In April, shortly after I arrived in Ottawa (https://hogline.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/observing-ottawa/) I posted that one of the differences in Canada was that they were eliminating the penny.
It took until this week for me to visit the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa, where they don’t make pennies, but they haven’t for some time, until this year. I’ll explain it all in a moment.
Just like in the U.S. we have Mints in Philadelphia and Denver (and San Francisco, and at one point New Orleans), in Canada they have Mints in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Unlike the U.S., they only make coinage for circulation in one of them, Winnipeg. All the loonies and twonies and Canadian nickels you’ve seen came from Winnipeg. Down the street from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, they do design, management, refine gold and silver, and strike coins for numismatic purposes (coin collectors).
So, this week they invited the Ambassador to visit the neighbors, and he invited the rest of us along.
The nice thing about tagging along with the Ambassador on trips like this is you get the Ambassadorial treatment. You meet the boss. They provide refreshments. You get to go into the gold vault. No photos, but let me explain that the gold vault is both impressive and surprising. Impressive because there’s a WHOLE LOT OF GOLD there, in every form from shavings to huge bars, refined and unrefined, even huge rolls worth 10’s of millions of dollars out of which they stamp coins. Surprising because it looks like a place you’d store your power tools if they were as heavy as…well…gold. Heavy duty, industrial grade, metal shelves. Lots of the gold is stored in Tupperware crates. Not exactly your impression from movies like “Goldfinger”.
The Royal Canadian Mint (it’s a Crown Corporation, which means it’s owned by the government but runs like a private business) makes a lot of its profits through its numismatic efforts. The Canadians make some really cool looking coins, both for themselves and dozens of other countries around the world. Some are commemorative (for example, the silver “penny” pictured above next to its soon to be extinct model) and others are solely for marketing purposes (from the Chinese Zodiac to Star Wars). Coins may include crystals, holograms, paint or enamel.
The Canadians are also trying to take the lead in making coins inexpensively. They have invested a lot of money in new technology. Canadian coins are now made of a sandwich of steel, nickel and copper alloys, which allows them to make a nickel for about two cents. U.S. nickels (according to the RCM folks) cost about 10 cents each to make. Best I can tell from their presentation, the trick is keeping the steel core from rusting by making sure when the coins are struck the nickel and copper layers are not pierced.
In any case, the RCM is worth a visit when you come to Ottawa, even if you don’t get to go with the Ambassador. It’s by Byward Market and right next to the Museum of Fine Arts (which I also need to get to), down the street from the U.S. Embassy). Stop by and say hello.