1979 Year of the Child Coins

BACKGROUND.
The International Year of Child (IYC) Coin series was one of the first coin series made in the history of modern China. Released in 1980, it was issued to commemorate 1979, the UNESCO proclaimed International Year of the Child. Thirty five countries in total released coins to commemorate the IYC, but the Chinese IYC coins were particularly special, as China was one of the twelve countries which have released gold commemoration coins, and was also one of the handfuls which have released gold piedfort coins. There are five IYC coins in total, with three silver varieties and two gold varieties, all of the same design.
DESIGN.

The first proposal for the IYC commemoration coins was submitted to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in May 1979, and was a conjoint effort by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, People’s Bank of China and the All-China Women’s Federation. The proposal called for two commemoration gold coins: a normal gold coin with 27mm diameter, 17.17g weight, 90% purity and 450 Yuan denomination; and a piedfort gold coin with 27mm diameter, 34.34g weight, 90% purity and 900 Yuan denomination. The proposal also called for three silver coins: normal and matte silver coins with 36 mm, 17.17g weight, 80% purity, and 35 Yuan denomination, and a silver piedfort which has the same specs except for double the weight. After the proposal was approved, People’s Bank of China entrusted the task of the design and production of the IYC coins to Shanghai Mint, who assigned the designing to the then 38 yrs old Chen Jian, a well-known artist and coin designer.In the original draft that Chen submitted, the obverse of the coin features the words “People’s Republic of China”, the PRC coat of arms, and the year “1979”, while the reverse features a girl kneeling down, watering a flower. In particular, the watering of the flower is a metaphor used to convey that children are our future, and need to be protected and cultivated. Upon examining the design, the president of All-China Women’s Federation, Ms Chen Mu Hua, suggested the inclusion of a boy to ensure political correctness. The final design was therefore modified to include a boy holding a garden spade.
DISTRIBUTION.

In March 1980, the IYC coins were issued, distributed for sale by the Paramount International Coins Co. The issued coins have all the same attributes as specified in the first proposal, except the denomination of the IYC Gold Piedfort which was changed to 450 Yuan. With the IYC coins being the first commemorative coins issued in Modern China with an international theme, the PRC government at the time deemed the issuing of this set of coins especially important. In particular, both the Chinese Ambassador of USA, Mr Chai Ze Min and ex-USA Secretary of States, Dr Henry Kissinger were invited to the First Day of Issue ceremony of the IYC coins, and were arranged to shake hands in front of the media – a gesture symbolizing Sino-US friendship after two decades of broken relations.

PRODUCTION.

The IYC coin series, being the second set of coins struck by modern China, is often considered as the most prestige coin series by collectors of modern Chinese coins. In particular, the series contains some very special coins, well sought after by collectors. For example, The International Year of the Child Gold Piedfort Coin (IYC Gold Piedfort) is one of the rarest Chinese modern coins. Fondly known amongst Chinese collectors as the “Extra thick golden watering coin” because of its design, the IYC Gold Piedfort was the first gold piedfort coin released in the history of modern China. No one has expected the IYC Gold Piedfort to be as rare as it is, given that the coin has a 500 planned mintage. The coin’s rarity can be attributed to the misjudgments by Paramount International Coins co. Initially, Paramount set the price of the IYC Gold Piedfort at $4000 USD, compared to $737 for IYC normal gold and $125 USD for IYC normal silver coins, to emphasis how precious these coins are. They even went as far as inviting Cartier to design elegant packaging for these piedforts. Unfortunately, $4000 USD was far greater than what most buyers expected, even for world-class coin collectors, and the initial sales of the IYC Gold Piedfort was low. In fact, it was so low that Paramount could have stopped striking the IYC gold piedfort when they realized they couldn’t sell the initial coins, leading to a actual mintage of much less than 500. This is partially supported by the fact that there was no record of the actual mintage of the IYC gold Piedfort at the Shanghai Mint. Considering the actual mintage for the Thai IYC gold piedfort was only 61 and for Tunisia only 45, it is expected that the PRC IYC gold piedfort would have a similar actual mintage.
The rarity of the IYC Gold Piedfort is compounded by the unexpected invasion of Afghanistan by USSR, which sent the gold price skyrocketing. Many dealers who could not sell these coins saw this as an opportunity to get rid of them, and therefore many of the already scarce IYC Gold Piedforts were melted and sold as gold by the dealers. Because of these, the survival mintage of the Chinese IYC Gold Piedfort is extremely low. It is estimated that currently fewer than 50 remain worldwide. According to coin distributors and collectors around the world, the IYC Gold Piedfort has been sighted in USA, Germany, Japan, China, Taiwan, HK, Russia, Austria and Brazil. Even in China where the coins were originally made, it is estimated that only less than 5 collectors are in possession of the IYC Gold Piedfort. The most recent exchanges were in 2007, where the IYC Gold Piedfort was traded in three separate occasions: one at Numismata Munchen International Coin Fair sold by an Australian dealer; one at an Austrian Auction, bought by a Russian collector; and the last one was sold at the first ever coin auction held by Shanghai International Commodity Auction Co. Ltd. in December, for a record price of 310,000 Yuan ($48,900 USD) to a collector from Dailian.

The rarity of the coin is widely recognized by the coin collecting community both in China and worldwide. According to the Chinese coin collecting community as well as official data from the Shenyang Mint, the IYC Gold Piedfort is the fourth rarest gold coin struck by Modern China, and the rarest if pattern coins are not included. Internationally, a number of collectors have confirmed that the IYC Gold Piedfort can rarely be seen. For example, Mr. Robert Mish, one of the most respected Chinese coin dealers in USA and a major contributor of the Krause Catalogues, recalled that he has only traded less than 4 IYC Gold Piedforts over his 20 years career, compared to the countless 1980 Olympic Piedforts and Winter Olympic Piedforts that he has traded. Another famous coin collector, Mr. Chan King Lam from HK, has only witnessed the IYC Gold Piedfort once at the HK international Coin Convention over the decade from 1997 to 2006. Without a doubt, the IYC Gold Piefort is indeed one of the rarest modern coins that one can come across.
SILVER.

The IYC silver coins, while not as rare as the gold piedfort, are also highly valued by collectors worldwide. Being the first set of silver coins issued in modern China, the IYC silver coins are considerably more precious compared to most other modern Chinese silver coins. This is especially true for the matte silver and the silver piedfort. While the normal silver coin has an actual mintage of 13659, the matte version only has a mintage of 1000, and therefore considerably more valuable. The silver piedfort is even rarer: although on record the mintage was 2000, it is estimated that there are less than 200 IYC silver piedfort worldwide. Just like its gold counterpart, this “extra thick silver watering coin” is one of the rarest modern Chinese silver coins. At a recent coins auction held by Shanghai International Commodity Auction Co. Ltd in 2011, the IYC silver piedfort was sold for 210,000 Yuan, almost catching up to the IYC gold piedfort. This just shows how precious the IYC silver piedfort is.

Thanks to the silver and gold piedfort coins in the series, the IYC coin series has became not only one of the most well-known modern Chinese coin series for non-collectors, but has also become a symbol of the pinnacle of coin collecting for Chinese coin collectors. Even in a top collector’s treasure box, the IYC coins would stand out and shine through, catching everyone’s eyes with its rarity and simple elegance.