Travel Journal: Animal Coin

I love finding handmade businesses who feature travel in their work in unique ways, and this Travel Journal edition is no exception. I interviewed Ann Nolen of Animal Coin, who hand paints limited edition coins from around the World and turns each piece into one of a kind pendants and travel keepsakes.

Her work features special coins from all over the World, and special releases from Maui, Jamaica and Columbia just to name a few. She's spent over 25 years learning about coins and has spent the last 10 years transforming them into the collectable artwork you see today. Keep reading below to find out more about Ann, her work, and some of the travel destinations she's featured. Be sure to head over to her website at to see all of her work for sale too.

Animal Coin signature collection hand painted travel coins


Tell us a bit about the story behind your coins, and where did the idea come from? How did you get started with Animal Coin? 

When my son was young, he asked to join our local coin club.  We took him to the meetings, but he was young enough that we joined with him.  We fell in love with the people and exploring coins.  I decided to collect coins with animals on them, which was a bit unusual in a traditional coin club. After 15 years in the club, I decided I wanted to find a way to wear the beautiful coin designs.  It was rare enough, there was no resources to learn how to do it, so I played 'mad scientist' for close to 3 months. I went to the art store almost everyday, but never found a paint that got the look I wanted.  I eventually blended my own paints, and each color has its own recipe.  I then spent several months practicing to get good enough at the detail.  I launched my first products in 2009, and have sold them at juried art shows, galleries, and online.  

dolphin hand painted coin from maui2007 MAUI DOLPHIN COIN 

What’s your favourite Animal Coin product and/or best seller?

My favorite is usually the one I am currently painting!  It is like choosing your favorite child, it just can't be done.  The first coin I painted successfully to sell was the crocodile coin from Papua New Guinea that is featured in my video. (See below).  

My top best sellers are the hummingbird coin from Jamaica, and the turtle coin from Colombia.

Hummingbird hand painted animal coin jamaicaJAMAICA HUMMINGBIRD COIN
Turtle hand painted coin from columbiaCOLUMBIA TURTLE COIN

Another favorite of my customers is a series of cat coins from the Isle of Man.  They issued a new coin each year for over 20 years, and each coin featured a different breed of cat.  Another popular series is from Maui, Hawaii and features local wildlife, with a new coin issued each year.

cat hand painted coin isle of man1993 ISLE OF MAN MAINE COON CAT COIN
Cat hand painted coin isle of man1992 ISLE OF MAN SIAMESE CAT COIN

What’s the most unusual coin you’ve worked with, and where was it from?

I have painted a coin from Burma with a Peacock on it. The coin is dated 1852, and was a bit of a challenge to paint since it isn't made with todays minting standards and the detail I painted was very small. One of my favorite parts of my work is searching for interesting coins to paint.

peacock hand painted coin from burma1852 BURMA PEACOCK COIN

How do you choose which coins to feature next? Do you collect them from your travels?

My travels are usually to a coin show or the internet!  Many of the coins I paint are 'commemoratives' which means they are sold to collectors rather than being circulated to use by the public.  That means there are a lot more possibilities by working with professional coin dealers or searching the internet. When I do travel, I look for coin shops or private mints in the area to get the best selection and prices.  

I had no idea that there were so many animals which feature on coins until I found your work! Do you know anything about the history behind that and why they’re featured which you could share?

Many of the countries feature things that are important in their culture.  A lot of the animal coins feature native wildlife to that part of the world, or endangered species that they want to bring attention to. Every coin has a story, and that includes why that country chose the animal featured.

In the United States, it is law that all coins have to have a patriotic symbol on them, which is usually the flag, a President, or an Eagle. That limits some of the variety I see in other countries coins.

Kangaroo hand painted coin australiaAUSTRALIA KANGAROO COIN

Can you tell us a bit more about the design and making process for your coins?

First of all, the design is already on each of these coins. Often people don't realize that at first. I get great pleasure in searching for beautiful coins to paint, and each year new coins and designs are released by most countries in the World.

I usually try to buy coins from coin dealers, since they often have been handled carefully and are in beautiful shape.  I blend my own paints, using the color recipes that I developed, and paint one color at a time.  I let each color cure for at least 24 hours to keep the colors from blending into each other. I leave some areas unpainted, showing the natural color of the coin. Most color recipes are translucent, and the metal shines through the paint making the color very dramatic.  In coin colors other than silver, I may add pearlescent pigments to make the paint more opaque so the colors aren't muddy. When I am happy with the paint, I add a thick clear coat of epoxy over the coin to protect the paint and give an enamel look.

 Animal coin hand painting making process

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Everyday is different for me.  I am a small business and do everything myself.  I like it that way, and don't plan to change that.  Tasks I do include researching and shopping for coins, painting the coins, and making the painted coins into jewelry. I also do the shipping, marketing, and bookkeeping. I write my own website and design my own graphics for marketing.  The variety keeps it interesting.

Tell us a bit about your travel journey. Where are you from, have you lived elsewhere, where do you live now?

I grew up in Salinas, California, which is near Monterey.  When I was 20, I moved to Los Angeles to follow and marry my husband. After 15 years living and working there, we moved back to Northern California to Santa Rosa in the wine region just north of San Francisco. Besides 500 wineries in my immediate area, we have a large artist community.

Where’s your favourite vacation destination?

We do a lot of vacationing right in our community.  We are fortunate to have many beautiful wineries nearby, Redwood Parks, mountains, and the ocean is a short drive away.  San Francisco is less than an hour away, with many wonderful things to do.

If we want to get out of town, our favorite place to go is Mendocino, CA on the coast. We have taken 2 cruises to Alaska, with the Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island in Canada being our favorite stop.

In January 2021, we are taking a World Cruise for almost 4 months, and will get to visit many of the countries that I paint coins from.  

whale hand painted coin maui2012 MAUI WHALE COIN

Where’s your special place (or places)? The Country or place with happy memories, that means the most to you.

Over the years, the place we liked to go to celebrate anniversaries or take short vacations to is Mendocino, California. There are small shops with artwork and fine crafts, beautiful gardens, and beaches and the ocean to admire. We have visited there also as an extended family, renting a vacation home so we could easily enjoy both family and the area.  

turtle painted coin maui2019 MAUI GREEN SEA TURTLE COIN

What would your dream home look like, and where in the World would it be?

We want to live the rest of our years right where we live.  Our home is on a half acre, and gives us the lifestyle we enjoy in an area that is beautiful with many friends and our son & his family nearby. With the room on our property, we can have many animals, including 4 tiny rescue dogs from 5 to 9 pounds each, 3 large cats that were former foster kittens, and 4 backyard chickens. I also foster bottle-fed kittens for local rescue groups, so we have short term adorable visitors. I have lost count, but I have fostered over 70 kittens at this point.

Ann from animal coin with catsANN WITH 2 OF HER KITTENS

What inspires you about travel, either locally or abroad, and how do you incorporate that into your work?

I love to be inspired by the beauty of nature. Travel or short trips also gives me time to relax and enjoy a change. I like to take photos, and nature often inspires some of the colors I use in my art. I like to joke that everything I do turns into an art project!

Finding time to travel for more than a few days is complicated with my small business and many pets, so we tend to do more day trips or long weekends in our local area.  

heron hand painted coin cayman islands1973 CAYMAN ISLANDS GREAT BLUE HERON COIN

What’s next for Animal Coin?

I am always excited by the next new project, and have to prioritize often since I don't have time for everything I want to do.  My brain is busy, and currently I have plans to take some soldering classes with the idea of new jewelry assembly skills. This involves using a torch, so I will soon find out how well I do with an open flame.

I am also working on prototypes for a keychain with a painted coin on it, and expanding my line of money clips.  My husband and I both quilt as a hobby, and I am exploring the idea of making buttons with my painted coins for quilters.

Of course the biggest project coming up is our cruise around the world in early 2021.  I am excited to explore, take photos, and share my experiences with my friends and customers on my website's blog.  I plan to tie that into the coins I paint, and hope to offer a few surprises by offering some new coins from countries we visit. 

rhino hand painted animal coin tanzania africa1997 TANZANIA RHINO COIN

Don’t forget you can see all of Ann's work in the Animal Coin store, and you can also follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Make sure you say hi from me if you do!

A massive Ta Muchly to Ann for agreeing to be featured in today's blog post, and for sharing an insight into her work!

Michelle x


All images copyright and courtesy of Animal Coin.

Note - This blog post is not sponsored, I'm just doing my bit to support fellow small businesses that I love! Help support them too by sharing this page with others! Ta Muchly!


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