STUTTGART — Experts are hailing it as a global novelty, and inventors are celebrating it as the "innovation of an era." The new euro coins that will be released in spring 2016 have a ring of blue plastic minted into them, and the oddity is expected to make them a desirable export.
Coins are typically the color of silver or the dark brown of copper, and precious collector's coins are sometimes even made from gold. Some people may even remember the Italian lira, the country's currency from 1861 and 2002. It was so lightweight it seemed to be made of tin.
But very soon Germans will be able to handle coins the likes of which have never been seen before, a development that numismatists , or coin collectors, are eagerly anticipating. A five-euro coin will be released in the spring, and the transparent blue ring that will be incorporated into its design is made of a material that can be worked like metal but is actually plastic. It contains not only a color pigment but also security features.
"This is the innovation of an era," says Peter Huber, director of the State Mints of Baden-Wurtemberg, the largest mint in Germany and the one responsible for developing the new coin. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the plastic ring can in the future be integrated into conventional euro coins to prevent counterfeiting.
The new coin will be legal tender in Germany but will probably not be used because it is designed with collectors, and potential collectors, in mind. "This modern coin is meant to kindle interest in coins in to young people in particular," Huber says.
Earth in your hand
The blue design is dedicated to Planet Earth. A depiction of the globe, surrounded by the blue polymer ring, will be found on one side of the coin. Blue was chosen to symbolize the earth's atmosphere, even though any color could be injected into the plastic.
The ring of polymer is enclosed by another ring of metal, which depicts our solar system's other planets. The coin is therefore made of three components, but Huber insists that doesn't jeopardize the coin's integrity. "The joint between the polymer plastic and metal is just as strong as between the two different metals in conventional one- and two-euro coins," he says.
The diameter of the collector's coin will be 27.25 millimeters, about 1.5 millimeters larger than the two-euro coin, and it will be heavier by 0.5 grams, weighing 9 grams in total. The inner part of the coin, enclosed by the ring of polymer and known as "the pill," is just as big as a one-euro coin.
It took the team 10 years to develop the piece. Even the Federal Bank of Germany, the Bavarian Mint and the Leibniz Institute of RWTH Aachen University, which developed, certified and patented the polymer, were Involved in the process.
At the moment, the dies used to mint the coin are being produced, and they will then be made available to the five mints in Germany — namely, Berlin, Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Munich and Stuttgart. The coin will then be introduced at the World Money Fair in Berlin in early 2016.
If the coin's developers had their way, this would probably be just the beginning. They toiled for years on end to develop a desirable product for export. "This innovative material, made in Baden-Württemberg, will most likely be used in many countries in the years to come," Huber predicts.
Research is being conducted in many places to develop counterfeit-proof coins, but Germany is the global leader when it comes to minting coins. The production and introduction of this collector's item will represent a field trial to test whether innovative technology will actually survive.
Should it prove successful, the inventors may hope that all conventional euro coins eventually resemble the new one, especially in light of the possible replacement of five-euro notes with five-euro coins. The value of the five-euro note has been declining for years both because of inflation and because its production costs are far higher than those of the new euro coin.
That can be explained primarily by the expensive integration of security features on the notes. The polymer technology would represent a cheaper alternative.