World Coins: The Wide World of Pandas

Chinese Panda coins and medals come in a variety of metals in addition to gold and silver.

One of the most enjoyable parts of going to coin shows like the recent Chicago International Coin Fair is the chance to talk to fellow coin buyers and dealers. I’m always curious to learn how people “discovered” Pandas, and why they collect them.

Most coin collectors are familiar with silver and gold Pandas. They are easily the best-known product of the China Mint, and at the Chicago show it seemed like everyone was looking for them. The most popular kind is the silver Panda, no doubt because it’s both affordable and available.

Many silver Panda collectors tell me that they are also buyers of other silver products but find that Pandas are a lot more fun to accumulate than bullion. Pandas allow them to combine a desire to own silver with a numismatic item that may appreciate more than raw bullion. In a similar way, people who collect gold Pandas usually start with a general interest in gold and eventually focus on Pandas as the most interesting modern gold coins.

Relatively few collectors pay much attention to the other metals in which Pandas were minted such as platinum, palladium, copper, brass, and bronze. That’s a mistake as there are some really fascinating coins and medals in this group.

Outside of gold and silver the metal most often used in Pandas is platinum. There are 21 Platinum Panda coins and one platinum medal that were released by the China Mint. The one ounce 100 Yuan Platinum Panda coins run from 1987 to 1990. The official mintages of these are 2,000 for both 1987 and 1988, 3,000 for 1989 and 1,300 for 1990. The 1990 Panda is the key date to this set. Its 1,300 coin mintage disguises the fact that only about 800 were actually struck. This is because the die broke after 800 and the Mint decided to call it a day and end production at that quantity.

Besides the 1 oz. platinum coin there were three smaller platinum Pandas struck in 1990: a 50 Yuan ½ oz., a 25 Yuan ¼ oz. and a 10 Yuan 1/10 oz. Their mintages are 2,500, 3,500 and 4,500 respectively. The three were sold together as a set that was marketed in a Plexiglas Capital Plastics-style holder. The holder must have protected the coins well because the NGC Census shows that 88% of the coins graded are in Proof 69 or Proof 70 condition.

China 1990 Platinum Panda Coins
1990 was the top year for platinum Pandas;
four different denominations were struck
Click image to enlarge.

Incidentally, the 1990 10 Yuan Platinum Panda was also sold as part of sets with other coins, including gold and silver Pandas, as well as a single coin. That explains its higher mintage.

There were no platinum Pandas issued in 1991 and 1992, but in 1993 a pair of 10 Yuan 1/10 oz. and 5 Yuan 1/20 oz. Pandas were released. The same denominations were again struck in 1994, 1995 1996 and 1997. A footnote to these is that according to a China Mint publication the 1994-1997 platinum Pandas were actually minted in Australia under a contract.

The “set” of 1993-1997 is just ten coins but is a great challenge to complete. The key date is 1997, although 1993 is also pretty scarce. Only a dozen 1997 10 Yuan Platinum Pandas have been graded by NGC. That may surprise people because its published mintage is 2,500. The actual mintage, though, is well under 1,000 and that accounts for its scarcity.

The 2002 Platinum Panda is perhaps the most interesting coin in the entire series. It marks the 20th Anniversary of the issuance of Panda coins and is the only one with Pandas on both sides of the coin! On one side is a copy of the 1982 Panda and on the other the 2002 Panda. The mintage is listed as 20,000. While not rare this is not a common coin today by any means.

Anyone who wants to get off the beaten path of Panda collecting should look into Platinum Pandas. They offer a wide variety of beautiful coins with plenty of twists, turns, and intrigue. To put together a set of them is an exciting and rewarding numismatic quest.

Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He as an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

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