Chinese Coins: 5-star Pandas

Posted on 8/21/2014

A group of Panda coins display the five-star symbol of the People’s Republic of China on the obverse.

Supply and demand makes the world of coins go ’round. “What is a coin’s mintage?” “How many survive?” “Are there hoards?” Numismatists spend endless hours trying to determine supply. For some rare coins, experts know the location and history of every example. Where does that leave the rest of us?

Not long ago I sat down with Kent and Kyle Ponterio of Stack’s Bowers Galleries. We soon got to chatting about coin books and guides. Kent pointed out that every active market is built on a foundation of information. He used medals to make his point. In markets where good references exist for medals there are many collectors and strong demand. In areas that don’t have a reference, collectors generally stick to coins and ignore medals.

For instance, consider the aluminum Fen coins of China. These date from the mid-1950s to the present. Mintages were limited and most coins were put into circulation so everyone in China is familiar with them. One Chinese numismatist describes them as China’s answer to the Lincoln penny. Though they have almost no melt value, some trade hands for hundreds of dollars. It’s all about supply and demand – and demand for Fens is stoked by a fine reference book (in Chinese) by Mr. Sun Keqin.

The same holds true for Panda coins. A book like the Gold and Silver Panda Coin Buyer’s Guide opens up the field to new collectors and helps grow the market. Back when the first edition was published many collectors told me that they had no idea that there are so many different Panda coins.

One surprise for many people in the Gold and Silver Panda Coin Buyer’s Guide is a group of Pandas that aren’t part of the Panda series. I call them Panda cousins. These coins lack the series’ trademark Temple of Heaven on the obverse. In its place they display the 5-star symbol of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

A pair of 1994 gold pandas; one with the PRC 5-star symbol
and one with the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

The earliest and perhaps best known are the 1 Yuan brass Pandas that were minted from 1983-1985. Most of these were distributed as gifts or premiums by Panda coin distributors and dealers. Because brass readily reacts with air many surviving coins have black spots or other impairments. They are now highly collectible. MS 69 examples of 1983 and 1984 1 Yuan Pandas can sell for hundreds of dollars. The 1985 is considered a great rarity; auction prices for it have topped $50,000.

The next 5-star Panda is a 1986 5 Yuan coin that was minted for the World Wildlife Fund. It was struck in both Mint State and Proof versions. It weighs 22 grams and is composed of .900 fine silver. The authorized mintage is 30,000 total.

Another 5 Yuan silver coin with a Panda in its design was released in 1989 for the 70th Anniversary of the Saving the Children’s Fund. It weighs 22 grams of .999 silver and has an authorized mintage of 75,000.

In 1993 the only copper Panda coin was released as part of the Rare Chinese Animal Series. This is a very affordable and pretty coin that makes a great gift for young numismatists. The vast majority of coins are Mint State, but Proofs do exist.

The Rare Chinese Animal series added another coin in 1994, this time in gold. It weighs 8 grams of .916 fine gold and has a mintage of just 5,000.

The last coin (so far) in this five-star Panda group is a little 3 Yuan silver coin issued in 1997 for the World Wildlife Fund. It is made of 15 grams of .900 fine silver and is really quite a handsome coin.

All in all this group of Pandas makes a fascinating set. The coins were created for a variety of reasons and they reflect the wide-ranging appeal that Pandas have for people everywhere.

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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