The Chinese Panda ranks among the oldest of the modern silver bullion series, but it might be worth asking, is it really just another one of the modern bullion series? What is the true beginning of the series?
The coins in the series were not always made of 1 ounce of 0.999 pure silver. 1983 saw the start of the series with a 0.900 fineness coin. This increased to 0.925 in 1984 but fell back to 0.900 in 1985. Up to this point the series had been produced only as a commemorative proof coin with a limited mintage of 10,000. 1987 saw the release of the first 0.999 1 ounce coin, but still as a limited production proof. The panda is the only series I'm aware of to have skipped years in production; there were no 1 oz pandas in 1986 or 1988.
The first Pandas as we know them today were struck in 1989 as 0.999 1 oz coins. For the first time both uncirculated mint state and proof coins were released. The mint state production of 250,000 is huge compared to the earlier years of the series, but is tiny next to the mintage of American Eagles (in their 4th year of mintage at this time).
I don't know why the Chinese had the series evolve in this direction or what role the rise of competing North American series played in this process (by 1989, Mexico, the United States, and Canada had all started their bullion programs).
A question that may need to be asked: is this really 1 continuous series that started in 1983? Or is this set the result of combining a few commemorative issues from the early to mid-1980s with a series of bullion coins that didn't really start until the end of the decade?
Problems associated with the country of origin have plagued the series. China has long been known as a source of cheap counterfeits of just about everything. Growing global interest in the series as a collectable combined with the relatively low mintages combined to make this one of the only modern bullion series to have collector's values radically higher the bullion value. Some coins can easily go for well over $100. These high prices made the coins a logical target for counterfeiting. Around 2005 a wave of cheap counterfeits from China itself hit the global market and a number of buyers were burned in the process. To this day coin dealers will hype the "genuine" status of their inventory and warn the masses to "not be fooled by fake Pandas."
The series continues to enjoy growing popularity for its wonderful artwork, but it has become the hardest of all the modern bullion to collect.Read more...