Coin designer column: Everyone loves a good story


10 May 2020
In his latest column, Matt Bowen, engraver at the Royal Canadian Mint, explains how the coins he has worked on have revealed remarkable stories from our past.

I was always mildly interested in history. Growing up in Southern Ontario all the kids knew stories of local battles of the war of 1812. We would search plowed fields for arrowheads or musket balls. But now working as a coin engraver for the Royal Canadian Mint, I have truly become a history enthusiast.

The stories grab hold of your imagination. Stories of valour and selfless dedication and tragedy.

It makes me reflect on the pandemic crisis. All those personal stories of heroism and sacrifice that are going on all around us daily. I wish we could tell all their stories.

In the last year I have had the 100th anniversary of the Canadian National Railway, Canadian troops battling in the Scheldt and liberating the Netherlands, Louis Riel and his fight for justice for the Metis Nation and the lost Franklin Expedition all cross my desk.

I enjoy the technical challenges all the projects bring but it’s the personal stories behind these figures and events which push me do my best sculpting for each project.

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When a theme is chosen, an artist’s brief will be sent out, to a maximum of three Canadian artists and the engraving team. That’s when the research starts, you read as much as you can on the subject, then start working the design.  

For the engraver, I think it’s actually a greater challenge because you are also trying to avoid technical issues later on at the sculpting stage. One design is chosen by a cross functional team.

Now the serious vetting starts; most designs are submitted to two subject experts to evaluate the details of equipment, clothing and environment of the scene. This starts the iterative process between the artist and subject experts. Once the experts are satisfied, an Engraver creates an artboard or blueprint for the coin. This includes all the text and any special design elements for both obverse and reverse. The artboard is then approved by the Mint’s executive and the Minister of Finance.

It is then that the engraver will begin to bring the story to life.

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