CoinWeek Podcast #155: Ultra-Modern Coins Take Over
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This week on the CoinWeek Podcast, we have a lively, interesting, and provocative conversation with Chang Bullock and Orlando Lorenzana of CIT, where we talk about how ultra-modern coins (or postmodern coins, as we call them) have taken over the contemporary coin market and how CIT’s innovations in color and coin minting technology are changing the game for private and sovereign mints.
You cannot walk away from this podcast without learning something about the way minting has changed–and has always been changing throughout the course of monetary history–and we hope it will give you a clearer picture of where we are heading.
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The following is a transcript of Charles and Chris’ conversation with Chang and Orlando:
Charles Morgan: Today on the CoinWeek Podcast, we’re happy to welcome two experts in the ultramodern or postmodern period of coins. This is an exciting time if you collect coins because of all the technology that’s being put into them. We’re redefining coins on almost a continual basis at this point, and so we welcome two professionals and experts from CIT, that is going to be Chang Bullock and Orlando Lorenzana. They represent CIT in the United States, and if you’ve ever purchased a skull coin or ladybug coin or a coin in a snow globe, you probably have one of these two gentlemen to thank for it coming to the US market. Chris and I are going to talk to them a little bit about their background, how they got into the minting industry, and why coins are changing so dramatically in the last 10 or 20 years. We’ll start with Chang, why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience and tell us how you got into coins?
Chang Bullock: You bet. I want to just thank you guys for having us aboard. We’re very passionate about our coins and excited to talk about them. I’ve been in the industry for almost 30 years now. I am a true coin collector. I’ve been around for quite a long time, mostly working in the retail space. I worked for a long time with a company called Asset Marketing Services. Most collectors know them as GovMint and ModernCoinMart. I worked in a lot of different capacities and worked there for about 25 years. Just recently within the last couple years, I came to CIT to be the VP of Sales for the US division, and help them develop coins, which has been a very exciting journey.
Charles: How about you, Orlando?
Orlando Lorenzana: Totally the contrary to my colleague, Chang. I just came into it by coincidence. I didn’t know anything about coins, but I did understand a lot about collectibles, and it didn’t really matter if it was a baseball card, or if it was magazines, or if it was a poster, I was always very passionate about collecting in general. I just didn’t know anything about coins, and I’ve been working now for CIT going almost 16 years. I started from the very beginning when we were working a lot into project management. So, most of all the technologies that you see there, I had the opportunity and the privilege to start from the beginning on, as from glass inlays that we started doing, or putting crystals inside, or doing it in different forms and shapes. Man, I remember going into visiting customers, and they’re just laughing because they didn’t understand what we were doing. CIT has never produced– Our intention was never to produce coins for a single market, but to produce coins for the world. The world’s pretty big. What may work in one region may not work on the other region. We were just passionate about what we were creating. You had a bunch of guys just having fun, developing really cool ideas.
Charles: It’s interesting how the two of you talk about the way you come into the market and your different fields of expertise. I’m very familiar with Asset Marketing, GovMint, Bill Gale, the revolution and popularizing the coin hobby that firm has been responsible for. Also talking to you, Orlando, about the just the technology, the shapes, the novelty, the idea of creating a coin product that reaches outside of the traditional coin market has been very much a central part of I think, what’s going on now. I’ve had the good fortune a few times, not as many times I’d like to, to attend the World Money Fair in Berlin. One thing that strikes me and I think our listeners should really be aware of this, when you go to the Berlin show, as opposed to maybe an American coin show, it reveals that the coin market and the coin industry is directly tied to the minting industry, and the minting industry, from whether it’s France or CIT, Liechtenstein, or if it’s the Mayer Mint or any of these private mints or public mints, they’re all competing in a very tight market with each other, against each other, and products that you’re seeing in one country, maybe a Niobium coin here may end up creating the possibility for a product there.
You’re talking about the crystal inlays. I mean, you can go to the Royal Mint of Canada’s website and see this something that they’re doing colorized coins, which I again, I think CIT was the innovator there, that’s pretty much done by every mint now. What you’re seeing is that the mints are accelerating the research and development. So, what you saw for hundreds of years of what a coin was, is no longer holding that– we’re not held to that standard anymore. Coins are becoming all sorts of different objects. One of the most amazing coins I’ve seen recently, I know, it’s not one of yours, but I think it may even be derived from one of your products, bottle cap coin.
Orlando: Absolutely. We were the very first ones.
Charles: Right, very first ones to do this. Then, all of a sudden, you look at that object and you’re like, “Well, the implications for what you could do with this are vast.” There’s many brands of beer, there’s many brands of soda. All of this has that tickle of nostalgia, which is like, what commemorating is about, it’s about holding on to an event or commemorating an event. It’s almost like these ultramodern coins are commemorating pop culture, they’re commemorating celebrity, they’re commemorating themes in ways that traditional coins were in the past. What is the process for you guys when you go into R&D, when you’re trying to think about what you can do, what the market wants? How are you able to identify new markets for clients? Whereas in the traditional coin hobby, it’s proof sets, mint sets, collecting by date and mint marker by country or denomination.
Chang: It’s interesting, everything that you just said right there, because coming from mostly the US history background for where I came from, and you’re right. The differences between the US shows and the shows that are overseas, primarily Berlin, is really, really historic. In the US shows, you spend a lot of time looking at the same type coins that are either vintage US coins or modern issue US coins. You spend most of your time going from dealer to dealer just trying to see what kind of variety they have, but they’re all generally from the US mint at some given point or another. But you’re right, when you go to the Berlin shows, and you look at all the coins there, the mints are truly competing against one another, and that competition really has accelerated to go after unique things.
One of the things about the international coin shows, which I think is different than the US coin shows, is the international coin shows a lot of times focus on the true basis of what a lot of collectors go after. Collectors, as I see it, really like unique things. They really like things that are things they’ve never seen before. They like things that are scarce. They like new technologies. When you go to the international coin shows, you really see that, and that ties in, I think, very nicely to what CIT does. Because CIT, they create series and they create coins that follow one another, and that makes sense to collectors a lot of time. But really, from what I’ve seen in my short time in CIT so far, they create coins that are just neat where someone, when an average person will look at the coin and get excited about it, even if they’re not a hardcore coin collector. They drive off the same things that I think all of us feel. When we look at a coin, like say, the ladybug coin, and we notice how the coloring is just incredible on it, the relief is incredible on it. They’ve never seen anything like that before. I really think that’s what drives the thought process at CIT is, how can we create something that really the market has never seen before, where a normal person is going to look at it and even if they don’t have a history of coins, they can get excited about it. Orlando, do you want to add upon that?
Orlando: Yeah, I can add upon that, in the sense that a lot of the technology that you’re seeing out there, that you find as new, a lot of this stuff, we look at it, and we say, “We’ve done this 10 years ago, we did it eight years ago.” I’ll give an example. Chang, before he started working with CIT, he was my customer. One of the things I loved about working together with him is that, he got it, I didn’t have to explain to him a long time. Let’s take a look, you guys seen the Royal Canadian Mint. They make this snowflake coin with the crystal inside. The very first snowflake crystal coin that was ever made, was produced by us CIT, and we create it for who? For Asset. Of course, two years later, the Royal Canadian Mint thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea,” which is cool. I really like to see the coin industry develop. I like seeing how people or mints look at stuff that we’re doing, and say, “You know what, we can do that too.” You know why? Because at the end of the day, it’s always the consumer that’s getting the better products.
Now, never forget, it’s hard being the first one. It’s very hard, because you get a lot of people, those people that think that they know it all, and they always want to correct you. At the end of the day, you’re going to see is those people that are always trying to correct you, are the ones that at the end, start doing what you were doing a couple of years ago. Being innovative is not easy. It comes with a lot of responsibility. We have no intention to offend anybody, but we do want to create some really cool stuff. I see that the market is embracing it more and more. If you take a look at the US, and we would compare cars and you guys go with your numismatic and say, “Okay, this is all pure muscle car,” and it’s awesome, we love it. Then, the Europeans come in, and we say, “Okay, let’s bring the supercars in, let’s be innovative, let’s compete.” Competition is what keeps this market alive. If we would have not brought in the first color coins, if we would have not brought in coins like Tiffany or let’s not even talk about Smartminting, okay, because you have to remember, for example, antique finish coins, that was developed by CIT. You take a look at a lot of the technologies that we’re using nowadays, it comes from the house, CIT.
A lot of people congratulate us on Smartminting. I say, “Guys, it’s not over. That’s only a technology to stuff that we’re working in the back.” In two years, we may be having this conversation again, and you guys are going to come and say, “Hey, we really thought Smartminting was outrageous, but my God, what did you guys bring up next?” That’s what keeps the spirit of CIT alive, that we’re always looking for something new. We’re not competing with nobody, absolutely not. We compete with ourselves.
Chris Bulfinch: Well, you said something at the top of the show that I wanted to follow up on, and also Chang, if you have any insight on this, please feel free to contribute as well. It was something that Orlando said that is prompting my question. You mentioned that you didn’t have much of a history in numismatics before you started working for CIT and first started working in the space, but that you had some experience in other collecting fields or other sort of fields of collectibles. I wonder, what similarities do you see between coin collecting and any of the other collectible fields that you’ve worked in? What are the common characteristics and how has that guided your vision in CIT?
Orlando: Well, see, when people come and ask me, they go, “Orlando, if I were to invest in something, where would you put your money?” I always advise three things. I say, “I would advise to invest in wine. I would advise to invest in classical cars, and I would advise to invest in coins.” See, these three items have something called collectible, that people are willing to pay more than what you paid for. Then, at the end of the day, if only you like it, you can still drink the bottle of wine, you can still drive the car, and you still have the value of silver. If you invest in stocks and bonds and whatever, you know these are all IOU. If something goes wrong, you really lost, you lost everything. When people ask me, “How much does it cost?” I say “Whatever you’re willing to pay.” That’s what collectibles is all about. There is no, “This is the price.” There is, “This is the mintage, there is no more, and there is a secondary market, enjoy yourself.” That’s what makes collecting coins a really interesting passionate hobby. Why? You don’t need a lot of money. You can start small, you can start with $50 or $20. You can see very quickly your $50, $20 turn into $200 or $300.
I’ve seen coins that we have created– Let’s take the example of the very first Tiffany. Very first Tiffany that we took out was in 2004. It didn’t sell out immediately. It’s a coin with 999 pieces. It was sold in the United States for under $50. That’s a coin that you won’t find under 7000 euros. You had to happen to buy in 2004 Tiffany coin for under $50, you’d be, like, really happy right now.
Chang: Chris, if I may add a couple things to what your question is, I think it’s an interesting question, because I didn’t get into too much of my background as marketing, but within that particular company, I ran their sports collectible division, I ran the coin division, I also ran the division that dealt in paper money. To your point, I had experience involved in a number of different collectible fields. It’s interesting that you asked that question, because CIT, I think, is really good at hitting on those general points that almost all collectors want. What I mean by that is, number one, almost all of their products are quite scarce. You notice our mintages on our products, they range anywhere from $199 up to maybe a couple thousand. A lot of collectors pretty much no matter what it is they collect, whether it’s baseball cards, or paper notes or whatever, they want stuff that’s scarce and a lot of our CIT products are that way.
I think number two, generally collectors want to be able to say they own something that not a lot of other people have even seen, or have had the opportunity to own, it’s like bragging rights. I saw that all across the board with collectors that they want something that they can be proud to own and show to their friends and family. CIT products, in my opinion, are like that, because when I said earlier, what’s nice is a lot of our products, you don’t have to be a coin collector to really appreciate it, or think that it’s neat, I think that’s true. When they own a CIT coin, they can show it off to anybody and they’re going to think it’s pretty neat. None of the rest of my family are coin collectors, but whenever I show them some new releases that we plan on releasing or new designs that what we’re working on, they think that’s pretty neat, because it touches on that collectible. “Wow, I’ve never seen that before. I would like to own that.”
The other thing too what’s neat about it as well is that a lot of the CIT programs cover so many different themes. We’ve struck coins that are related to rock music, we’ve struck coins related to animals, struck coins that are related to jewelry, struck coins related to the medical field, all of these different topics. What ends up happening is, collectors get started down our path because they see a coin that interests what they’re interested in, it has that correlation. I think it’s similar to a lot of collectible fields that way, if you’re interested in wine, you get into collecting wine. If you’re interested in cars, you get into collecting cars. What’s beautiful about CIT is, you can be interested in a lot of different things, and still get into collecting coins, which is pretty cool.
Chris: Yeah, you had mentioned that you had something of a numismatic background, that’s why I directed the question the way that I did. I’m curious too in this discussion, you both were saying that innovation is tremendously important and that a number of public mints or a number of world mints had followed in your footsteps, had adopted things that you all had developed, and so you’re pioneers in that sense. Do you see a lot of private mints or even– I’m curious if you have done any of this as well, where the public sector mints innovate, and then the private sector mints follow in on that, or where do you think the innovation is coming out of? Maybe it’s not right to draw such a sharp demarcation between public and private. Maybe it’s a collaborative process to some extent. But do you see private mints following world mints and public mints, or is a lot of the innovation coming from the private sector?
Chang: It’s interesting. I’ll just start with my opinion, Orlando, you can certainly say yours. In my opinion, I think the private mints tend to lead it. I think the reason why that happens to be the case, private mints and also small and public mints, and I think that’s why the case is because they can move faster, they can move faster in their product development process, they tend to have a lot closer relationships to their most important clients because quite frankly, they’re extremely important to us. A lot of the smaller mints, I think, get to move faster, because you’re not working with a lot of times large government entities that require multiple levels of approval. I think that is part of it as well. There’s an advantage of being a smaller, either public or private mint, because you get to innovate faster, and then the larger mints, for example, like the US Mint, or the Royal Mint– and again, this is nothing against them by any means, because they come up with very fabulous products. Even the Royal Canadian Mint, they see something that works out in the market, and it gives them an extra reason to go after that and emulate it because it’s easier for them to get things like that approved. That’s just my opinion. I’ve worked collaboratively with people like the Royal Canadian Mint, and the Royal Mint, and even the Perth Mint in my past career. I’ve seen that, they are able to do things once they can prove to their approval process that it can be successful in the marketplace. That’s why I think the private mints and the public mints, the smaller public mints have a little bit of advantage in that sense.
Orlando: I see it a little bit different. The reason why I see a little bit different is because I don’t think it has to do with the size of your mint, or how long you’ve been there. I’ve seen some really cool stuff that the Royal Canadian Mint is taking out that or from the Monnaie de Paris, where I come and I’ll see some good buddies of mine that I know them for a long time. The coin business is a family business, everybody knows everybody. That’s what I love about this business. To say that if you’re smaller, you can move faster, I would not agree to that, because I’ve seen the big mints come up with some awesome ideas and different ways of looking at it. Because if not, then we would be winning all the time and it’s not that we’re winning all the time. They also win, but what we’re specialized in doing is pushing the border, and they love us for that. Sometimes, they hate us for that.
Orlando: It’s a kind of love/hate relationship because on one side, we’re all happy for each other when we see each other go further.
Chang: On the other side, they’ll come and they say, “Man, how are you doing it?” I’ll tell them, I say “You’re talking with the wrong guy. You’re talking with sales. Development, you’ll never see.”
Charles: I can vouch for what you’re saying, Orlando, at the Mint Director Conference, you see that the mints are a brotherhood, a sisterhood, if you will, of professionals trying to keep coins alive, keep them in circulation–
Charles: A few years ago, I was asked by Whitman Publishing here in the United States to develop a book for them, The 100 Greatest Modern World Coins. A friend of mine came up to me, and asked me to, “Hey, what are you putting in the book?” and I started running through a list of stuff. His eyes are like glazing over, I’m not telling him what he wants to hear. He goes, “No, man, you’ve got to put CIT coins, you got put Perth Mint coins in there, you got to do this.” I didn’t and I held out. Here’s why, because I feel, there’s a line of demarcation, what we might consider modern coins, even for world coins, talking couple hundred years ago after the Industrial Revolution, but, basically a period of history, and for the sake of my own sanity, I limited the book to 1900 to forward, and most of the coins were pre-World War II.
Charles: I feel like the same book needs to be written about ultramodern coins. I think that modern period is in the past. It’s gone, it’s memory now. The Euro basically ended every national currency or coin in Europe and created something new out of it. The coins that the mints are making, the sovereign mints and the private mints, are so radically different than when the Franklin mint was making silver coinage for Jamaica, and marketing them in the 70s. It’s so radically different now. At that period of time, I think that they were trying to make tributes to the types of coins that circulated that were made out of gold and silver. All of the industrialized nations had moved away, and gone to completely clad coinage, and they had a collectibles market that still wanted some hard money element to the things that are collecting.
Silver, gold, all of these things are important now, certainly in the minting and collectible landscape, but more important is the drama of what’s happening. I feel like a book that doesn’t focus on 100 coins of this period, and focus on the technology that goes into it, the innovation that goes into it, just the audaciousness of these objects, would sell it short. I wouldn’t want three or four coins of this period in a book of 100 greatest coins, that includes a unique Canadian dollar pattern. I want 100 audacious stories that tell you what the story about what’s going to happen for the next 100 years in coin.
Orlando: You know what the funny part is about what you’re just saying? Especially when I talk with the numismatics, I love talking with them. The reason, because they like, “Yeah, this is not a coin,” and I go, “Hmm.” Let’s go back to the past, and let’s go back when the Chinese were making coins that look like little swords. Let’s go back. Right now, we’ve done like, for example, a coin of a turtle, which was actually a replica of the very first– What was it, Chang? Remember the turtle one that we did?
Chang: A GNC turtle.
Chang: Yeah, it’s a GNC turtle. It was a replica of an ancient coin.
Orlando: Absolutely. We’re just trying to make it better. When people come to me, goes, “Yeah, a coin has to be round, Orlando,” and I go, “Man, open your eyes, look at how the world was.” You know what the beauty of commemorative coins has always been? Grab the best material, grab the best idea, and mint it. That’s how we know which king changed. That’s how we know which empire got taken over by somebody else. Why? Because that’s the proof. They minted it. They didn’t say, “You know what, let’s use the cheapest materials, let’s use the cheap– the coin has to be round.” No, people were innovative. You only think– it’s not that we’re inventing it, we’re just saying, “Okay, now with the technology that we have today, how can we do it?” One of the coolest things, if you ever come and visit us, and we’ll give you a tour, you’re going to feel like you’re in Disneyland. Why? Because it’s not like we’re working in plasters. It’s all 3D models that we’re flipping around, and every little pixel is being put into place. That’s what makes our coins so super. We’re using the technology of today, today. Have you ever had the opportunity to go to a mint?
Charles: Oh, yeah, several times.
Orlando: Okay. Now, if we were to compare it to a car, what year would you give the machines that you see over there?
Charles: Well, I am heartened that many of the engraving shops I’ve been to recently are using computers. But as far as the actual equipment striking the coins, this is 1980s, 1990s equipment maybe sometimes older. It just depends.
Orlando: If you see the kind of machineries that we use, it’s from today. You look at our coloring machines, and you look at the robotics that we’re using, we’re giving you the technology of today, today. That’s what makes us different. You know what the beauty of it? It would be sad if I would tell you we’re the only ones, because that’s not true. There’s a lot of colleagues of mine, not going to mention names, but they know themselves, and they’re updating their machines, and they’re getting ready to for the game. At the end of the day, who’s the winner?
Charles: The companies making the machines, I guess.
Chris: [crosstalk] gold rush, right?
Orlando: I would say the end buyer.
Orlando: I would say the end buyer is going to be the one that’s going to be able to have some really cool coins at the end of the day. If we don’t change our machines, we’re just going to keep on giving you what you have been receiving for the last 20 years.
Chang: Charles, I want to mention a point that you mentioned earlier, which I thought was interesting, because you alluded to the fact that there’s this hard line in the sand, and I think you struck the point that’s really critical in understanding how the collectible field of coins is evolving. I still believe there’s room for both sides that I’m going to describe here. There was a certain point where collecting revolved around, you’re looking for certain years of that series, the key years of that series, you’re looking for certain mint marks, because you knew they had a lower mintage of that mint mark, etc. There wasn’t a ton of focus, necessarily focused around the theme that was on the coin. Then, somewhere along the way, within the last, I don’t know, say 20, 30 years, collectors started caring about what was actually the theme that was on the coin. They wanted to have that connection to the design that was on the coin. That radically started to change everything, because it added this element of, well, you know what, the design, and how cool it looks, and the features of that design, started to become every bit as important as what mint it was from, what year it was struck. Then, it started to, how should I say, revolutionize the coin industry, and it revolutionized the mint in what they invested in and what they focused on as far as producing coins.
You’re right. When you talk about the ultramodern era coins, you have this group of collectors that appreciate the theme of the coin, the design of the coin. If you do a series of coins, how does this design connect to the design from the year before? And it became important. I think a lot of the other collectible fields, like sports cards, and just any of those things in general, evolved together and it influenced the coin market to focus on the design, to focus on the theme. So, you have these group of collectors that are really into that part of collecting coins. You still have, of course, the older school collectors that are looking at the older dates, and scarcer dates, and mint marks and stuff like that. Those universes exist in parallel, and it’s both parts of collecting, but a lot of the mints realize that it’s exciting and fun to strike these coins, that do have these different designs and themes around them.
Charles: Well, I second that point. Let’s say you take a large cent, and you show it to just somebody in the general public and say, “Hey, check this out. Have you ever seen one of these before?” They’ll look at it, they’ll flip it around, they may see that it says one cent, they may say, “Oh, wow, this is a big coin.” But typically, their reaction is going to be limited to this question. “Hey, what’s it worth?”
Chris: Yep. [laughs]
Charles: I think if you hand somebody an audacious ultramodern coin, maybe that AC/DC coin, or that thick, almost like a P4 size coin with that deep gouge that’s evocative of The Razor’s Edge album cover, they may ask you what it’s worth, or what it costs, but that’s not going to be the thing that’s going to stick with them. They’re going to look at that, and they’re going to say, “Wow, this is crazy.” Even if they say that, then that’s an emotional reaction. That’s not a mercenary reaction. It’s like, “Oh, is this rare? Is this expensive?” It becomes–
Orlando: I love what you’re saying there.
Chang: Yeah, me too.
Orlando: You know what? I tell you this. Would you believe me when I tell you that when I do my presentations on the CIT coins, new developments that we’re doing? I’ve never had the conversation where somebody asked me how much does it cost. Okay, point one. Point two, I travel all around the US. Every time I go through customs, I always get a crowd of people all the time, because I have to open and show my coins, and they go, “Oh my God, have a look.” “Hey, look Jerry, come over take–” “Tim, come over here and have a look at this.” “They’re so amazing.” They go, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” I look at them and they ask me, “Where are you from?” “From Switzerland.” They go, “No wonder, we need those kind of coins here.” Every time, I go through customs, they’re always amazed. Especially, exactly that coin that you were talking about, I had a guy at customs who says, “I don’t care how much it costs. I just need to get it.” I think I sent them to Asset. I said, “Yeah, go and check an Asset website. They’re going to have it and stuff like this, or AT Max.” Like I said, at the end of the day, it’s one big family.
Chang: It’s an emotional thing, like you were saying, Charles, when you see one of our coins, most of the time, if you yourself are not necessarily interested in that topic, you probably know somebody that is. It brings that emotional connection in whenever we see one of the coins. Orlando’s right, when we’re presenting our coins to people, our clients and so on, you don’t talk very much about necessarily even the mintage and stuff. What you do is you’re talking a lot about the design, they want to see what the design is, and how did you happen to do this design, and how were you able to get that relief, and how were you able to do the coloring part of it, and so on. It really becomes a lot about, again, going back to the theme that design that special features of that design, you end up spending 90% of your time talking about that, as opposed to necessarily the mintage, or the year, or where it got struck, or even what country is legal tender of. You don’t really talk much about that, unless it coincides with the design of the coin, but it’s more about how does the coin look, and how it strikes them emotionally.
Orlando: Don’t forget that you can divide it. When you’re seeing one of our presentations, you can divide into two different sections. Normally, when we’re presenting to you the products, think about like a business card. That’s showing you what we can do. A lot of the companies that come in and work together with us, they’re coming in to look at what kind of coinage we can create for their specific markets. A lot of the stuff that you may or may have not seen, they come in there, and grab certain technologies that we brought, and they say, “Oh, this would fit with a topic that I’m working on,” and then, we collaborate, and we make cool partnerships.
One of the cool things about working with CIT, is that although, we have won several prizes, Most Innovative Coin, or Coin of the Year, or whatever. Our partners are also winning. They’re also taking out most innovative coin technology. This year, we had one of our partners take that award. That makes us very happy.
Chris: A thread that I perceive running through a lot of what you two are saying is, it seems like you’re interrogating the coins as a concept, if that makes any sense, because part of the conservatism of traditional coin designs that I think has that idea has been tossed around here a little bit. I think some of that conservatism comes from the fact that for a circulating coinage, people want to use something that looks familiar in some sense that, a really radical visual or technological departure, purely talking about circulating coins, might make some consumers and citizens uneasy, that they’re used to transacting with money that looks a certain way. To depart really radically from that it might undermine the function that money is trying to perform, or it’s the purpose that money is designed to serve, on a purely practical level.
The work that you are doing, it seems like is because many of your coins aren’t intended for circulation, it seems like you’re almost decoupling the artistry, and the technological innovation of coins from that need to circulate, and that need to appear a certain way to aid in circulation. Do you see that decoupling? Do you think that’s what is happening? Do you think at a certain point, your coins almost blur the line between coins and metals? Do you see that at all, and how do you think about that?
Chris: It’s a really interesting question, and I’ll answer it from the sense that I don’t think CIT is really trying to do anything.
Chris: [crosstalk] -decoupling between coins and metals. It’s interesting. I think CIT is reacting the same way that I think a lot of the general public is. What I mean by that is, when money was really always just 100% hard material, yes, the mindset of what is a coin and what is a collectible coin was pretty rigid. You had parameters that it must be round, it must be legal tender, it can’t be colorized, because we’ve got to use this in transactions, and blah, blah, blah. As the world has evolved and everything’s gotten a lot more digital, and people are now accepting bitcoin left and right, the whole general perception of what money is has really broadened. That’s what CIT is going along with the times in the sense that the whole sense of money has broadened. It can be defined multiple ways.
We don’t intentionally go out to decouple that. What we do is in the way, I guess we view it is, we’re looking to expand the idea of what other people would consider as money. It’s funny, because I’ve heard this conversation time and time again from other collectors and numismatic experts is, well, what’s the difference between something that’s not legal tender, and something that is, and why do you guys even bother making it legal tender? Well, because we’re still coin collectors at heart, we still like the fact that it is officially authorized by a government entity, that it has a denomination tied to it. At the core root of it, money is still money. You still want to know what’s denominated. You still want to know that there’s an inherent baseline value from a denomination standpoint that’s tied to that money. I think that’s what the differences is. CIT has struck metals, don’t get me wrong. We’ve struck CIT metals for certain clients, whatever. But almost all of our products that we issue as our new releases are denominated, because still at the core, it’s still money, and that’s the baseline.
Orlando: I see it a lot more simpler. From my point of view, if you ask somebody the question, there are more people that have no idea what a coin is or coinage or collect– know nothing about it, than people that do know everything about it. I’m interested in getting the people that don’t know anything about it. Those are the people that I love working together with, and the reason why is because those are the people that are truly passionate about what they’re buying. They’re buying not because it’s– I don’t know, they’re buying it because they love it, they like it, there’s a passion, they understand it. It’s not difficult to sell our coins, I said, “Listen, if you like it, buy it. If you don’t, let it be. Somebody else is going to like it.” If you look at the world– and I know how coin people think, it has to be this way, we see it this way, the book says it like this. If you ever come to one of my meetings, and I know that you’re a hardcore coin collector, I’ll tell you, when you walk inside, for the sake of this meeting, everything that you think you understand about coinage, forget about it. Forget about it. You’re going to have a lot of fun, I’m going to show you the newest and latest technologies, things that you think that are not possible, I’m going to show you that it’s possible. If you would have seen for five years ago, I’ll tell you, we can make a half ounce silver in 38.61 millimeter, you would say, “Impossible, Orlando. Impossible. That’s not possible.”
If I were to come to you and say look at one ounce of silver, I can make a diameter of 65 millimeters. “Impossible, Orlando, that’s not po–” See, I love when I have those people that come to me and say, it’s not possible because I love proving to them it is possible. To answer that question, no, I don’t think. I’d see it that it’s a lot easier for people to buy things that they like, and we’re just making the community bigger. We just want to bring in the guys that say, “Nah, that’s for old people.” I’ve had that, when they say coinage, no, my grandfather does that. Then I come and I bring one of our Spider-Man coins. They go, “Holy, that is so cool.” Then, I’ll show them coins that we’ve done for other customers of ours. They go, “Is that really out there?” Yes, it is, or, going and showing the butterfly when you see that the wings spread out of the coin, that is amazing. You know what? The kids, they get it. You don’t have to explain to them and throw them the book and say, “Hey, look, read the Bible.” No. You show them the butterfly coin, they look at it and they say, “I got it, that is a cool hobby.”
Chris: I’ll bring a few of my friends to one of your presentations.
Orlando: I can guarantee you. We’re going to have a blast.
Chris: I have absolutely no doubt. I’m interested, Chang, you mentioned that many collectors are interested in coins that have been denominated by a monetary authority.
Chris: That approval is important or resonates psychologically with your customer base in some way.
Chang: In some way.
Chris: Sure. How do you develop relationships with these monetary authorities, and what need of those monetary authorities does your coinage meet?
Chang: Yeah, it differs really by country and I’ll go back to your first part of your question. Most things, it really is based on relationships. A lot of the countries that we work to get authorizations for coin issues, we had relationships with them for a very, very, very long time. They know what to expect from us. We know what to expect from them. There’s a mutual respect factor that goes back and forth. Each country has different parameters in which they’re approved things. I’ll just give you an example. Mongolia is one of the countries that we issue coins for, and going through their approval process, 9 times out of 10, the design and things like that have to relate to either the history, or the flora and fauna of Mongolia. It has to relate to Mongolia, or else they won’t approve it. 9 times out of 10, we won’t even bring something to them unless we’re pretty darn certain that it fits along the guidelines of what they’re looking for.
When we go through a process of let’s say, we’re working on a custom program for a client, and we come up with this grand idea of what a coin, a good coin collectible might be, there’s still a lot of background work in the background, that we have to go back and sit down, okay, and go, “All right, with one of the countries that we work with, is this something that they will approve? Is this something that will not offend anybody in their parliament or in their country, or their approval board?” We’ve still got to go through all of that. Like Cook Islands, when we do with Cook Islands, and work with them, certainly, they’re not going to approve anything that might offend the Royal family, because the Queen’s on their coin. All of those things, it’s different for each country. Again, it’s based on longstanding relationships that our ownership and leadership have built over many, many years, and that trust factor, because it’s not like you’re going to get Mongolia to prove anybody’s coins, they have to work with them and know them, they have to still deal with the central banks and approvals and stuff like that. It is much more formal than I think a lot of newer collectors might think it is. It’s still pretty formal. That’s another benefit of collecting the coins that are monetized and have that effigy on it, is the fact that you know you have that extra layer of credibility, that it had to be approved. Mintages had to be approved. Maximum– what years they are allowed to be done had to be approved. There’s that sort of layer of complexity, that adds that limited availability factor into the collecting, and that’s what I also think is important to these collectors.
Charles: Well, what goes into the decision about which denominations going to appear on the coin? Are there specific rules or guidelines behind that issue?
Orlando: Absolutely. That’s based on the amount of metal that you’re using.
Chang: To Orlando’s point, it really depends on also the country that’s involved. They have certain guidelines of, “Hey, look, if it’s under this size of weight, it only can be these denominations.” It’s funny, because they all have different guidelines that they follow. That’s why you see typically patterns with those denominations. For example, crown-sized coins are usually that one crown or £5 denomination, and so on. They all have those guidelines, so they’ll fit in general buckets, but it just depends too. Sometimes, we’ll bend a little bit depending on what the needs are of the program. If you have five different coins, well, you need five different denominations, even though, two sizes generally fit into one type of denomination, they may say, “Okay, well, we got to push this one up on a denomination because it can’t have the same denomination.” Again, to answer your question, Charles, it really depends on the program, but it does generally follow guidelines with each country sets.
Orlando: I agree 100 what he said. A lot of people think that you can just put whatever they want, it doesn’t go that way.
Chang: That doesn’t go that way. No.
Chris: The discussion that we just had touched on something else I was curious about, and when you talked about the political considerations that go into these designs, you mentioned that– again, to take the Cook Islands as to pick up on your example there.
Chris: You can’t have designs on the Cook Islands that might be offensive to the Royal family. Have you ever run in, and if you can’t elaborate in too much detail for fear of treading on toes, I understand–
Chris: Have you ever had a situation where a design you’ve created for one country has either jeopardized or put a strain on your relationship with another country? Or, they largely understand that you’re a firm and you’re responding to the needs of your clients?
Chang: Yeah, it’s funny. Orlando can probably speak to a little bit more than I have just, because I have only been there for a couple years. Based on what I’ve seen internally within CIT, there’s a small group of people within our company that are responsible for making sure that feelings don’t get hurt, that things don’t cross, so even if we’re making, trying to make something, get approval for legal tender of one country, they’re thinking about, “Okay, well, how does this other country going to react to it, because we still have relationships with them.” There’s many times where, an idea may come across, and most people are like, “Well, that shouldn’t be a problem.” With that team internally within a company it’s like, “No, we can’t do this, because 10 years ago, they said this, and we don’t want to risk that relationship.” The relationship with all of these countries definitely trumps everything and so the company as a whole is very, very careful about making sure that we think about that even before it gets to the approval process.
Orlando: You have to remember that what was right today, tomorrow it can be totally wrong. I’ll give you a good example–
Chang: [laughs] That’s true.
Orlando: You guys remember when Brexit came out? They announced Brexit. We were the very first company in the world that had the Brexit coin out. They announced it on Friday, we had the coinage out on Monday. We worked during the weekend. We had everything done, and we were already shipping out. That first time, there was no problem. When they announced that it was going to happen, but then when it was official, I think two years later or something like that, it came out or even three years later. We had already prepared the next Brexit, put it in and everything in and all of a sudden– That looked like everything was going to be approved, and then all of a sudden, the country that we were working with, they got a letter saying, “The Palace has said you’re not allowed to take this out.” This happens.
What today is okay, tomorrow is not okay. The beauty of us is that since we’re doing so many different projects with so many different countries, for so many different people around the world– we have an excellent development team, those guys have tight relationships, and I mean, our relationships with the issuing countries are good, because don’t forget, our success is their success. Talk about promoting your country. A lot of people get to see and say, “Oh my God, Plough. Where is Plough? Where’s Mongolia?” They look at it and we get to present some really cool things about their countries that people would have never thought that existed there.
Chris: In a way, you all have to contend with unfolding events that will one day be considered historical.
Chris: As they’re happening, depending on what you’ve put on a coin or what designs you’ve used that can present challenges. That’s really interesting. It’s a problem I imagine other firms operating in the space have to deal with on some level, so you just have to take it as it comes.
Charles: It’s not even just the private mints. A couple of years ago, there was a big boondoggle between France and Belgium, I don’t know if you guys remember this. France was commemorating 200 years of Napoleon being great, and Belgium commemorated 200 years of kicking his ass at Waterloo.
Charles: The French were up in arms about it, but the Belgians wanted to put a two-euro coin out. Well, the two-euro coin denomination, even though they may commemorate it as a coin that would be under treaty circulatable in all of the eurozone. The French said, “No, you can’t do a two-euro coin,” so the Belgians changed it to a two-and-a-half-euro coin, because the commemorative coins, not of the standard would be legal tender only within their borders. It’s not even private mints watching out for this. Sometimes, these national mints with their internecine historical rivalries will sometimes step on each other.
Chang: Yes, there’s no doubt. I remember that story and it was fascinating to me, but it’s those things that you probably wouldn’t think about normally, but, yeah, it does come up.
Charles: Well, gentlemen, this has been a great and interesting conversation. Let’s leave the audience with some parting thoughts, I guess, about where the future of the minting industry is heading, and why you think the coin collectibles market is better off because we’re not focusing only on numismatists, we’re focusing on the general public and creating pop cultural moments and reasons for people to look at coins outside of just musty old albums filled with Lincoln pennies by date and mintmark.
Chang: I’ll just add on what you just said there, because I think it’s absolutely perfect. I remember 20 years ago, when I was working with a lot of industry experts and they were concerned, they were genuinely concerned about the future of the coin collecting industry. There’s still some talk about that today, but I don’t think it’s as strong as it used to be. They realized that they couldn’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expect the industry to grow and attract new people.
Orlando: Definition of insanity, huh? [laughs]
Chang: I remember hearing that for years about how we’re going to attract new people, how we’re going to bring younger people into this industry, how are we going to get them excited about collecting coins? We’re watching it. We’re all collectively watching that unfold now is that, when you see almost every world mint trying to think of new ways to innovate the minting process, to create new designs. The US mint putting color on your coins, come on, any of us who have been in the industry for a long time ever think that was going to happen? Those types of things when you see that, it’s because they know that’s the future of how coin collecting is going to be able to grow, how it’s going to appeal to the younger audience, how it’s going to keep it exciting for them. I’m sitting over here, and I’m very excited.
One of the big reasons why I chose to come to CIT is, when I worked at Asset Marketing, I got to see the best of the best of what the world produced, and when I started seeing CIT coins come across, I started realizing, “Man, this company here is one of the top ones in the world.” They get it, they understand a lot of the reasons why a collector would want to buy a new ultramodern coin.
Orlando: Chang, you just love the 70s.
Chang: As soon as I saw that–
Orlando: You just love getting 70s.
Chang: Yes, that’s true. I do love getting 70 graded coins, no doubt. When I saw that, I was excited to go to work for CIT, because I knew that’s the future of coin collecting, that is the next generation of people who are excited about coin collecting, who is going to continue this hobby which I personally love so much for decades to come and we’re at the forefront of that. That’s why I’m so proud to work for these guys.
Orlando: Here’s a question for you guys. How do you guys see it right now with the corona situation, sales of coins right now going off through the internet? What’s your opinion on that?
Charles: I think this is the hottest coin market we’ve had in probably six or seven years.
Chang: I agree.
Chris: Yeah, I would agree with that. I’ve read it a couple of different people writing about how being stuck inside or not having as many things to do people are pouring more of their energy into their hobby. I’ll say this, too, just to expand on something you were just saying. I started working in the industry professionally at 22, and people would ask exactly the same question that they were asking of you, or a very similar discussion to the one you mentioned or described has been unfolding for a long time. It’s heartening to me to see that you know firms are seriously reckoning with the question of how to make coin collecting more viable for a broader group of people, so that’s cool.
Chang: Just one thing, I may add if you don’t mind is that social media has been really helpful for the expansion of the coin industry, the coin-collecting field because. Again, what I see now, which is super exciting than 10 years ago, is this community that’s building online of all of these people who originally were maybe silver stackers that started, and are now evolving into other types of coin fields and it’s very exciting, and that social media platform has allowed a lot of these people across the United States and across the world to connect and talk about these new coins, and you see these coins gain rapid popularity fast, large in part because of that, so that’s exciting as well.
Orlando: You know what the funny thing is, Chang, just really quick is that– if you take a look, I’ve been working all around the world in different countries, and one of the things that I’ve always noticed that all quite– it doesn’t matter if you’re from the US or Canada or all around Europe or Asia, one of the things that I’ve always told them, and I explained that with CIT coins, if you’re fishing for new customers, if you’re fishing to grow your industry bigger, and you’re giving them– everybody’s fishing with the same bait, the result is going to be the same. Now, what CIT offers you is a totally different kind of bait. It opens up a totally different public, which, right now if you take a look at the internet sales and that’s why I mentioned, our products are selling tremendously well. If you go to our web page, you’ll see on almost every single coin that we produced, sold out, sold out, sold out. Why? Because a new generation of coin collectors is coming out now. They’re very demanding, they love quality, and they love as, my colleague, Chang, has mentioned before, something that not everybody has.
Charles: Yeah, I leave it on this thought, because I think it’s an important thing to realize, as we’re in this industry, and I think our readers should appreciate this. Too much focus sometimes on coins falls on our hope and desire of turning children into coin collectors when they become adults. I know that it is true that many people become coin collectors because they come into their first contact with coins when they are younger, through a relative usually. I think little focus is paid, however, new collectors. Collectors, who are just entering the market in adulthood, whether they’re 30 years old, 20 years old, 50 years old, their first few years they become interested in coins, I think we’re too focused on young people and not focused on new people.
That being said, I think the fact of the matter is, we are in a time and place now in numismatics, where nostalgia for objects that were relevant in our lifetimes… I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s and early ’90s, and so I remember Ataris, and I remember cassette tapes, I remember Swatch watches and all of these great things, skateboards, all the stuff that was like the coolest thing–
Orlando: Riding your bicycle without a helmet. [laughs]
Charles: Right. Not having a helicopter parent everywhere I went–
Charles: These are things that I remember quite fondly. If there were collectibles, that were related to coins that touched on these objects, they wouldn’t come from the United States Mint. They would come from companies like yours. I also think about conventions, and I brought up Berlin, I’ll bring it up again in the context of this. 20, 30 years ago, before Image Comics came around, comic book collecting was a hobby for nerds and social outcasts. People reading superhero comic books were not the cool kids, but you cannot tell me from a convention standpoint, that the San Diego Comic-Con is not one of the premier events for collectibles in the entire world.
Orlando: I love that place.
Charles: When you go to the Berlin show again and you walk that first floor, you walk the permanent booth, not the little temporary coin dealer booth, but the mint booths, your booth, Mint of Poland’s booth, and Money of the Paris’ booth, you see young people, middle-aged people-
Charles: -families, people both genders, you see engaged and enthusiastic people, you don’t see people like just harboring this need to collect what every esoteric thing from 100 and 150 years ago. They walk, they stand in line to put money into exchange for circulating commemorative coin and one of the mints booths. They go look at your display of all these fantastic innovative products that aren’t even on the market yet. They just look at the possibility of what coin collecting could be in the next year. I’m sure you have meetings with vendors and wholesalers, and you’re probably booked throughout having these presentations–
Charles: That’s the case for every single one of these mints. I remember sitting at a presentation and the Frenchmen showed me their super high-end omelet coin that was probably 50,000 euros or [crosstalk] this expensive, like, monstrosity. It came with gloves and [crosstalk] tell you how impressed I was, and also the fact that I would never afford that. The fact the matter is–
Orlando: Do you know the story behind that coin?
Charles: Yeah, they told me the story about it for about 20 minutes. It’s an incredible situation where you compare that bat environment where it’s like, mints just pushing the envelope and then you come here, and it’s, here’s the auction, here’s what’s in the auction. Here’s like row after row of the same coins and under glass cases, no carpet on the floor, cavernous ceilings and we need to wake up to the fact that, we’re in a golden age of numismatic research and releases, discoveries, and coins have become material lifestyle objects again. It’s been back since the courts and kings and queens. Hobbies of kings were numismatic objects or lifestyle objects. When Maria Teresa would have something struck for her by the Austrian Mint, and that would show her how great her family is. That’s how far you have to go back to when coins were lifestyle objects.
Chang: I agree with you. Coin conventions here in the US, it will be interesting to see how they evolve, because the next generation of collectors, again, not necessarily young, but the next generation of collectors, they’re happening on social media right now. That’s what’s happening. It will be interesting to see how the standard coin collectors are evolving.
Orlando: I’m working with some of this kind of the young generation, the newcomers. It’s amazing. I’ve been seeing the technologies that these kids are developing, on how they’re going to be presenting the next generation of coins, I mean, hold yourself, [laughs] get ready, because I think that in the United States, you guys are just warming up. There’s so much into it, and I see in the United States so much passion in the coin industry. It’s really exciting.
Chang: It is exciting.
Charles: All right, guys. Thanks for sticking with us this evening, and thanks for coming on and sharing your thoughts.
Chang: Thank you for having us. Really appreciate it.
Charles: Great. Yeah, take care.
Chris: Thanks so much.
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