April 10, 2012
One of the most popular modern coinage issues is the Panda Series of China. Launched in 1982, these bullion coins are among the most widely collected in the world, with fresh designs each year featuring a Panda theme on one side and the famous Temple of Heaven in Beijing on the other.
Initially, Pandas were only stuck in gold, but in 1983 a silver coin was added, and in 1987 a Platinum issue was released. A few have been struck in Palladium as well. During the 1990s, bi-metallic Pandas (in silver and gold) were made in four denominations.
Over the past 30 years, Pandas have been struck in a wide variety of sizes and denominations, ranging from the diminutive 3 Yuan pieces struck in gold (1 gram) to the massive 10,000 Yuan issue of 1991 that tipped the scales at 4,850 grams (about 10.7 pounds) of pure gold! Pandas are often collected in sets, with the gold sets usually containing five coins – the 1/20 oz., 1/10 oz., ¼ oz., ½-oz and 1 oz. coins. In the early years (1983 to 2000), the denominations ranged from 5 Yuan to 100 Yuan, but in 2001, the "face values" were adjusted upward (roughly 4 to 5 times higher) and now range from 20 Yuan to 500 Yuan. The most popular silver issue is the 10 Yuan coin, which contains one ounce of pure silver. Other silver issues include the 5-ounce 50 Yuan piece and the giant 300 Yuan piece weighing one kilogram (about 32 ounces).
Pandas have been struck in both Mint State and Proof finishes, but due to modern minting methods, often look very much alike. Sometimes frosting is used to highlight the designs on one or both sides, provide a striking contrast to the mirror finish on the rest of the coin. During the 1990s, both large and small date varieties were recognized, and in the late 1990s, some Pandas were "colorized."
Pandas have also been struck for special events, such as anniversaries of the series or for coin expositions (in the U.S. and Europe as well as China). Most of these have a fairly low mintage and are extremely scarce.
Determining the rarity of the Panda issues is often tricky, since the original mintage figures are not always accurate. Often, a given quantity was contracted for but for various reasons was never struck or delivered. Others have been melted over the years. So in most cases, the actual quantity struck is lower than what the stated mintages might indicate. Experienced Panda collectors find the 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2000 issues to be the most elusive today.