A Comprehensive Guide to Panda Coins

A Comprehensive Guide to Panda Coins

As one of the most recognized modern Chinese coin series internationally, panda coins are the flagship theme of modern Chinese precious metal coins. First issued in 1982 and every year since, panda coins provide refreshing designs each year, unlike almost all competing bullion gold coins and set the standard for all modern Chinese coins. People are left in awe, all over the world, as they are essentially limited edition works of art on precious metal.

We can place panda coins into three broad categories: brilliant uncirculated (also known as ‘BU’), proofs and commemoratives.

Most BU Panda are defensive investment that is to say their values correlate closely with international precious metal prices. The current year BU gold panda coins were always released in five sizes, 1 oz, 1/2 oz, 1/4 oz, 1/10 oz, 1/20 oz and the premium over gold spot price is generally 6-20%. In 2016, the China Mint changed to metric weights however, preferring coins in grams instead of troy ounces. The larger 1 oz coins (or now, as of 2016, 30 gram coins) have the lowest premium whilst the high costs to produce coins, mean that the smallest fractional coins weighing just 1/20 oz (or 3 gram) have the highest premium. All five sizes are originally distributed by the mint in sheets of 10, in a 5×2 formation.

Proof panda coins and commemorative pandas (which include medals) are, on the other hand, a more aggressive investment. Their values are mostly affected by demand and relative supply in the marketplace, first and foremost where the mintage is typically low and designs highly sought after. They have a higher premium or cost of ownership relative to the gold or other precious metal contained. They are also in high demand by collectors, therefore have higher potential for appreciation over a shorter period of time.

Here at ChineseCoins.com, we will take a look at the different panda coins that fall within these three categories which will include: BU gold pandas, BU silver pandas, proof panda coins and sets, bimetallic panda coins, large gold and silver pandas (which weigh 5 oz, 12 oz or one kilo), commemorative issues, platinum and palladium Pandas, medals.. phew!

As you acquaint yourself further with these charming assets, you will see that within every of these categories, there are many coins which are extremely appealing and sought-after. Did you know that one type of panda coin has sold in auction for $1.6m?

Regardless of your taste and budget, there truly is something for everyone. Common panda coins are both elegant and affordable whilst rare coins are extremely desirable and have a strong recent history of beating almost all other asset classes in price appreciation.

As Chairman Deng would put it, it doesn’t matter whether it is a gold panda or silver panda coin, as long as it can entice a collector it is a good Panda!

Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) Panda Coins

The gold panda coins have always been one of the top five investment coins in the world. It is the brilliant uncirculated (BU) coins which are the bullion coins, suitable for gold investment purposes. They comes in the sizes of 1 oz, ½ oz, ¼ oz, 1/10 oz and 1/20 oz. These five sizes appear every year, except for the 1982 which does not have the 1/20 oz coin. Additionally, the 1991 series also has a unique 1 gram gold coin.

Even though on average the prices of these BU gold pandas are considerably less than proofs, some still stand out as good investment – that is to say, where the appreciation of the numismatic value of the coin based on supply/demand market factors can increase independently of what happens to the price of gold. The primary example is the first year, the 1982 BU Gold Pandas. Whilst they do not have a denomination like every coin must do, they are an exception and indeed coins with the People’s Bank of China having clarified this. The 1 oz gold panda in this series can fetch over $4000 USD, way above other 1 oz gold coins.

The 1983, 1995 and 1998 1 oz gold panda coins also perform well in the market. Interestingly, 1983 gold panda series was the first ever coin series that used both mirror and matte finish to produce a contrasting effect, used to emphasize the black and white fur of a panda. This unique design has led to the winning of the International Gold Coin of the Year awards in 1983, and launched the career of master coin designer, Chen Jian.

As for the 1995 and 1998 Gold Panda, they have some of the lowest mintages of all BU gold panda coins, making them especially desirable and rare to find. For example, the 1998 1/2 oz Gold Panda has an actual mintage of 4,168 and the 1995 1/2 oz Gold Panda only 11,749. The typical mintage of the BU gold pandas across all five sizes is 15000 to 50000. In recent years, production has increased significantly as many gold investors have opted for panda coins for gold investment purposes over, say, the Canadian Maple Leaf, South African Kruggerand and American Gold Eagle.

The 1995 and 1998 BU gold panda sets are particularly valuable, composed of five coins, one of each size from 1 oz to 1/20 oz.

The market prices for the other panda coins in this category generally follow the gold price. As gold is touted by financial advisors to be an important asset class in a well-rounded portfolio, conservatively 5% or aggressively, 20% or more – these BU coins make a particularly safe investment option for defensive investors who can potentially gain considerable appreciation in the premium or numismatic value of the coins as well as the anticipated appreciation in the gold value over the coming years too. Key to successful investment along these lines is to find the ‘sleepers,’ panda coins whose relative scarcity is not yet so well known!

From a collectors perspective, gold panda coins offer enough variety to support many types of collecting strategies. One can collect all coins of the same size, e.g all the 1/10 oz Panda coins since 1982 or all the 1/20 Panda coins since 1983 to form an eye-catching collection. Or, one can collect all Panda coins with a particular specialty, such as the Pandas issued on special anniversaries or Pandas which have won coin design awards, adding to the collection a deeper meaning. One can even collect different versions of the same Panda coins, such as the Shanghai Mint and Shenyang mint versions or domestic and overseas versions which might have a slightly different design or different font. The collecting possibilities are endless and can provide immerse joy to collectors for years to come.

Proof Panda Coins & Sets

Proof pandas are usually more valuable than the BU panda coins as they were the ‘collectors edition,’ produced in lower numbers, marketed to a different type of buyer and as proof coins, are struck multiple times giving an almost 3D-like effect on the coin surface. They are stunning, a true sight to behold!

Most of these proofs have exactly the same design as the BU coins from the same year but are distinguished by a letter “P” inscribed on the reverse side of the coin. The only exceptions are the 1995 and 1996 1 oz gold proof pandas where the designs are different altogether. As such, the letter “P” was dropped and not deemed necessary on these two.

First released in 1986 as a five coin set – 1 oz (100 Yuan), 1/2 oz (50 Yuan), 1/4 oz (25 Yuan), 1/10 oz (10 Yuan), 1/20 oz (5 Yuan), they were issued for an additional six consecutive years. Always with a wooden box and certificate of authenticity. In 1993 and 1994, the 1 oz gold coins were not included and were instead replaced with bimetallic panda coins with a 25 Yuan face value.

In 1995 and 1996, two one ounce coins appeared (ironically as they weren’t around in 1993 and 1994). These two coins are highly coveted with actual mintages in the 500-600 range, more than half what the official mintage is as shown on the certificate of authenticity.

Proof silver panda coins were first released in 1983. Just one year after the first panda coin (gold) in 1982, this coin weighed 27 grams. Both 1984 and 1985 saw the release of silver proof panda coins with unique designs of course, but the same specifications – weight and mintage. They also came with a box and certificate of authenticity. The weight was changed to 1 oz in 1987 after skipping 1986. The 1 oz proof silver panda coin geared toward collectors and those appreciating the artistry became a standard. There were issued annually from 1989 to 1996. Interestingly there is also unique selection of colored proof silver pandas, including the 1997 and 1998 1 oz and ½ oz as well as a 1 oz coin from 1999. Apart from the beautiful color, these five coins are particularly special as they were actually made by the Swiss Mint rather than the Mints collectively referred to as the China Mint, the technology was specialist and not available within China thus the outsourcing!

There are a lot of special coins in this family of proof coins. The larger coins discussed in a separate article are all proofs and many of them have very high market values due to their rarity.

Silver Panda Coins

BU silver pandas are perfect beginner coins for both investors and coin collectors with low acquisition costs, the relative ease and excitement from building sets and comparatively small number of types. The 1 oz coins were first issued in 1989 while the ½ oz variety first appeared in 1993.

For investment purposes, these coins are a classic defensive investment with the demand from mainland China high where these are affordable gift sets given during one of the many holidays each year as well as in honor of newly born children. Further, the international silver price is in general bullish. As an example, the coins from 2001- 2009 have a 3 year rate of return of at least 10% annually. The older coins have an even higher return with market prices far exceeding the silver price.

For collection purposes, one could start with the collection of one from each year. Because of the small variety, collecting all of them is unexpectedly affordable. For more advanced collectors, these coins offer a playing field where collectors can explore the finer details of coin collecting, such as coin finish and date varieties. For example, there are a number of BU Silver Pandas such as the 1989 – 1992 series, that have an better finish and more brilliant luster compared to the proof coins in that same series. These proof-like coins act as a study-aid for collectors who are interested in the different surfacing techniques that have been used on panda coins over the years. This series is also well-known for different versions, originating from the different Mints within China (Shenyang, Shanghai, Shenzhen). As an example, the 1999 coin has three distinct versions with different font best seen on the year of issue ’1999.’ The 1995 coin has two distinct versions where the Shenyang version of the coin has 6 bamboo leaves missing on the reverse side compared to the Shanghai version. This is resulting from the incorrect transfer of the coin mould between the Mints, this rare mistake made the 1995 BU silver panda coins particularly valuable to collect.

The silver proof panda coins were distributed with the intent of being collectors edition coins. With lower mintages, they command higher premiums. The first three years are all proof coins, 1983, 1984 and 1985. The series continues in 1989 with one ounce coins each year up to 1996. In total there eleven proof coins (not counting the 1 oz colored proof pandas from the late 1990′s). In contrast, the BU silver panda series is from 1989 to present.

Platinum & Palladium Panda Coins

The platinum and palladium pandas may well be shining stars of the future.

From the first issue of platinum panda in 1987 to first palladium panda in 1989, these precious metal coins have only appeared occasionally over the years. As far as the palladium pandas, they have only been issued three times: the 1989 1 oz palladium panda, 2004 ½ oz palladium panda, and 2005 ½ oz palladium panda.

The platinum panda family is slightly larger where they have appeared in years 1987 through 1990, 1993 through 1997, and 2002 to 2005. It is the combination of low mintages, the rarity of platinum and palladium as metals and the relatively low current prices, that make these coins solid long term investments. For collectors, the palladium panda can be easily collected as its own set, while the platinum panda collection is considerably more challenging. While collectors can relatively easily find 1 oz platinum pandas from 1987 to 1990 and collect them as a set, it is really hard to collect the whole set of 1/10 oz and 1/20 oz as some of these smaller platinum pandas have simply disappeared over time. For example, the 1993 to 1997 1/10 oz and 1/20 oz platinum pandas can hardly be seen in recent years within China and in the U.S, often these coins were used in jewelry: bezels for necklaces and to a lesser extent, bracelets. More to the point, U.S coin dealers melted down vast numbers of these coins at a time of high platinum prices. The other factor is the number produced. The official mintage for these coins is likely far higher in all these instances than the actual number of coins struck. It is the combination of these three factors that makes finding these smaller denominational platinum panda coins particularly hard to locate individually in excellent condition as demanded by all collectors, and even more so, a complete set.

Bimetallic Panda Coins & Sets

Bimetallic panda coins are where the centre of the coin is made of gold while the outer ring of the coin is made of silver. Relatively few coins fall into this category, they were only issued between 1990 and 1997. Bimetallic Pandas can be considered as a group worth collecting on their own. They have a generally low mintage (less than 3000), and the technology used is substantially more involved along with their great eye appeal, they are especially respected by Panda collectors. In fact, there is probably nothing produced by any mint, anywhere, than compares to the eye appeal and uniqueness of a bimetallic Chinese panda coin or set.

The first bimetal Panda was issued in 1990, when China participated in the 3rd Hong Kong Coin Convention. The Shenyang Mint designed and struck the bimetallic panda with 1/2 oz gold and 1/5 oz silver. As it was the first time this technology was used on a Chinese coin, it became an instant star at the convention. In the following year, the name of the convention was changed to Hong Kong International Coin Convention and once again, Shenyang Mint ventured to designed and produce a bimetallic panda coin to commemorate the event, this time smaller in size, with ¼ oz gold and 1/8 oz.

In the following year, 1992, once again the coin produced was shrunk! This time the weight was 1/10 oz gold and 1/28 oz silver. This small coin once again proved to be popular and, like the coin from 1990 – shared the same depiction or scene, as the brilliant uncirculated panda coins in gold and silver from that year.

In the later years of 1995, 1996 and 1997, four different designs in total of the bimetallic panda coin were released each year. The three normal sizes ½ oz gold + 1/5 oz Silver, ¼ oz gold and 1/8 oz silver, and 1/10 oz gold+1/28 oz silver; as well as a large coin composed of five ounces of gold and surrounded by two ounces of silver.

All the regular sized bimetal pandas are rare and precious, 1997 being the so-called ‘key date’. The larger ones previously mentioned are considerably more valuable, not only because of the higher precious metal content, but also the considerably lower mintage. The 1995 and 1996 coins have a mintage of only 199. The 1997 coin is even rarer as the issuing of the coin was withheld due to the financial crisis. Consequently, it is now an extremely valuable pattern coin.

It is also worth noting that one bimetallic panda, with ¼ oz gold +1/8 oz Silver, was made for the 1996 Munich international Coin Show. This is the only such panda ever made for a European coin show and one of only three bimetallic medals produced by the China Mint.

Large-sized Panda Coins: 5 oz, 12 oz, Kilogram

All large gold pandas are proof coins and not for the faint-hearted: you will need a substantial financial basis for the investment or collection of these impressive gold coins. Large gold panda coins come in 5 oz, 12 oz and 1 kilogram sizes with one exception, the 1991 5 kilo gold panda specially struck to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Chinese panda coin series. This is the coin that we mentioned earlier, sold twice in auction for more than $1.2m.

With the exception of the years 1982, 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1998 – at least one large gold panda coin has been minted every year.

In the 1984, the China Mint took the unprecedented act of producing a 12 oz gold panda coin. This was an ambitious early move when minting standards were still relatively primitive (compared to today). As a result, almost all of the 250 coins produced were of very low quality. They were packaged in a wrapper now known to contain harmful chemicals that since have impaired the surfaces of these coins and even through careful conservation, precious little can be done. Toward the end of the run, these coins were then placed in capsules which meant there faired better than their brothers. The China Mint learned a lot from this experiment. Whilst there were no large gold pandas in 1985, the following three years – 1986 through 1988 – the mint struck a large number of coins of this size. So large in fact, relative to demand, these coins with an average mintage of 2500 are widely accessible and affordable today selling for just a modest premium over melt.

The principle of investing and collecting large gold pandas is simple – the rarer the better and the best ones will always be the best. This is because the advanced collectors who can afford to invest or collect these large gold pandas will be the best investors or collectors in the world. Demand will always be driven by the rarity of the coins as opposed to the design or special characteristics.

The rarest 12 oz gold pandas are years 1991-1995. With the exception of the 1991 coin with an official mintage of 400 (but an actual mintage of 101), all have an official mintage of 99. That said, like the 1991 coin, the full run of coins was not produced for the 1994 and 1995. These two are the scarcest and most valuable. Fewer than 50 examples of each are known to exist and it could be as few as 30. The marketplace has shown that even though the numbers are similar for both, the 1994 appears even less frequently than the 1995 coin and so commands an even greater price.

The rarest of all is the 1991 5 kilo gold panda. With a mintage of 10 coins, the rarity and value of these rare works of art cannot be evaluated in monetary terms. Interestingly, most of these huge five kilo gold pandas are owned by international coin collectors and are largely unheard of within China.

The 5 oz gold pandas also vary largely in price according to the supply/demand. Whilst the 12 oz gold coin retired in 1995, 5 oz gold coins have been produced every year since 2005 after the last one was issued in 1994. These five ounce gold panda coins since 2005 correlate very closely to the gold price, whilst there is a premium of course to acquire them, it is modest compared to the rare issues from 1992, 1993, 1994 each with a mintage of 99 (like their 12 oz counterparts). It should be noted that the depictions on all of these coins are unique, the 1992 5 oz has a unique design to the 1992 12 oz .. and so on.

Finally, we have the kilogram gold pandas each weighing 32.15 troy ounces. They have been produced every year since 1997 (except 1998). The coins from 1997, 1999 and 2000 have a low mintage of 50-70 pieces meaning the upward pressure on price as there are more suitors than supply.

Like their gold counter parts, large silver pandas are all proof coins requiring a substantial financial outlay to invest and collect them. That said, it is a paltry sum compared to the gold coins but the premium over silver is very high. Similar to the Large Gold Pandas, the investment and collection values of the Large Silver Panda are solely based on their weight and rarity. In particular, the 1994 to 1997 12 oz Silver Panda are absolute stars in terms of rarity.

With respects to the kilogram coins, in particular those issued from 1998 to 2001 are very desirable for investors and collectors alike, with the 1998 and 2000 1 kg Silver Pandas especially so. Those that were issued after 2002, however, are much less attractive due to their very high mintages – double that of previous years.

Apart from those mentioned above, there are two large silver pandas that deserve special mention: the 1991 5 oz Silver Panda, which is the only reverse proof in the large silver panda family; and the 2002 kilo silver panda commemorative issued for the 20th anniversary of the panda coin series. The reverse side has the original size inlayed on the coin of the 1982 1 oz Gold Panda and 2001 1 oz Gold Panda which are both gold plated (3 g of gold was used). Both of these large pandas are especially praised and adorned by panda fans.

Large gold and silver panda coins are extremely attractive collectibles which are easily enjoyed for their easy to view field that impeccably show the works from the artisans at the China Mint. They are oftentimes rare commodities and as the word gets out about Chinese panda coins, people flock to these so they becomes harder to acquire on the open market. When they are available for sale, collectors and investors are very much willing to pay the fair market premium they command, after all they aren’t making any more of them and the demand is and will always be huge.

Medals and Commemoratives

Commemorative panda coins are issues with extra words inscribed to commemorate a certain event. Here we will look at two types of commemorative panda coins. The first type are pandas designed and made for the commemoration of anniversaries of the panda series. Examples include the 1991 gold and silver panda piedforts (for the 10th anniversary of panda coins), the 2002 kilo silver panda with gold inlay (for the 20th anniversary of panda coins) and the 2007 25th anniversary gold and silver panda sets.

The second type are panda coins released to commemorate different events such as the Chinese Coin Expo Commemoration Series, Chinese Commercial Banks Anniversary Series, Chinese Year of Tourism Commemoration, Chongqing Direct-Controlled Municipality Anniversary, Zhuhai Aerospace Expo Commemoration, Shenyang Gardening Expo Commemoration. The list goes on. These special releases are at best cousins of panda coins, as they are made simply by scribing extra words on existing panda coin depictions issued in the same year. That said, some of these series such as the Coin Expo Series do catch considerable attention from investors and collectors and they do generally have a mintage which is a fraction of their cousins.

Over the years, some coins are proven to be sound investment choices such as the 1991 gold (1 oz) and silver (2 oz) piedforts. Piedforts are extra thick coins. In addition – the 2002 platinum pandas – albeit to a lesser extent and the Coin Expo Series and the Commercial Bank Anniversary Series.

The coin expo pandas and the Bank Anniversary pandas on the other hand have enough coins to make their own distinct collectable series, keeping them on high demand by themed collectors and people who work in the finance industry. In terms of collectable value, the unique nature of these commemorative coins makes them a nice and affordable entry point for panda coin beginners. Collectors can easily choose to collect all the panda anniversary coins, which are at the moment quite affordable, to form a nice introductory set for their panda coin collections. Or, they can choose to collect the Coin Expo Pandas or the Bank Anniversary pandas, along with the other commemoration coins from the same event to form a complete and eye-catching themed collection.

Official commemorative panda coins and medals are usually designed and made in commemoration of various coin expositions or trade shows. Usually they have either the Great Wall or Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) on the obverse side, together with a famous landmark or architecture of the coin expo’s host city. On the reverse side are the different panda designs. Even though these coins do not belong to any of the annual panda coin series, they are cherished as a part of the panda coin family. Expo pandas can be categorized again into three sub-types: those from American Shows (e.g American Numismatic association (ANA) medals and ANA expo medals), European Expo medals (e.g Munich medals, Brussels medals and Zurich medals), and Hong Kong medals.

To the credit of the brilliant designers, no two Panda designs are the same despite the large variety of expo coins and medals. Panda medals lack the face value or denomination that would be present on a coin. One ounce silver panda coins have a face value of 10 Yuan; in the absence of this, it would be a medal.

The pandas on each coin are all different – sometimes playful, naughty; otherwise climbing trees or eating bamboo; some pandas can be seen on the coins playing in a field or with female panda bears cuddling their cubs. Each coin-type captures a striking aspect in the lives of these intriguing and beautiful creatures. It is this large variety and the intricate details in the panda designs that makes the expo pandas along with panda coins in general loved the world over.

All four precious metals, gold, silver, platinum and palladium have been used to produce these commemoratives. Bimetallic medals have been produced in 1990 and 1991 as well. To many, this group of pandas are currently under-valued, with experienced coin collectors realizing their true potential.

Also of note, there are also a few non-expo commemorative pandas, such as the silver, purple copper and gold plated panda for the 10th gold panda anniversary.

Final Word.

Panda coins have always been the leader of modern Chinese precious metal coins. Without the Panda coins, modern Chinese coins would not receive as much attention as they do today. There are so many interesting stories associated with the Panda coins that it’s enough to fill a history book.

Unfortunately, this article can only touch on the basics of the Panda coins. However, armed with the information provided, you should be able to start to collect and be enticed by these amazing Panda coins. Once you start, I can guarantee that you will be forever a Panda fan!