The Australia Wedge-Tailed Eagle Series: History in the Making
In 2014, John Mercanti and the Perth Mint made history as the former Chief Engraver of the United States Mint collaborated with the Perth Mint on the new Silver Wedge-Tailed Eagle. The new issue marked the first time that a US Mint engraver designed a coin for a foreign mint. The first release in the series had a mintage of just 50,000 pieces, and the response among collectors worldwide was so overwhelming that the series has become a mainstay of the Perth Mint and among the most anticipated annual releases among collectors.
The 2019 edition marks the fifth anniversary release in the series and just the first time that a new design has been introduced after just one year of the previous design. For the first four years of the series, two designs were each used in consecutive years. This makes the series unique insofar as most annual issues have either a new reverse design every year or a single design that remains constant over time.
Among the most popular – and rarest – issues in the series are the 5 oz. and 10 oz. high relief proof versions of the year’s Wedge Tail Eagle which carries the same design as the bullion pieces. These coins have had exceptionally low mintages, with the 2016 5 oz. High Relief Silver Proof and the 2018 10 oz. High Relief Silver Proof proving especially popular. The 2016 5 oz. Proofs have a maximum mintage of 5,000, while the 2018 10 oz. proofs have a maximum mintage of 1,000, meaning that just a handful of collectors can experience the stunning beauty of these pieces.
A Variety of Designs
All four designs in the series, including the new 2019 design, have been highly acclaimed by collectors. One of the reasons for the high collectability of this series, is that each of the four designs has depicted the titular bird in a unique light. The common design for the first two issues in the series depicted the bird preparing to land on a branch with its wings spread outward. Shown from the side, this gave collectors perhaps the most detailed view of the graceful bird in flight so far in the series. The following two years bore a design that showed the bird perched upon a tree. This depicted the majesty of the creature. The closeup look features the bird calm and confident as it overlooks the area around it.
In 2018, the series took a turn with the first ever depiction of a family of eagles. The mother eagle features in the foreground, looking down at her eaglet with concern and responsibility. These human qualities gave collectors the opportunity to relate to the bird in ways that were not possible with the first two issues. Although the stunning beauty of the bird is captured in all three birds, including the male, which is depicted in the distance flying back to his family, this is the first one to portray characteristics such as maternal nature and love.
If the 2018 edition showed the loving, caring side of Australia’s largest bird of prey, the 2019 edition features just the opposite. The wedge-tailed eagle is as deadly as it is beautiful, and John Mercanti captured that with his latest design. In what could be the last thing that its victims ever see, the eagle swoops down with its talons outstretched preparing to snatch up its next meal. The birds have a wide-ranging diet, and while most of their victims are small animals, they have been known to hunt as teams to kill and consume goats and sheep by making them fall from cliffs and hillsides. The birds have even been known to hunt large red kangaroos! Offering the first look at the immense power and danger of these remarkable birds, the 2019 issue is sure to be a favorite among collectors for years to come.
While the latest issue’s reverse will understandably get most of the attention among collectors, its obverse design is also particularly noteworthy. For 21 years, Ian Rank-Broadley’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II dominated the obverses Australia’s coinage. That changes in 2019, though, as Rank-Broadley’s design is replaced with Jody Clark’s. Clark works for the British Royal Mint, and his first portrait of Queen Elizabeth II began appearing on British coinage in 2015.The young engraver has also created the designs of the Queen’s Beasts Series. Clark’s new Perth Mint design is an adaptation of the design that he created for the Royal Mint. Unlike that one, this piece shows the monarch’s shoulders, which are open to the holder. Another difference is that this new design features the Royal Diamond Diadem, the same crown that Elizabeth II wore at her coronation, as opposed to the tiara that she wore in Rank-Broadley’s portrait.
Stunning John Mercanti Designs
The Wedge-Tailed Eagle Series has been classified by some as Australia’s answer to America’s Silver Eagle coins. It is no surprise, then, that the Perth Mint turned to the man who created the eagle design that has appeared on the American Silver Eagle since its inception, John Mercanti, as their designer for this series. Mercanti is a giant in the world of numismatics. Having joined the US Mint in 1974, he became its twelfth Chief Engraver in 2006. He remained in that post until he retired in 2010. During his three-plus decades with the Mint, Mercanti designed more US coins and medals than anyone else in its history. His 100-plus designs include five reverses of state quarters, the obverse of the John Marshall commemorative dollar, and the 1984 Gold Olympic $10 coin.
In five short years, the Australian Silver Wedge-Tailed Eagle Series has managed to do what few coins ever do: attract a large, fiercely loyal following that makes for a proverbial feeding frenzy with each new release. Collectors snatch up the new coins quickly, leaving many of those who wait to either go without, or to pay hefty premiums on the secondary market. As well as previous issues have been received, the 2019 edition, which combines a new obverse design with a first ever depiction of the bird of prey on the hunt, may well prove the most popular in this coin’s short history.