Chinese Coins: Silver Panda Starter

Posted on 10/14/2014

Of the large variety of Panda coins available, the silver Panda is the most popular series among collectors.

A gem of a show takes place in Las Vegas twice a year (September and April). The Las Vegas Numismatic Society is the sponsor and CK Shows manages the events. I was lucky to be invited to the September show as a speaker.

Most of the audience was just getting started with Panda coins so it seemed worthwhile to go over some basics. Here is what we discussed. Pandas are among the most popular coins in the world today. In 1982 the China Mint sold around 140,000 Panda coins. In 2013 it sold 12 million. What is it that attracts so many people to these coins?

To begin with there is the Panda itself. It has been voted the world’s most popular animal. Some of the products that are named after Pandas are cars, banks, pots and pans, movies, software, restaurants, tea and toys. The tea is an interesting story in itself. Workers in black and white Panda costumes harvest the leaves by hand. If that seems funny, consider that the final product sells for around $350 per oz.; so I’m not sure whom the joke is on.

Anyway, besides Panda products there are a huge variety of Panda coins. There are silver, gold, platinum, palladium, brass, bronze and copper coins as well as bimetallic Pandas made of both silver and gold.

The most popular series is the silver Panda. In 1983 the first silver Panda was issued. It’s a proof coin that weighs in at less than an ounce: 27 grams to be exact. All 10,000 minted were distributed by one American company; Martin Weiss’ Panda America. It was at Mr. Weiss’ prompting that a silver version of the Panda was struck and he claimed the entire mintage. The 1983 silver Panda is really quite rare in Proof 69 condition.

In 1984 and 1985, 27 gram silver Proof Pandas were minted. These are not quite as hard to find in high grade as the 1983 coins.

No silver Panda coins were minted in 1986. In 1987 a one ounce Proof Panda was released. The mintage was 31,000 and it’s moderately scarce today. In 1988, no 1 oz. silver Panda coins were minted.

First of their kind: 1983 proof and 1989 BU silver Pandas

The start of the series for most collectors is 1989. Both Proof and BU silver Pandas were minted. Unlike the earlier years these Pandas shared the same design as the BU gold Pandas of the same year. The proof coin has a "P" in a circle to signify its proof quality. 25,000 proof coins were minted along with 255,000 BU coins. These are not particularly rare coins but they are no longer extremely common.

In 1990, the Panda coins can be split into Large and Small Date varieties. The China Mint used two mints to produce the year’s Pandas: Shanghai and Shenyang. For whatever reason, the dates from the two mints are different sizes and shapes. The Shanghai version is taller and narrower than the Shenyang coins. These have come to be known as Large and Small Dates and many collectors try to have both. There was also a Proof version.

All the years in the 1990s, except 1999, have Large and Small Date varieties. In 1999, there are three varieties because the China Mint used three Mints to strike the coins that year.

While varieties are an up and coming area, most collectors start by just collecting all the dates or designs. That means as few as 24 different Pandas are needed to complete a BU set. This is also a relatively affordable goal. The highest priced BU silver Panda is available for under $500. Many can be bought in the $50 range, so this is a hobby that people with a wide range of budgets can enjoy. All you have to do is be interested in Pandas, which puts you in a lot of good company.

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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