More than a decade ago Aries Cheung, a Toronto-based artist, graphic designer and filmmaker, was approached by a representative from the Royal Canadian Mint.
Would he like to enter a competition for a new series of coins to celebrate the Lunar New Year?
The 58-year-old Hong Kong native won, and this year’s coin celebrating the Year of the Pig will be his 11th design from that initial competition. He’ll celebrate his birth year – the Year of the Rat – with next year’s coin, the final of his initial designs.
His designs and other similar ones are part of a growing trend as a dozen government-owned mints from Atlanta to Paris to Singapore look to cash in on the annual holiday by selling special, uncirculated coins and notes that are also legal tender.
“Seeing it in a physical form is really quite a thrill for me,” said Cheung, who studied graphic design and illustration at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and graduated with a degree in visual arts from York University in Ontario. “I can feel the honour and I can feel the love of people when they collect coins.”
This year, the Canadian mint is offering four different coins to celebrate Lunar New Year, including a gold and a silver one designed by Cheung.
The 18-karat gold coin conceptualised by Cheung has a face value of C$150 (US$114) and is limited to a minting of 1,500 coins, and sells for more than C$800 on the mint’s website.
This year’s Lunar New Year holiday comes at a tense time for China-Canada relations following the detention of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. The US is seeking her extradition, accusing her of violating its sanctions against Iran.
As part of a travel warning issued last month, Canada has warned its citizens of the “risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws” following the detention of several Canadians and the sentencing of another to death on drugs charges.
As China’s influence – and the number of people of Chinese descent – has increased around the globe, more mints have been offering special holiday coins for collectors.
The Royal Australian Mint, the sole supplier of Australia’s circulating coins, is celebrating its second cycle of Lunar New Year coins, which it first began producing in the last Year of the Pig in 2007.
“Lunar series coins are a popular product for the mint, including for the tourist market,” said Heather McGirr, a Royal Australian Mint spokesperson. “The lunar series is one that the mint will continue to pursue in the future.”
The bulk of the lunar coins are sold within Australia, but a small quantity are sold internationally, McGirr said. Depending on demand, there are often custom minting programmes for the international market.
This year’s offerings include an uncirculated set of three A$1 coins featuring pigs depicting happiness, wealth and longevity, and a gold A$25 (US$18) coin edition limited to a run of 1,000.
Britain’s Royal Mint began producing lunar coins in 2014 and the pig marks the sixth design in its series.
The mint is selling a five-ounce gold coin that is limited to just 38 units and is nearly sold out. Advertising it as “the perfect wedding gift to wish a life filled with happiness,” the coin, which features five piglets suckling a sow, is selling for £8,645 (US$11,324), well above its face value of £500.
The People’s Bank of China produced a set of collectable coins in November to celebrate the Lunar New Year, including a 100,000 yuan (US$14,840) coin that contained 10 kilograms of gold, had a diameter of 18 centimetres and was limited to just 18 issued.
In Macau, residents had to sign up last July to get their hands on special commemorative silver coins offered by the Monetary Authority of Macau. This year’s coins are the last of its current series of Chinese zodiac coins that began in 2008.
The authority, which has been producing lunar year coins since 1981, offered holders of permanent and non-permanent Macau identification cards the chance to purchase a five-ounce silver coin, a one-ounce silver coin and special boxes that could display the one-ounce coins issued over the past 12 years. Overall, 15,000 coins were produced by the authority.
The Singapore Mint also has the right to market the coins outside Macau.
The Central Bank of Taiwan issued a special two-coin set in January that featured a gold-plated pig on a silver coin and smiling pig on a copper alloy coin. A total of 120,000 sets are available, each costing NT$1,800 (US$58.53).
The bank has been issuing commemorative zodiac coins since 1993.
Despite escalating trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, even the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing is getting in on the act.
Through the US Mint, the government agency is offering “Lucky Money” red packs: each featuring an uncirculated US dollar from one of the Federal Reserve’s 12 banks with “8888” in its serial number.
The bureau has sold more than 2 million “Lucky Money” sets since it began offering them in 2000. It will offer 108,888 Year of the Pig products for sale this year.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore began issuing its Year of the Boar coins on Jan 1, its third coin in a zodiac animal series that began in 2017.
There are 10 different versions of the coin, which feature a boar with the island of Pulau Ubin in the background.
The Perth Mint, which is owned by the Western Government of Australia and not affiliated with the Royal Australian Mint, offered more than a dozen commemorative Year of the Pig coins this year. Several have already sold out, with the greatest demand from Germany and Taiwan.
The mint produces proof, numismatic and commemorative coins that are legal tender in Australia and other countries, as well as gold bullion bars and other precious metal products.
“It’s certainly one of our premier series of the year,” said Neil Vance, group manager for minted products at the Perth Mint. The mint “was the first non-Chinese mint to release lunar coins back in 1996 and we believe they’re still the most popular lunar coins.”
More from South China Morning Post: