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Palau Marine Life Protection Series Comes with a Couple Mysteries


Palau, an archipelago of over 500 islands, is in the western Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles southeast of Manila, Philippines. The country is only a total of 179 square miles and has a population of 21,998, according to the latest United Nations estimates. Beginning as early as the 16th century, the country was owned, conquered, or governed by other nations including Spain, Germany, Japan, and finally the United States. After WWII, the country was made part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1994, Palau gained full sovereignty under a Compact of Free Association with the United States.

Since 1992, Palau has contracted with varies mints worldwide to produce silver, gold and copper-nickel coins. Over the years, many beautiful series have been released. The first was the Marine Life Protection series which ran from 1992 until 2017. With each year the design changed, featuring various types of sea life. All issues, except the gold dollars and the gold rectangular $10 and $20, were colorized. The copper-nickel and gold dollars had images of mermaids on the obverse. Some designs included Neptune. The silver $5 and gold $200 featured an obverse with either mermaids, Neptune, or a combination of both. The exception was the 2002 $5 Lion Fish issue which had a bust of Zeus on the obverse. The $20 silver issues all displayed a mermaid on the obverse. The $200 gold had some of the lowest mintages in the series and are the most difficult to locate.

2014 $5 Silver. An example of the shell and pearl design featuring a conch shell and pink pearl with BEAUTY OF THE SEA inscribed on the reverse.

The 1995 rectangular issue did not have a sea life scene. Instead the obverse featured the denomination, date and MARINE LIFE PROTECTION inscription. The reverse had a single mermaid.

In the later years, there were also a few unique designs featuring shells with real pearls. These silver issues had an outrigger canoe engraved above a triangular shaped shield which featured Neptune and a mermaid with a treasure chest and the words RAINBOW’S END engraved within the shield on the obverse. The reverse depicted various types of oysters and shells and different types of pearls.

For every year, except 2017, there was a copper-nickel dollar and a silver $5 issued. Most years, but not all, had gold dollars issued. $20 silver was issued through 2000 and $200 gold was issued through 2001. The unusual shell and real oyster issues first appeared in 2006. 2017 was the only year to see the $10 silver issue.

We recently spent some time revamping the current design set and have added a complete set to the PCGS Set Registry®. When doing so, we not only noticed that there were some very stunning designs, but there were more issues for each year than were originally being listed in the design set. The design set now requires one coin for each reverse design. The complete set requires one coin for each design and denomination.

There were also a couple of mysteries that perhaps our readers can help us with. The first question arose when we came across the 1995 rectangular issue. All catalogs list the $10 issue, but none mention the $20 issue. Yet PCGS has graded an example of this coin (see the accompanying picture). Why was this issue not cataloged?

The second mystery we discovered was the issuance of a shell and pearl silver dollar in 2006. All other examples of this type had a $5 denomination. This dollar issue has a catalog number of KM-257 and is described as a white pearl in a shell. It has a mintage of 500. PCGS has not graded this coin and an extensive Internet search revealed no known examples.

We would love to get these two mysteries resolved. Should you have any information about the 1995 $20 gold rectangle and the 2006 $1 silver shell and pearl, please contact us!

In the coming months, we plan to add more series from Palau to the PCGS Set Registry. Some of the recent series, such as the Tiffany glass Architectural series and the World Wonders series are simply spectacular.

1994 $20 Silver PCGS Gold Shield PR70DC. One of the early issues featuring a reclining mermaid on the obverse and a colorized ocean scene on the reverse.

1995 $20 Gold PCGS Gold Shield PR67DC. A mystery issue. Unlike the $10 gold rectangular issue, there is no catalog reference for $20 gold.

1998 $1 Gold PCGS PR68DC. The popular Sea Turtle issue.

2001 $1 Copper-Nickel PCGS PR66DC. A mermaid masthead on the obverse with the colorful Moorish Idol Fish on the reverse.

2002 $1 Copper-Nickel PCGS Gold Shield PR69DC. Another mermaid masthead issue with the majestic whales.

2012 $5 Silver PCGS PR69DC. Neptune and two mermaids grace the obverse. The amazing Blue Ringed Octopus is depicted on the reverse.

BJ Searls is a graduate of Pepperdine University with a Master’s in Business Administration. She has been involved in numismatics since 1973 and has worked for Collectors Universe since 1997. BJ is the Set Registry and Special Projects Director for PCGS, PSA and PSA/DNA. Email: [email protected].

Set Registry Grading