By Peter Anthony – Numismatic Guaranty Corporation
With more than 600 different Panda coins and many other varieties, Chinese coins tempt collectors of all levels.
Pandas, Pandas, Pandas! Images and symbols of Pandas are all around us. You can drive a Panda car or get money at a Panda Bank. There are Panda pots and pans, a chain of Panda restaurants, a Panda telecommunications company, a Panda TV show, a chain of Panda kitchen and bath stores, Panda security software, Panda florists, Panda cabinets, a type of fiber optic (Panda = polarization-maintaining and absorption-reducing), countless Panda toys and Panda movies. There is Panda diplomacy. The Panda is also the symbol of the World Wildlife Federation.
So with all that love Panda coins must have been an instant hit, right? Hardly! Back in the early 1980s the China Mint decided to create a Chinese gold bullion coin series to compete in international gold markets with the Krugerrand and Maple Leaf (there were no Eagles yet). Several themes and many outstanding potential designs were considered. Happily, the Mint wisely chose a delightful drawing of a seated Panda by Mr. Chen Jian for the first coins.
The first .999 fine gold Pandas were released in mid-1982. They came in four sizes: 1 oz., 1/2 oz., 1/4 oz. and 1/10 oz. Minting the coins was only half the task. Who would sell them to the public? In the USA, several New York dealers turned down the opportunity to distribute the new coins. One reportedly dismissed the new coins with, “Panda, who would buy a Panda?” A USA distributor was found but the company turned out to be an ineffective marketer of the coins.
Then along came Martin Weiss. Mr. Weiss had both an interest in gold, a remarkable instinct for marketing and publicity and the integrity to establish lasting relationships throughout the coin industry.
Mr. Weiss recognized that the image of a seated Panda peacefully munching on bamboo shoots would enchant buyers. Although he wasn’t (yet!) an official distributor, he began to aggressively buy, sell, advertise and promote Pandas. The China Mint noticed how many coins Weiss was selling and gave his new company, Panda America, an official distributorship. Panda America soon became the largest Panda distributor in the world.
Sales exploded and so did prices. For a coin with just $300-$400 of gold in it, one ounce Pandas traded hands at $4,000. Despite a weak gold market, competition for the new issue was fierce. This frenzy established that a Panda could have numismatic value beyond its bullion content. By the way, Martin Weiss turned out to be farsighted in other respects, as well. He recognized the benefits that graded coins bring to the world of coins and became an early and enthusiastic supporter of NGC.
The Panda series has gone from a 1982 mintage of 12,000 for the 1 oz. to an authorized mintage of 1,000,000 in 2014. There are more than 600 different coins plus many varieties to tempt collectors. The range of prices allows collectors at all levels to own the coins. Pandas can be bought for little more than the price of an ounce of silver to more than $1 million. The market for Pandas has certainly grown, but it still rests on the same love for Pandas and Panda coins that launched the series more than 30 years ago.
Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.