By Ron Drzewucki – Modern Coin Wholesale ….
Bullion collectors today enjoy a smorgasbord of products from a variety of nations. After the Krugerrand proved there was an international market for such items, many of the world’s economic powerhouses followed suit, starting in the late 1970s.
One of the first to do so was China–or, more precisely, the People’s Republic of China. I know many Americans have a problem reconciling the idea of a nominally communist nation becoming such a powerful economic force in the world, but the reforms presided over by Deng Xiaoping after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 have resulted in a Chinese mixed economy that experiences annual growth during a slowdown that the American economy is lucky to see during a boom.
And only six short years after those reforms began, the first Chinese Gold Panda hit the market.
The inaugural issue was available in four denominations and weights: 1/10 oz, 1/4 oz, 1/2 oz and 1 oz of 99.9% pure gold. As might be expected if you’re familiar with any kind of numismatic history, the first year’s run didn’t strike too well, so nice 1982 Gold Pandas come at a premium.
But before I continue, I’d like to apologize in advance. The production history of the Chinese Panda tends to get complicated.
If your head starts spinning at any point, I’m sorry.
Grab the Dramamine and bear with me, though. If you want to get a handle on one of the most important collector and investment coins out there, it’ll be worth it.
1983 saw the introduction of the relatively tiny 1/20 oz gold coin and the debut of the Silver Panda series. Originally, Silver Pandas were available only as proof coins; bullion pandas didn’t come around until 1989. Proof versions have included a circle P on the obverse since 1989, and as a general rule, the year’s proof mintages are much smaller than its bullion numbers–often by over a power of ten.
Another difference between later and earlier Silver Pandas is that, between 1983 and ‘85, they weighed less than one ounce and consisted of only 90% pure silver. No Silver Pandas were produced in 1986 (or 1988 for that matter; probably so the Mint could focus on other, higher-priority products), but by 1987 both the weight (now one troy ounce) and purity (99.9%) had been adjusted to meet the expectations of international markets.
1986 was also the first year for Gold Panda proof sets, a program that ran until 1992. A circle P was added to the coins’ reverses.
Oh by the way, Gold Pandas feature a panda design on the reverse, while Silver Pandas feature a panda on the obverse. The other side (gold/obverse, silver/reverse) on each coin features an image of the Taoist Temple of Heaven, a religious complex completed in 1420 under the Ming dynasty in Beijing.
Most notably–and a real plus to most collectors–the designs on each set of panda coins change every year, with silver proof and bullion coins having different designs starting in the mid-1990s.
Speaking of the mid-’90s, silver proof and bullion pandas featured different designs in 1993 and ‘94. Then, in ‘95 and ‘96, the circle P was dropped from the proof coins. One-ounce Gold Pandas went bimetallic in ‘93-’94, and only one-ounce gold pieces were minted (none of the smaller denominations were produced) in ‘95-’96.
In 2001 and 2002, the China Mint kept the same design on the Silver Panda, but thanks to consumer protest a new design took its place on the reverse in 2003 and has continued to do so ever since.
The Chinese are very responsive to the market.
The China Mint has also produced other variations on the Gold Panda worth mentioning. Five-ounce Gold Pandas–including some bimetallic varieties–have been produced, as have 12 oz versions. And a truly monstrous (in the best numismatic sense) 2.2 pound, one kilogram(!) Gold Panda has been issued since 1997, in incredibly miniscule mintages (only 58 pieces the first year).
Special anniversary pandas come out from time to time as well.
Pandas don’t carry mintmarks, but a number of mints have been involved in their production since the beginning. For some issues, only one mint is responsible for the year’s output; for others, multiple mints were involved, resulting in slight variations that produce instant collectibles. Mints that have manufactured pandas in the past include, but are not limited to, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, and Beijing.
Mintages are sometimes a mystery, especially for silver proofs. But on the whole, pandas are produced in exceptionally small mintages (I’ve already mentioned the difference in scale between bullion and proof production).
Which is amazing, considering that the population of China is approximately 1.4 billion people. Obviously, not all of them are able to purchase gold and silver bullion at the local bank, but surely the percentage of Chinese who can represents a much larger number than, say, eight million, which is the mintage of the 2014 silver bullion panda.
And that’s a HUGE mintage compared to previous years.
With the American Silver Eagle typically selling millions and millions of units, the low mintages of Chinese Pandas are worth remembering.
And lest I forget, both PCGS and NGC grade and slab them–even the two-pounders.
I know this little history is incomplete (I didn’t even mention Platinum or Palladium Pandas), but I hope this blog has given you a foot in the door to this famous but infamously complicated and sometimes mysterious series.
If you’re still dizzy, you can lay down now.