Mint Product Review: When is a Piedfort NOT a Piedfort?

2013 "Piedfort" Silver Maple

2013 “Piedfort” Silver Maple

Let me begin by expressing my genuine respect for the Royal Canadian Mint. As a long-time collector myself, as well as a past official distributor for their commemorative coins and sets, I still believe they are second-to-none in terms of minting quality and innovation.  Granted, they now release a profuse – some would say excessive – array of products that transcends the mortal collector’s ability to even keep track of what is out there. 

As I have written in the past, however, I don’t have a problem with this as long as the Mint fulfills their ultimate mandate of covering the cost of our circulating coinage supply and keeping their bottom line in the black. To those who make a hobby out of criticizing these ongoing commemorative product lines, my philosophy and advice is both sincere and succinct – if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.  It really doesn’t get any simpler than that.

The above having been said – once in a rare while a Mint product does appear that is so devoid of purpose, so contrary to logic, and so misrepresented as to border on the fraudulent – that I find myself compelled into written action.  Such a coin is most certainly the Royal Canadian Mint’s 2013 25th Anniversary Silver “Piedfort” Maple Leaf, with an issue price currently four times that of a “standard” Silver Maple Leaf.

I submit that there are 3 progressive levels of definition involved in examining the word “Piedfort”, and its application to numismatics.

Firstly, there is the literal French-to-English interpretation which is “Strong Foot”.

Secondly, there is the general contextual definition which refers to a special “VIP” presentation striking of a coin which differs from general circulation issues

Finally, there are the generally-accepted, centuries old criteria by which today’s collector and minting communities continue to recognize a piedfort, namely a coin which is:

(a) of identical visual design to a coin with normal specifications

(b) of identical diameter to said standard-issue coin

(c) materially thicker than the normal issued coin (often twice as thick), and hence heavier

(d) issued in dramatically smaller quantities (where issued at all) than the parallel non-piedfort release

Originally created for the medieval French and English Kings as special presentation strikes, piedforts were truly unique in these regards. And indeed, as the British Royal Mint concurs in the certificate of authenticity for their 2009 Henry VIII Five Pound Piedfort,

“The name [Piedfort] signifies ‘heavy measure’, a term still entirely appropriate for the Piedfort today since, struck on thicker than normal blanks, a silver Piedfort coin is customarily double the thickness and so double the the weight of its standard silver counterpart.”

Since the release of their very first modern Piedfort in almost half a millennia (the 1982 Silver Twenty Pence), the Royal Mint has continued to maintain these essential standards.

In the case of the Royal Canadian Mint, however, not a single fundamental criteria has been met in identifying this 2013 Maple Leaf issue as a “Piedfort”.  What the Mint has essentially done is produced a coin with a unique design, and molded it into a thicker issue by simply shrinking the diameter, resulting in precisely the same one-ounce weight as every other circulation and collector-strike Silver Maple that preceded it!

I have to confess, when I first heard of the Mint’s intent to issue a “Piedfort” Silver Maple for the first time back in 2010, I thought “great idea”.  After all, every other conceivable twist on a Maple had already been exploited – Privy-marked Maples, 10-ounce Maples, Colored Maples, and Holographic Maples, etc. The thought of a standard-design Maple coming down the production pipe with a honking 2-ounce weight and thickness actually excited me.  This quickly evaporated when I actually saw the resulting issue – essentially a one-ounce Maple melted down into the same one-ounce Maple, but with different dimensions and then topped off with a unique and profoundly boring “commemorative design”. Honestly, this is akin to taking a standard 50-gram chocolate bar, remolding it into a bar twice as wide and half as thick, and then remarketing it as “family size”.

I kept my thoughts to myself on the 2010 Piedfort, hoping it was a one-time error in judgment that would quietly fade away and not be repeated.  After all, it wasn’t like the Royal Canadian Mint was truly ignorant of the specifications the necessarily came with the Piedfort label.  Canada’s very first Piedfort striking, a variation of the newly-issued 1996 Two Dollar coin, was a gloriously-chunky Silver Proof that happily reflected all of the above-detailed criteria.

Silent on this one I simply can’t be, however. An attractive design? Sure, I suppose. Will it sell out?  Almost certainly. Reflecting on my original stated philosophy, if people like the coin, they should simply buy it.  None of this alters the fact, however, that to market this coin as a “Piedfort” represents one of the most appallingly-inaccurate spin-jobs I have seen come of the mint in 25 years of dealing.

Regardless of commercial popularity in the end, you will never find this bogus “Piedfort” in the cabinets of Alliance Coin & Banknote. Period.

Sean Isaacs

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