2005 was the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese lunar calendar, and this year marked the beginning of the third iteration of the ever popular Lunar series – second only in popularity to the widely recognised Pandas. The first Lunar series began in 1981; the second in 1993. Colourised Lunar coins had made their first appearance in the series back in 1998 as part of the Year of the Tiger set of issues, but this was not the first time colour had been used to enhance and add a new and different appeal to modern Chinese coins.
At this early stage, the China Mint was commissioning its colourised coins from Swiss mints, presumably because the technology required was already at a developed stage in Switzerland, whereas in China it was in its relative infancy. Today most of the colourised coins available are now struck in Chinese mints, although this change only occurred as late as 2009, with the China Mint relying on the Swiss mints for their colourised strikes right up until 2008.
The 2005 Year of the Rooster 1/10 oz colourised proof gold coin was one such issue, struck at the Faude & Huguenin mint in Switzerland. It is a colourised proof gold coin of 0.999 fineness, weighing 1/10 oz, and measuring 18 mm in diameter. It bears a face value of 50 yuan and had a planned mintage of 30,000 pieces. The 2005 Lunar series comprises 12 coins, 6 of them gold and 6 silver.
The obverse face bears the inscription of the People’s Republic of China struck over the top of a cockscomb flower motif, forming a ring around the central image: a rendering of a bronze age artefact in the shape of a rooster. Below is the year, 2005.
The reverse face bears a rendering of painting of a rooster, with the animal itself highlighted with a dramatic use of the colourisation technique. In the bottom left hand corner of the coin face is the denomination, 50 yuan. Above, written top to bottom, is the inscription: “乙酉年”, referring to the year 2005, or the 22nd year of the 60-year cycle which began in 1984 with the Year of the Rat.
Medallic or Coin Alignment?
Uncharacteristically for the skill and attention to detail often associated with Swiss artisanship (consider the reputation of Swiss watches, for instance), a small number of these coins were struck incorrectly according to the specifications laid out by the China Mint.
The mistake is a subtle one and concerns what is referred to in numismatics as the ‘alignment’ of a particular piece. There are two types of alignment or orientation: ‘medallic alignment’ and ‘coin alignment’.
Pieces struck with a medallic alignment (非背逆型 in Chinese) have the top of the obverse and the top of the reverse face in the same position. The intention for this medallic alignment or orientation is so that if the medal turns over while being worn on a uniform it still displays correctly. To view medallic alignment coins or medals correctly, they must be rotated around their vertical axis.
Coin alignment is the opposite (背逆型 in Chinese), and refers to pieces struck where the top of the obverse shares the same position as the bottom of the reverse. To view these pieces correctly, the coin must be rotated around the horizontal axis.
Various countries around the world have a preference for one type or the other. China generally prefers the medallic alignment, although the colourised 1/10 oz gold Lunar pieces dating from 1998 to 2008 were struck in coin alignment because they were a product of the Swiss mints. When production moved back to China for the colourised Lunar coins, the alignment also changed to the usual medallic alignment.
So when we look at the 2005 Year of the Rooster 1/10 oz colourised gold coin there are two varieties. This is because of an error in consistency at the Swiss mint. Most of the coins are struck in coin alignment, but a very small number, possibly only a couple of hundred, were struck in medallic alignment. These medallic alignment strikes have great numismatic value and are incredibly rare. As of 2013 one of these scarce coins might have a market value of between 35,000 and 40,000 yuan.