By Tom Michael
As we wrap up our look into what changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the coin business, we want to thank everyone who participated, sharing their insights and adaptations so that we might share them with our readers. We hope this mini-series has provided a breath of fresh air to all who have read it, while reminding everyone of the resilience and resourcefulness endemic in our shared hobby and industry.
In this last installment, we bring you news from three of the largest producers of gold and silver commemorative and bullion coins in the world, plus an inside look at the workings of two creative coin originators who continue to push the traditional boundaries of modern collectible coinage.
The Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) is a central supplier to the world’s gold and silver bullion markets, so it was with trepidation that I read a press release on March 20 announcing a planned, two-week shut-down of the RCM facilities. The plan was to create a divided workforce approach for the safety of the RCM staff and to allow for critical services to be maintained, while still supplying large cast bar products for institutional trading.
Alex Reeves, senior manager, public affairs at the RCM, recently provided us with more detail on their successful changes.
“We did suspend minting operations in Ottawa and Winnipeg, from March 20 to April 6, to allow us to reconfigure shifts and implement protocols allowing employees to maintain critical services in a safe environment. We have now resumed the minting of Canadian and foreign circulation coins in Winnipeg, while Ottawa is focused on the production of 1-ounce gold and silver Maple Leaf bullion coins. Numismatic coin production remains suspended as we continue to prioritize our manufacturing operations.”
Given the current health and economic circumstances, I think the RCM made the right choices for the most stability.
Reeves expanded on the bullion support: “We have also modified our operations so that we could concentrate on supporting the essential mining and financial sectors. This means we have continued to operate our refinery to allow for the receipt and withdrawal of available products without interruption. This also provides liquidity to refinery and pool customers with large cast bar products. This includes supplying 100-ounce Good Delivery List gold bars on a limited basis, which are the standard institutional trading bar for COMEX.”
Being a huge operation, the RCM has many concerns in the area of support services.
Reeves reiterated, “The Mint has also maintained uninterrupted support services thanks to hundreds of employees who continue to work from home. This includes seamless management of Canada’s coin distribution system.”
As we have mentioned in earlier installments, distribution and shipping have presented many coin businesses with challenges, so it is reassuring that the RCM remains strong in this area.
In the midst of all these financial concerns Reeves assures us that, “Our people have remained healthy throughout this public health emergency.”
With so many important priorities to consider, it is great to hear that the RCM, like so many other coin businesses, have placed the safety of their staff at the forefront.
Regarding the RCM new coin schedule for 2020, some changes and shifts will certainly be required.
Reeves could tell us only this: “While we never disclose details of numismatic coins prior to their launch, I can tell you that we have had to reschedule several 2020 products. Our product development, engineering and engraving teams are continuing to work on many new products for next year.”
Sounds like this gives collectors a great deal to look forward to in 2021!
We were happy to also hear from Reeves that the RCM staff initiated an extraordinary effort to help their local health care workers.
“Some of our employees freed up a little capacity and spare resources to produce hand sanitizer and face shields to give back to local health care workers in Ottawa and Winnipeg. So far in Ottawa, the Mint has delivered 1,893 face shields to the Ottawa Hospital and the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais (on the Quebec side of the National Capital Region) as well as 2,028 liters of hand sanitizer. Winnipeg has delivered 300 liters to the Manitoba Government, with more on the way.”
It is a shining example of the thoughtful integration of coin businesses and their peripheral populations. We are very proud of the RCM’s proactive approach to so many concerns both in the trade and in their communities.
Halfway across the globe, a China Gold Coin Inc. representative brought us up to date on developments in their expansive gold commemorative and bullion issues programs.
“Since the social distancing did affect face-to-face communication and events such as salons and forums, we have turned most of the events and daily work online, and promoted sales through video conferences, webcast, the online shop, etc., to mitigate the influences of the pandemic as much as possible.”
The use of video conferencing and many forms of web-based communication has been a thread of similarity crossing through all coin businesses we have talked with around the world. This is a strong step forward from which I do not think we will recede. The way we conduct and enjoy our coin businesses and hobbies has changed for the better and likely will not go back in too many ways.
We were pleased to hear from China Gold Coin Inc. that their staff has remained healthy.
“We conducted strict preventive measures, so by now, no cases have been found in our staff.”
As with many other production facilities, they have also made some adjustments.
“We’ve been conducting flexible and remote working to maintain our basic functions, such as planning, designing, marketing and publicity. But our mint facilities did suspend production for a month in February to ensure the staff’s safety and health.”
Internationally, collectors and distributors are certainly concerned about the ultra-popular Panda bullion program.
China Gold Coin Inc. assures us that “The production of Panda bullions has been operating normally.”
In fact, they were able to tell us that “Panda gold coins generated higher sales volume on a year-on-year basis during the outbreak of COVID-19.”
This is exactly what we would expect to hear during a time of great financial concern for people at almost all economic levels, and it matched up very closely with experiences at other mints around the world.
Hasse Wiersma of NumisCollect is a very creative guy in both his cooking and his coins. We had a great conversation in Berlin at the World Money Fair in early February and he showed me, among other coins, the new Tree of Life, first in the Dot Art & Pointillism series. Wiersma created the design for this coin and worked with the folks at CIT to develop it using Smartminting Technology.
Pointillist pioneers Georges Seurat and Paul Signac would surely be pleased that their neo-impressionism movement has made it to such a popular medium as coinage. The coin was created for Palau and is dated 2020. It’s 65 mm in diameter and contains three ounces of silver. Limited to 333 pieces and struck using a black proof base, this would have been one of the first low-mintage, highly creative coins produced and distributed during the early days of the pandemic. Consider it a testament to the persistence of this new brand of coin creators, development firms and contract mints, like NumisCollect, CIT and Mayer Mint.
As with every other coin business, NumisCollect had hurdles to overcome during the pandemic. Wiersma pointed out the challenges.
“The biggest change is in coin shows and trade fairs. They are simply cancelled, which means less networking and catching up with clients and partners. Much more is done digital now, which does work but it’s important to see clients and partners on these occasions. Inside the company, not much changed except that all have to keep a 1.5 meter distance. Everything runs normally, but we just have to keep an eye on not getting too close to each other.”
As is the case with many coin folks, Wiersma enjoyed the travel.
“Combining leisure travel with business travel (bleisure travel) was a great way to explore the world.”
But worldwide travel restrictions are hampering these perks for the time being.
Even with their business remaining fully operational throughout the pandemic, NumisCollect has been able to protect their staff and everyone has remained healthy. Working in an office environment with space has made this easier. Because of this, Wiersma has kept programs on track and the NumisCollect business remains strong.
“We only do exclusive coin programs and no bullion. We will not change any of our programs and upcoming issues. The only thing we did do is rearrange the timeframe of some issues. Some August issues will issue in June and the other way around. This was mainly done on request of (bigger) customers for certain projects due to coronavirus. In general there has been a much higher demand for exclusive, high-end quality collector coins. In crisis or in best times, they always sell.”
Those larger businesses dealing with production facilities for new coins have had more daunting challenges. At The Perth Mint in Western Australia, International Wholesale Manager Neil Vance gave us the details of how one of the largest bullion and commemorative coin manufacturers in the world has adjusted during this period of pandemic production.
“In an effort to keep our people safe at The Perth Mint, we have more than 90 percent of our non-production workforce now working remotely,” said Vance. “This was a relatively steady but swift shift to adhere to social isolation guidelines and to limit the number of staff taking public transport, which also allowed for more of our production team to have access to on-site and nearby parking. In addition, our two production hubs, being our refinery and coining facilities, have staff working two distinct shifts to minimize contact between both individuals and teams.”
Vance went on to say that, “Throughout COVID-19, our refining, coin manufacturing, customer service and administrative operations have been business as usual.”
From a personnel standpoint, Vance was pleased to report that “there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases among Perth Mint staff or their families.”
Some small concessions had to be made in the Perth Mint’s on-site public services.
“We have closed our gold exhibition and regular in-store retail trade with only bullion buying and selling offered by appointment,” Vance explained. “We have simply adjusted the way in which we operate to abide by social distancing protocols and health guidelines, yet with minimum disruption.”
Closing these tourism and retail functions was a necessity during the pandemic, but staffing adjustments were made to keep folks employed.
“With visitors no longer on-site, staff from this area were able to be reassigned to other teams to help facilitate orders from the surge in demand for our products,” said Vance. “In addition, we also implemented more regular cleaning and disinfecting across both sites, and offered additional support services to all staff.”
We were happy to hear of such efforts at the Perth Mint to keep staff healthy and employed during the pandemic. It is truly the sign of a dedicated business.
As Vance mentioned, there has been a surge in demand, particularly for investment products. We have heard the same from every coin business specializing in bullion coin creation or sales. Tough financial times always lead to healthy sales of gold and silver investment coins.
Vance detailed the Perth Mint experience: “Due to COVID-19 and the ensuing economic issues and market uncertainty, we have experienced a dramatic increase in sales of our bullion products. To satisfy this heightened demand, we have focused our capacity on the production of our popular 1-ounce gold and 1-ounce silver Australian Kangaroo bullion coins. In addition, we continue to release our numismatic programs each month, and we are already planning for the release of our 2021 bullion coin program later in the year.”
Planning ahead, adjusting to environmental and social changes, creatively adapting to market shifts – these are the realities with which numismatic businesses are always coping. Folks involved in the coin market have traditionally been very adept at rolling with these punches and keeping ahead of the curves as they foresee them. The pandemic is throwing some sharp punches, but coin people have been quick and careful in their responses, as these articles have shown, keeping us all ahead of the curves and on track to continue building our numismatic presence in the world.
If I were asked to choose a single person who best exemplifies that up-beat attitude of the numismatic community, it would be my pleasure to point to Antonello Galletta, founder of Power Coin. Like so many numismatic creators, Galletta has some very strong ideas of what he wants to produce for collectors and he has followed those ideas through to completion with the help of many partners. Once Galletta has solidified his idea, he works with some great designers, experienced program planners and advanced technicians in our business to bring coins to market. It’s a great testament to our industry that all of these folks are willing to work together and tackle the myriad of challenges Galletta’s ideas present, and the results are often spectacular.
Based in Italy, Power Coin had to be very careful as the pandemic spread.
“Obviously we complied with all safety regulations and government recommendations, such as: keep the minimum distance, wear masks and sanitize the environment every day,” explained Galletta. “In addition, each employee became responsible for his or her own desk by thoroughly cleaning with alcohol-based detergents keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc.”
As for the working from home option Galletta explained that “every employee was given the opportunity to stay at home and continue working in smartworking. Everybody chose to keep coming to the office, but in any case we always had “Plan B” ready in case our government had further tightened the restrictions imposing the total closure of online activities too. Every employee has his own laptop and knows perfectly how to use the tools that make it easier to work remotely and how to cooperate via email, chat and video conferencing systems when necessary. So, we were (and are) also ready to work from home without a drop in productivity.”
Power Coin has kept all of their staff employed.
“Not a single day of layoff has been used by our company,” said Galletta.
The concern for employee health is strong at Power Coin, too, and Galletta relayed that, “Our staff remained healthy and fortunately also their families were not directly affected by the disease.”
Best of all, in a heavily restricted pandemic country, Power Coin folks enjoyed some appreciated freedom.
“Being able to come to work has also improved our private life, not being forced to stay at home 24/7,” he said.
Of course, outside supplier problems are something we have seen in most parts of the world and these delays have affected some of Power Coins planning.
“We had a delay on the production of the coin cases in China for our well-known ‘Micropuzzle Starry Night’ coin, with a delay on the scheduled delivery of about four to five weeks,” said Galletta. “In addition, some projects were delayed by one to two weeks at the mint that produces the coins for us. Not a big deal.”
Similar problems with shipping were also experienced and overcome.
“As a worldwide shipping company, we receive daily updates from our shipping partners on countries, regions or locations where we cannot deliver the goods,” he explained. “In any case, having relationships with dozens of couriers and postal operators, we have always found a solution to have the delivery at our customers’ door, one way or another.”
With sales building year over year, Power Coin is optimistic about the future. While the desire for normalcy and the strength derived from positive thinking reside in all of us, Galletta expressed it best: “We hope to return to normal life soon; people and companies need it. We always think positive, and in Italy we say, ‘What doesn’t kill you, strengthens you!’”
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