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New Mint release falls short.

(The following copyrighted item by Robert Aaron first appeared in The Toronto Star, and is reprinted here with permission of the author.)

Why is a palm tree the focal point of the design on this year's commemorative silver dollar? Why does the Queen's portrait look like a bad editorial cartoon? Why won't the mint name the artist who gets the credit or the blame for creating the new coin? Any why is the Royal Canadian Mint trying to distance Canada from our British heritage?

All of these questions arise in the wake of the release last week of the 2002 sterling silver commemorative dollar coin to honour the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The actual anniversary occurs on Feb. 6, but celebrations in this country, Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth will take place throughout the jubilee year.

At first glance, the jubilee dollar shows what appears to be a palm tree right in the middle of the design, with the young Queen on the left and her coronation carriage on the right. To understand what the design actually is, it is necessary to read the mint's explanation of the artwork.

Apparently, the design is what the mint calls an “overlay effect,” showing a scene from two photographs. On the left side of the coin is the 27-year-old Queen in her coronation robes looking out of the window of her royal carriage. On the right side of the coin is the gold state coach carriage flanked by two of the Queen's bodyguards from the Yeoman of the Guard.

The most prominent feature of the design, right in the middle of the coin, turns out not to be a palm tree at all, but the “elaborately detailed treatment” of the window of the state coach.

Coin collectors across the country have already been exchanging e-mails naming this as Canada's all-time, worst-ever coin design. Even the mint refuses to name the guilty artist, blaming it instead on unnamed “Royal Canadian Mint engravers” who designed the coin based on photos obtained from PA Photos Ltd.

To make matters worse, when Canadian mint master Danielle Wetherup announced the release of the coin, she referred to the relationship between Canada and the monarch as being “steeped in history and relevance” even though Canada is a “country that was formerly part of the British realm.” The statement is clearly wrong.

A mint spokesperson last week told me that reference was taken from a British web-site. My dictionary defines realm as kingdom, region, sphere, domain or territory. Under Canadian law, the monarch is queen “of the United Kingdom, Canada and her other realms and territories.”

The phrase “Canada and her other realms” clearly shows that Canada remains a British realm, and the mint director's statement that we are “formerly” a British realm is a major political blunder.

For those collectors who want to celebrate the royal golden jubilee, many other Commonwealth nations have released coin designs far superior to ours.

Fortunately, at the same time as the mint released its worst-designed coin, it also came up with one of its all-time best. This year's $200 22-karat gold coin features the celebrated painting “The Jack Pine,” by world-renowned Canadian artist Tom Thomson. Its release coincides with a major exhibition of the artist's work this summer at the National Gallery of Canada.

The Jack Pine (1916) is arguably one of Canada's most enduring and familiar works. Inspired by the landscape around Lake Cauchon in eastern Algonquin Park, the coin depicts the image of a solitary jack pine, with its drooping boughs. The tree is silhouetted against distant hills where traces of snow hint of springtime. Royal Canadian Mint engraver Susan Taylor gets credit for this most beautiful of coins. Unfortunately, at $424.95, it's a little pricey, but then good artwork never comes cheap.

Royal Canadian Mint products are available through coin dealers and distributors across the country. Visit the Canadian Coin Reference Site's Dealer Directory for a Canadian Coin Dealer near You!

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