With a land area of just over 100 square miles (261 square km) and a population of 1,600 people, the tiny nation of Niue could easily be overlooked. The island nation sits 1,500 miles (2,400 km) northeast of New Zealand is independent, but it claims Elizabeth II as sovereign and is in a state of free association with New Zealand, on whom it relies for its defense.
Despite its second-place status in many respects, there is one area where Niue really stands out. Niue has cornered the market in terms of issuing distinctive coins that have made the country a numismatist’s dream.
The New Zealand dollar is the accepted currency in Niue. It also issues the Niue dollar, fully legal tender for all debts. It is, however, more likely to be acquired and saved by coin collectors.
What is it about the Niue dollar that makes it so attractive? Beginning in 2008, Niue’s government recognized that untapped revenue potential existed by creating a special market that would jointly appeal to coin collectors, aficionados of various interests, and tourists. The result was a series of specially-issued coins. Each of the coins would be legal tender and show the profile of the Queen on the obverse, but the reverse would feature things that typically would not be seen in a nation’s currency.
Some of the things to grace Niue’s coins have included, Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, and characters from Pokémon. These coins have created a whole new generation of numismatists, as fandom and coin collectors compete for the same collectibles.
The benefits to Niue are multitudinous. For one thing, licensing agreements with corporate sponsors is a welcome stream of income to the nation. A recent deal signed with the New Zealand Mint is estimated to be worth $6 million NZD ($4.02 million USD) over ten years. Acquisition of the coins by collectors is an additional source of revenue. Although coins can be used in commerce for face value, among collectors, the prices are considerably higher. Coins from the Walt Disney series have a face value of $2 but sell for $755 NZD ($506 USD) among collectors.
Niue premier Toke Tolagi is hopeful that the interest in the coins will also generate greater interest in Niue — particularly an interest in tourism. “The connection at the moment, between a collector and whether they decide to come and visit necessarily, is not clear,” said Tolagi, “but I certainly believe that they will know that there is such a place as Niue and they may very well visit at some point.”
Talagi said that the country has not performed any marketing analysis to determine the value they are delivering to the island nation, but said: “I’m pretty certain that anything that helps promote Niue is very helpful. It’s hard to tell with these things – they are collectors after all. I’m not sure whether they will necessarily wish to visit all the countries they have a numerous amount of collections with. I’m sure that some of them would, but I’m sure that they will tell their friends about the fact that a place like Niue exists.”
Niue is not alone in its creative use of currency. As documented in this article, other countries have gone so far as to incorporate vials of holy water and digital audio recordings in their coins. It also isn’t the first to lure tourists with its currency. If you want to see coins from Yap in Micronesia, you will have to plan a visit, since one of them can weigh more than 5 tons (4,500 kg).
Despite not being alone in its efforts to make a name for itself through its money, Niue has to be given credit for a currency plan that undoubtedly brings the most smiles to the faces of would-be collectors.
Many internet sites advertise Niue’s coins for sale, but if you are interested in the ones that come fresh off the press, you can see and purchase them here from the New Zealand Mint.