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Platinum Coins

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Although platinum is nowadays known to be among the rarest and most precious of noble metals with a price far more than that of gold, its reputation as something that is of value is relatively new. Nowadays, many investors and coin collectors value platinum bullion bars and coins due to its aesthetic appeal and rarity, however, with regards to platinum coins, it wasn’t always so. While the worth of platinum in a modern assertion, the practice of creating platinum coins dates back to the early 18th century, where Spanish colonials who then ruled parts of America issued currency made out of platinum. By then, platinum was nothing more than a byproduct of gold refining and was used to create currency of very little value. Despite being a shiny, non-corrosive metal, its use in coinage didn’t last due to its relative hardness, as many minters were unable to create strong enough dies that could cast impressions deep enough to make for a consistent and legible coin. Aside from being issued as currency in its pure state, Spanish-colonized America also saw the dawn of platinum coin alloys, usually copper-platinum or gold-platinum alloys which were concocted as an attempt to substitute the then far more precious silver with another non-corrosive metal of lesser value[1].

Because platinum resembled silver, it was usually alloyed with the base metal copper to create counterfeit British Sovereigns which imitated the specific standard weight of an authentic one[2]. This was minted and then plated with a thin layer of gold to imitate the far more precious Sovereign and used to deceive many individuals, since, during that time, platinum was yet to be considered a precious metal in its own right. The use of platinum coins did not last long, mainly due to its hardness, but also due to the fact that it was very difficult for the metallurgical techniques of the time to extract pure platinum from gold ores. While they made for a perfect counterfeiting material due to its heft, the hardness of the metal made it difficult to fully imitate minute details of authentic gold alloy and silver alloy currencies, and the counterfeit coins that were found out were subsequently smelted, refined, and what trace amounts of platinum that could be extracted were simply discarded, with some accounts even going so far as to say that it was thrown into the sea. Still, the practice of using platinum as an alloying metal in the creation of coinage was later adopted by Spanish authorities sometime between the late 1700s up until the middle of the 19th century, where it was used to lower the gold content of coins without compromise its weight or appearance[3].

Mules (dummy coins made with dies from two different coins) were made by the British Royal Mint sometime during the latter part of the 1820s as an attempt to test the viability of platinum for coinage, but, owing to the metal’s hardness, the idea was abandoned although the mules that they have created now hold an extremely valuable spot for numismatists, historians, and some platinum investors.

The use of platinum as general currency later became commonplace in Imperial Russia, where a great number of platinum coins were minted and circulated from 1828 to 1845[4] thanks to the invention of a simpler and more viable way to extract and process platinum made by P. G. Sobolevsky in 1826. By then, the value of platinum was still insignificant, and while it resembled silver, its hardness made it an impractical material for the creation of coinage despite being able to withstand wear, oxidation, and even fires[5]. Much later, the value of platinum was equivalent to that of silver until a standardization came about that markedly increased the price of platinum owing chiefly to the fact that it was heavier than silver. By the latter part of the 1830s, platinum became six times more expensive than silver. Because the process of platinum refinement was still in its nascence, it was still not free from the ‘contamination’ of other, rarer metals such as palladium, rhodium, and iridium and was marked ‘pure Ural platinum’, only to denote its ‘pure’ state as being unalloyed to other metals in its production.

The price of platinum then drastically dropped, so that by June 22 of 1845, the production of platinum coins was discontinued. Owning to the large number of platinum coins having been circulated (some 883, 212 coins were said to have been in circulation), it was yet again thought of as being disposable, and was readily exchanged for gold by the masses[6].

It was not until further into the modern age that platinum coins were yet again issued, this time by a number of countries, among them Russia, Canada, the United States, China, Australia, and Isle of Man. With the value of platinum having been fixed as being far more precious than gold by this time (circa 1960s – 1980s) platinum coins became bullion investment coins while rare antique examples of earlier coins became highly sought-after collectible and equally valued investment bullion. Nowadays, platinum coins are usually issued as commemorative ‘tokens’, and are rarely circulated. Owing to the highly aesthetic nature of platinum, many of these commemorative coins (American Platinum Eagle, Canadian Platinum Maple Leaf, Platinum Koala of Australia etc.) were usually issued as proof coins but were purchased and valued as bullion coin due to their composite metal. The practice of investing in and collecting platinum coins and platinum bullion proofs still remains strong, with issued coins usually being sold by set although with a very limited number of investors and collectors capable of enough monetary leverage to afford it. De to the more advanced methods of metallurgy employed nowadays, many platinum proof coins issued as collectibles and bullion investment coins come in the highest grade of platinum (at .9995% fine platinum) as a standard issue for the majority of current platinum bullion coins.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for © 2012

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