, The Terror, which took this failed journey as its basis. Full of artistic flourishes, of course, it nevertheless did a superb job of showing what it must have been like to be stuck in sea ice for over 11/2 years. Some 129 men died on the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and their fate remained largely unknown. Although the first relics were found in 1850, it wasn’t until 2014 that the wreck of Erebus was found, and that of Terror two years later. Ultimately a failure, the expedition has long been held as an example of human endeavour, and did lead to extensive mapping of the area, ironically by the ships looking for survivors.
The coin is a rare five-ounce effort from the Royal Canadian Mint and the design by Matt Bowen is of the firmly icebound HMS Terror being abandoned by her crew, in a last desperate attempt for safety. Apart from ‘CANADA’ and ‘2020’ inscribed on the reverse face, the scene is free to fill the rimless coin to its edges. It’s a gorgeous piece in our view, full of depth and exquisite fine detail. Even the Aurora Borealis, the fabled Northern Lights, is fashioned into the sky, and you get a good sense of the desolation and desperation experienced by the doomed crew. The edge is a clever touch, designed to appear as if the coin is a broken ice floe, This is carried over onto the obverse, which features the Susanna Blunt effigy of Queen Elizabeth II appearing as if floating on a pool of frozen water surrounded by ice. Why doesn’t the RCM make this kind of effort with more of its coins, as it works so well? The Perth, Royal Australian and New Zealand Mint’s would also do well to take note. The Mint of Poland was the first to regularly incorporate the effigy into a wider design and we’d like to see more of it.
A mintage of 750 and a price approaching $580 CAD means that this isn’t a budget coin, but it looks worth every penny. The packaging of the RCM’s ubiquitous maroon snapper case is a disappointment (the coin would have benefited greatly from one of the NZ Mint’s fantastic solid acrylic frames), but in every other respect, this looks a winner to us. Available to order now, it apparently isn’t shipping until the end of November, no doubt a victim of the current epidemic, albeit an unimportant one.