The Art of Perfection: Minting 2016 S10Y Pandas at the Shanghai Mint House

Posted on 3/8/2016

What is the difference between a Mint State and a Proof modern coin? Can you tell just by looking at the coin? Not always.

I understand the modern coin manufacturing process, having witnessed this in person on numerous occasions. But the high quality of these modern coins makes it hard to ascertain the designation. In many instances, the only way to definitively tell the difference seems to be in the certification of issue. It will not only describe the coin and the metallic make up, but detail whether Mint State or Proof.

2016 S10Y Panda, reverse (left) and obverse (right)
Click images to enlarge.

I had yet to witness Pandas being struck, and since they look Proof in appearance, but labeled Mint State, I thought maybe I would find out the answer. Based on my experience I had speculated that Silver Panda coins must be struck twice (and somehow rotate when ejected from the collar due to the twisting nature of the edge reeding). But by striking the coins twice with dies that resembled Proof dies, this would lead one to believe that these coins were technically Proofs (even if they were not sold as such).

I came a step closer to finding the answer when I was invited last December to witness 2016 Silver 10Y Pandas being struck. After the normal exchange of paperwork, security briefs, and protocols, I found myself standing inside the Shanghai Mint House in a room of coining presses stamping out 2016 Silver Panda coins. The “smell” on the floor of a mint is not easily forgotten, no matter which one you visit. To a numismatist it is an intoxicating smell (of a combination of various lubricants; oil, grease, etc.).

Exterior view of the Shanghai Mint House
Click images to enlarge.

The first thing that caught my eye was the number of people involved in the coining process. For a bullion coin designated as Mint State, I would have only expected to see one press operator monitoring the automated press, and maybe another nearby to handle the delivery of the struck coins to other areas of the facility (for verification, encapsulation, packing, etc.). This was not the case here as the press operator was very involved in coining and inspection.

Exterior view of the Shanghai Mint House
Click images to enlarge.

It is customary for the press operator to wipe the face of the dies with a cloth from time to time to make sure there is no residue or contaminants on the dies that may get transferred to the struck coin. In many instances, though, a fiber or two of the cloth may get left behind on the dies and then onto the struck coin resulting in a small flaw (struck thru). In most situations, this coin with the minor flaw (of microscopic proportions) is usually not rejected and is mixed in with all the other coins. But this was not the case here. At this mint it was apparent that quality control was a priority.

Exterior view of the Shanghai Mint House
Click images to enlarge.

There was an area beside the press operator that contained the imperfect/rejected coins. I was allowed to visually inspect these coins to see why they had been rejected. In most instances, it was some sort of struck thru (like lint marks), in other cases more severe defects. Additionally, several other inspectors examined each coin being struck after him.

I was very impressed by all the care taken to strike the Silver Panda, made as a bullion coin, and of all the quality controls in place. I commented that the Pandas are made like Proof coins and the mint official replied that they considered them “Proof in quality”!

Although my answer to the Mint State vs. Proof question had not been realized, I have a greater appreciation of all the care that goes into making the Silver Panda.

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