The Golden Ak Ilbirs – aka Uncia uncia … aka Bars … aka Snow Leopard.

December 31st, 2015 Sections: Animals, Economy
The Snow Leopard 10 som gold coin

The Snow Leopard 10 som gold coin (Photo: The National Bank of Kyrgyzstan)

The world’s numismatists were given a surprise Christmas Present last Friday, when Kyrgyzstan issued the latest in its series of commemorative coins.

It’s a gold coin depicting one of the most majestic beasts to road this small country’s mountain ranges … the Snow Leopard, (Ak Ilbirs in Kyrgyz, or Uncia uncia in Latin).

Although it is meant as a collectible item, it actual legal tender here in Kyrgyzstan and can be used to settle bills, paying for goods and service, but with a face value of just 200 som, it’s hard to imagine anyone trying do so.  After all, you’d have to part with 64950 som (that’s about USD865) to buy one from the National Bank … and it’s price on the market may well go up if collectors rate it highly.

That might just happen … some of the 57 coins issued by Kyrgyzstan since 1995 have received considerable acclaim over the years, even winning prizes in international competitions in 2010 and 2013, and there is no reason why this one shouldn’t do likewise.  Indeed, there are a number of special features why it probably will.

Firstly, it is minted in gold – almost pure gold (Au 999º) … almost 16 grams of it … measuring some two and a half centimeters in diameter (making it one of the largest gold coins produced by the Republic – which obviously has an impact on the price) … and with two small diamonds (just 0.09 carat each) inlaid as the ‘eyes’.  This last feature has been picked up by a number of websites as they have written about the issue.

Since 1995, Kyrgyzstan has issued just 4 such gold coins: the first in 1995 to commemorate the 1000th Anniversary of the Manas Epic, the second to commemorate the 3000th Anniversary of the city of Osh, and the third to mark the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Kurmandjan Datka – the Queen of the Alai.

Secondly, it;s a limited edition issue – just 1000 coins have been minted in all – so there is a ‘rarity’ value.

Obverse side of the coin (Photo: )

Obverse side of the coin (Photo: The National Bank of Kyrgyzstan)

The fine artwork is also an attraction, with one side of the coin depicting a portrait of the animal ringed by an inscription and a traditional elements of Kyrgyz decoration – with the obverse side exhibiting a stylized depiction of petroglyph symbols combined with the State Seal, (or Gerp).

Then there is the ‘quality’ which is officially described as “Proof” – which is more colloquially referred to as ‘Mint Condition’ – ‘untouched by human hand’ – and to keep it in that condition, it is sold in an acrylic casing.

That’s not forgetting the theme – one of the endangered animals featured in the Kyrgyz Red Data Book that is often cited as a symbol of the mountainous republic.

The Snow Leopard has actually had a good year in terms of positive publicity, with striking photographs and video being released and considerable efforts being made by scientific research institutions dedicated to protecting and preserving the species.

In fact, Kyrgyzstan has issued another coin dedicated to this rare and remarkable ‘big cat’ – the other being a silver 10 som coin issued as part of a series dedicated to endangered species back in 2013.

As such it might be a considered a good investment as well an idea for a gift and a valuable addition to a collection.

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have its own mint, (which is well beyond the resources of a small country to finance both in therms of setting up a Mint – with the latest, specialist technology and equipment – and also to operate), so when it is decided to issue such commemorative coins, the work has to be contracted out to a special plant.  This year, (2015), the National Bank, (as the sole body authorized in Kyrgyzstan to issue banknotes and coins), has issued some seven commemorative coins, the other six being:

  • a silver 10 som coin featuring the Kyrgyz National ‘game’ of Kyz Kumai;
  • a Melchoir (an alloy of copper and nickel) 5 som coin also featuring Kyz Kumai;
  • a silver 10 coin with enamel inlay featuring a Bustard as another in the series featuring endangered species;
  • a silver 10 som coin  (with colour printing and a hologram) issued to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War, (the Second World War);
  • a silver 10 som coin with a printed pad to mark the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union;
  • a silver 10 som coin featuring the Tamga which was a symbol of the ancient Kyrgyz Kaghanate.

Next year, it is planned to issue eight new commemorative coins.

These Ak Ilbirs coins were manufactured in Lithuania.  That, however, was just the last stage in a complex process of design and preparation when the design may change considerably from the initial concept … as input, (advice and opinions), is sought from a wide variety of sources on the composition and materials used – before the final design is approved by the Board of the National Bank.

Each coin comes with a ‘certificate’ – as a document of authentication and, as well as the acrylic case, is placed in a special wooden box.


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