Chinese Coins: The Panda Maker

Peter Anthony discusses designing the Chinese Panda coins with artist Rocky Zhao.

It was near the end of a tour of the Shanghai Mint Museum in 2011 that I met Rocky Zhao. He was dressed in one of his trademark collarless dark blue Nehru-style coats and made an immediate impression on me as a friendly, and thoughtful person. He is also a very fine artist who designed the 2011 Pandas. I remember that Rocky was curious to meet the American writer of a book about Chinese coins. We quickly decided that we liked each other and the discussion about coins, art and Chinese culture flowed.

Since that meeting there have been many more conversations between us, some in China and some in America. At the 2013 ANA Convention in Chicago I found Rocky carefully studying the exhibits of great coins through the ages. He looked up and said, “These coins inspire me.”

The inspiration shows. Rocky is also the artist who designed the 2013 Shanghai Memories medals. These beautiful gold and silver medals commemorate the shelter and aid that China and its people gave to mostly Jewish refugees during World War II. In 2012, to gain a better understanding of that history I joined Rocky and Danny Spungen, the true father of these medals, on a walking tour of the old Shanghai ghetto. Between the twin brutalities of the Japanese and Nazi occupations it was a dark period for humanity. The tolerance of the Shanghainese stands out as an example of how the future could be brighter. Rocky felt this keenly and expressed both the fear and the hope in his medal design.

The 2014 Pandas are another of Rocky’s accomplishments. In an interview he offered some insights into how one of the world’s favorite coins is created.

P.A. How do you decide on the pose of the Panda?

R.Z. I used photos and drawings of the actual animals. I went to the zoo to watch Pandas. In this I followed in the footsteps of my master, Mr. Chen Jian, who in 1983 went to the zoo to draw pandas from life. Pandas are very lucky, peaceful animals. They are gentle, not fierce like an eagle. So I looked for a pose that conveys this characteristic.

Coin designing is a three-step process. The drawing is the first step. The engraving is the second step. The third step is the modeling. There is a competition between artists at each Mint including Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen Guobao and Nanjing. After the Mints choose their artist there is a competition between Mints that takes place in Beijing. The winning drawing is chosen by a committee. There is also a competition to choose the engraver who is also very important. The engraver creates the relief and determines the reflective and frosted areas of the coin.

P.A. In 2012 the coin had two Pandas. In 2013 there were three Pandas. So many people expected that 2014 would have four Pandas (laughter).

R.Z. The room is too limited on a 1 oz. Panda to have so many Pandas.

P.A. What is your view for the future of Panda coins?

R.Z. I think that Pandas are very peaceful and they represent the people of China’s wish for peace. So Panda coins should also be ambassadors of peace – this is my dream. Yes, I also hope that the success of the Panda series will help support efforts to protect the animals and the environment.

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

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