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The glow-in-the-dark “Dance of the Spirits” $2 coin designed by Timothy Hsia (courtesy Royal Canadian Mint)

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, the Royal Canadian Mint has released three million glow-in-the-dark coins into general circulation. The $2 coins, or “toonies” as they’re colloquially called, depict two people in a canoe on a placid lake surrounded by trees, with the lights of the aurora borealis in the sky. Those Northern Lights illuminate when viewed in the dark, thanks to embedded luminescent ink, making this the first glow-in-the-dark coin in circulation. Here’s a hands-on experiment with one in the Hyperallergic office:

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If you’re not in Canada, or don’t want to leave your collecting to chance, the “Dance of the Spirits” coin is also available as part of a commemorative coin set. It features more of the designs selected from the My Canada, My Inspiration contest, including the 25-cent “Hope for a Green Future,” which shows a plant extending from two hands and colored animals growing from the stem, by eight-year-old Joelle Wong of Ontario; and a 5-cent “Living Traditions” coin depicting a beaver in an Algonkian style by Gerald Gloade of the Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia.

“Dance of the Spirits” was submitted by Timothy Hsia, a physician who created the design with his brother Stephen. On the Royal Canadian Mint site, Hsia notes that “traditional Cree philosophy attributes the Northern Lights to a special moment when the Spirits manifest themselves, dancing, to the human eyes and minds below.” He further discusses why he chose the Northern Lights in this video, as well as his emphasis on the two people beholding the view:

Mints around the world have released some numismatic oddities, whether the Ivory Coast’s 2010 commemorative coin adorned with a piece of mammoth tusk or Palau’s coin (also from 2010) celebrating 400 years of the telescope and containing an optical lens. The Royal Canadian Mint has even made noncirculating, commemorative glow-in-the-dark coins before. However, Canada has been on the cutting edge of actually putting such experiments into wide use, as with 2004’s 25-cent Poppy coin marking Remembrance Day and the end of World War I, which was the first circulating colored coin. Now, with “Dance of the Spirits,” Canadians can find a bit of Northern Lights magic amid their pocket change.

The “My Canada, My Inspiration” 2017 coin collection (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The “Dance of the Spirits” glow-in-the-dark coin from the Royal Canadian Mint (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...