In the middle of the South Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand lies the island country of the Cook Islands. The country is composed of 15 small islands with a total land area of only 91.4 square miles. It is divided into the Northern Group of six islands, which are the oldest, and the Southern Group of nine islands. The Cook Islands are atolls, coral islands formed by sunken volcanoes. In 2000, the population was 20,407 but the population has steadily declined every year. In 2013, only 10,447 people live in the Cook Islands with the majority residing on the island of Rarotonga.
The Cook Islands' main industry is tourism followed by banking, pearls and marine and fruit exports. The government is a constitutional monarchy headed by Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. The country has been self-governing since 1965 but has a free association with New Zealand. Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand and can receive government services. New Zealanders, however, are not citizens of the Cook Islands.
The New Zealand pound was the currency until 1967. The NZ dollar replaced the pound. Then in 1972, the Cook Islands received their own circulating coins with an initial run of bronze 1 and 2 cents, and cupro-nickel 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents and the dollar. Over the years, some issues have been dropped and others added.
While the circulating issues have interesting subjects which depict plants and animals unique to the Cook Islands, the really fascinating collectibles are the commemoratives. One would think that the small size of the country and low population would indicate a very small run of coins, but this is far from the case. The Cook Islands do not mint their own coins. Instead, they contract with Mints such as the Royal Australian Mint, the Perth Mint, The London Mint, and the Franklin Mint. By charging a fee to Mints which allow them to use the name "Cook Islands" in dollar units with limited mintages, the country generates extra revenue. It is interesting to note that these commemoratives are not recognized or accepted as legal tender in the Cook Islands. As a consequence of the contracts with a number of Mints worldwide, the production of many, many unique, beautiful and odd coins has occurred. The subjects vary widely and include lunar, endangered wildlife, fauna and flora, royalty, movie stars, famous battles, space, and transportation just to name a few.
The Cook Island commemoratives began to appear predominately in the 1990s and continue today. Denominations include 50 cents, 1, 2, 2 ½, 4, 5, 7 ½, 10, 20, 25, 30, 35, 50, 75, 100, 150, 200, 250, and 500 dollars. The coins are struck in silver, gold, copper-nickel, palladium, and platinum.
And, the shapes! Square, rectangular, triangular, oval, heart-shaped, star-shaped, egg-shaped, tablet, 6-sided, clover-shaped, and even coins shaped in the bust of Pope Benedict XVI and the United States! By far the most unique coins are the gilt pop-ups. Colored enamel, Swarovski crystals, and mother of pearl, are just few inlays you might find on these coins.
The Cook Islands in PCGS Set Registry® is a new category. Currently, there are two sets collectors can start:
However, expect more sets in the future. How about a 2011 $5 Silver "I'll be back" Terminator set? The possibilities are endless!