Monday, November 19, 2012

Stepping into the Magic Hall of Mini Gold Coins

by Huang Ruiyong

Good evening, everyone. Today’s topic is: Stepping into the Magic Hall of Mini Gold Coins.

Whether we are appreciating gold coins for their aesthetic beauty, or evaluating them for collection, big coins have their splendor, and small ones have their own appeal, too.

Mini gold coins, as opposed to large size gold coins (those with a diameter over 50mm), refer to super small gold coins with a diameter under 20mm, including 1 gram, 1/25oz, 1/20oz and 1/10oz gold coins.

This coin family is often overlooked by collectors, probably because of their small size. But there are many gorgeous coins among them. We need to appreciate them as miniature engraving artworks, in a cheerful mood, with good eyesight or a magnifier. The charm of this group of coins has to be enjoyed with both our eyes and our heart. Now let’s examine some of them.

First, we have 1 gram gold coins. Up till now, the PRC issued only three 1 gram gold coins: 1983 Marco Polo, 1990 Dragon and Phoenix and 1991 Panda. These are among the smallest gold coins in the world. It is not an exaggeration to claim that 1 gram gold coins from the PRC are outstanding epitomes of the art of miniature engraving. When we gaze into Marco Polo’s profound eyes, or watch the lovely and good-natured panda munching on bamboo branches, we often forget that this masterpiece is achieved on a space 10mm in diameter. Once we realize the physical size, we would feel nothing but admiration towards this perfect combination of human engraving and machine striking. We are lucky to have this wonderful opportunity to fully appreciate the best of modern artworks.
One advantage of collecting all the three 1 gram gold coins is that we can take them around. With an eye-friendly Carl Zeiss magnifier, we can share with our friends at any moment this elegant taste hard to find in the metropolis. They are unlike our expensive gold coins, which have to be locked up in the safe or in a safe deposit box. We cannot lay our hand on the latter whenever we want them for appreciation, which is a spoiler to our enthusiasm. 1 gram gold coins are simply wonderful.

Let’s talk about 1/25oz gold coins. This size is only available after the set of 25 commemorative gold coins was issued for the 25 year anniversary of panda gold coins. The packaging of the set is much too luxurious and too heavy. With two such sets in our arms, it is our physical strength that will be tested, not our eyes. For those who are not familiar with panda gold coins, if they buy this set of 25 gold coins when they start collecting, they will gradually warm up to the panda designs of each year, and make progress in collection.

Now let’s turn to 1/20oz gold coins. In contrast to the simple group of 1 gram gold coins, we suddenly run into a lot more members in the 1/20oz gold coin family, so many more that we are dazzled by them.

How should we go about collecting them? Let’s get down to the details. We all know that the formal issue of 1/20oz gold coins started with the 83 panda gold coins. 1982 was the first year of panda gold coins. They followed the convention of leaving out denomination on Krugerrand gold coins from South Africa. So the 1982 panda coins neither had denominations nor the 1/20oz size.

Starting from 1983, BU panda gold coins were issued in the five fixed sizes of 1oz, 1/2oz, 1/4oz, 1/10oz and 1/20oz, which have been the norm up to now. From 1983 to 2010, 28 BU 1/20oz panda gold coins were issued. If one collects the complete set, the little pandas in various postures are a lot of fun to watch.

If someone intends to collect the tough 1/20oz proof panda gold coins, the years range from 1986 to 1994, 9 coins in total. The problem is that proof gold coins all come in sets. They cannot be purchased as individual pieces like BU panda gold coins. So to collect all the nine 1/20oz proof panda gold coins (with P), one has to buy all the proof gold sets. Collectors in China reaching this level are very few.

Two other 1/20oz gold coins inseparable from their sets both were issued in 1993: one is the Songshan gold coin in the Famous Mountains gold coin set; the other is the 1/20oz gold coin in the proof Guanyin gold coin set. As they are not individually available, collectors devoted to 1/20oz gold coins can simply ignore them.
What 1/20oz gold coins are available for collection, then? Please note that we are talking about individual 1/20oz gold coins not belonging to any set.

These coins are small in number. You can count them on two hands, but they are fascinating nevertheless. They include: 1993 1/20oz Guanyin gold coin (with and without “S”), 1996 1/20oz Guanyin gold coin, 1997 1/20oz Guanyin gold coin, 1994 1/20oz Unicorn gold coin, 1995 1/20oz Unicorn gold coin, 1996 1/20oz Unicorn gold coin (with and without “P”), 1997 1/20oz Auspicious Matters gold coin, 9 in all. These nine coins are all the 1/20oz gold coins excluding the 1/20oz gold coins in the panda sets and in other sets. Once we have them all, they can be placed into the pretty American Air-Tite capsules. We can bring them along, for showing off, or to enjoy them privately. It is a lot of fun.

Let’s explore further. When we look into more details of these 9 coins, we are taken by surprise: the 1993 1/20oz Guanyin gold coin has two varieties, with and without “S”, like the 1/2oz gold coin for Mao Zedong’s 100th anniversary. This is the charm of gold coins from the PRC. A lot of information is missing from official catalogs, and we recover the information during collection.

When we set out to look for them, we will find that the 1/20oz Guanyin gold coin with “S” is much harder to find than that without “S”. This in turn stimulates our interest in exploring the ocean of gold coins.

The 1996 1/20oz Guanyin gold coin is also rare because the China Gold Coin Co. placed an order with Nanjing Mint to make chest buckles with it. The 1997 1/20oz Guanyin gold coin has always been difficult to spot. The attached picture shows a talisman with the coin on it which was custom made by Shanghai Mint and consecrated by the reputable Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai.

Unicorn is a series that came to the attention of many collections just in the past year. We know that unicorn coins saw a lot of mishaps in China. Unicorn gold and silver coins were minted in Shenyang Mint during 1994 and 1995, but they moved to Shanghai Mint in 1996, and ended at Shenzhen Guobao Mint in misery in 1997. According to the plan, the 1997 Unicorn was going to be issued much the same way as in 94—96, in five sizes of 1oz, 1/2oz, 1/4oz, 1/10oz and 1/20oz, five in all. But the market crashed in 1997, and as a result, only 1/10oz gold unicorn was issued that year. Other sizes remained as patterns. Among the 1/20oz size gold Unicorns, the 1996 Unicorn Head (with “P”) is the most difficult to obtain. It is a lot pricier than the Unicorn Head with out “P”.

Many collectors do not care about mini gold coins, or collect them without much research. They may easily miss out a gem——1997 1/20oz Auspicious Matters gold coin.

This coin, like its elder brother (1997 1/10oz Auspicious Matters gold coin), has the release mintage of 100000. But it has been discovered that its actual mintage was only 8000. My goodness: everyone bought these coins as gifts assuming they had a mintage of 100000, in addition to those melted. In the past few years, the 1997 1/20oz Auspicious Matters gold coin was simply buried among the commonplace. In terms of market availability, the 1/20oz gold Auspicious Matters is a lot less than the 1/10oz gold Auspicious Matters. The mirror field and frosting are both gorgeous on this coin, making it well worth collecting.

Despite the small size of these coins, it requires expertise to collect them. If we can collect all the 9 standalone 1/20oz gold coins, it is a remarkable feat.

As we all know, there is an important difference between Chinese and foreign collectors: Chinese collectors emphasize collecting series of coins, while foreign collectors may be fascinated with just one coin out of a series.

We feel that series of coins have an overwhelming splendor, especially when there are multiple sets in a series, and each set is relatively difficult to collect. We can use an analogy to explain this point.

We know that the Year of Children piefort gold coin is undoubtedly the Mount Everest of small size gold coins from the PRC, and that the 1oz Traditional Culture gold coin Set 1 is also one of the peaks of small size MCC gold coins.

If we take any set out of the 5 Ancient Inventions and Discoveries gold coin sets, it is easily dwarfed by the Year of Children piefort gold coin or the 1oz Traditional Culture gold coin Set 1. If we categorize the Year of Children piefort gold coin and the 1oz Traditional Culture gold coin Set 1 as the top tier, each set in the Ancient Inventions and Discoveries gold coin series will fall into the second tier. Pitting any set in this series against the top tier would be a lost cause. However, if all the 5 sets in the Ancient Inventions and Discoveries gold coin series are combined, they can rival the Year of Children piefort gold coin or the 1oz Traditional Culture gold coin Set 1.

The same can be said of the 9 standalone 1/20oz gold coins, as the 93 Guanyin with “S” is the most difficult to obtain. Among the others, the 93 Guanyin without “S”, 97 Guanyin, 97 Auspicious Matters and 96 Unicorn with “P” are all rare coins. Having a set of all of them will bring about an immense sense of success.

Moving from 1/20oz to 1/10oz, we find that although the size increases by only 4mm, from 14mm to 18mm, the coins look considerably bigger, and the designers and engravers had much more room to work on.

In the 1/10oz gold coin group, we run into more categories, and the themes are richer and more colorful, too. For example, a well-known ancient painting unearthed at Changsha, Man Riding a Dragon, appeared on the 1998 1/10oz gold coin in the Culture of Dragon series. This painting is as famous as the “Kui and Phoenix” painting, reflecting the artistic achievements of our ancestors in the Warring States period. The silk paintings look simple and unsophisticated, but make lingering impressions on their viewers.
Themes of 1/10oz gold coins include pandas, lunars, Guanyin, unicorns, folk culture (Auspicious Matters, Welcome the Spring), and traditional cultures, a rich variety indeed.

From the perspective of technology, coin alignment (from 98 color gold Tiger to color gold Rat), hologram (the Guanyin series), color transfer printing, bimetal (Dragon and Phoenix, Panda) were all used on 1/10oz gold coins.

For collection, we can look for 1/10oz coins of the same theme, or focus on 1/10oz gold coin sets. Besides, we can also collect standalone 1/10oz gold coins. There are so many to choose from, which present beautiful feasts to our eyes.

For example, we can collect based on varieties. These include mint marks, such as on 93 1/10oz Guanyin gold coins (with and without “S”); the alignment of the reverse and obverse, such as on 05 Rooster colored gold coin (medal alignment vs. coin alignment); different designs on the coin, such as on the 2000 Dragon colored gold coin (辰 with a long stroke and with a short stroke); and the 96 bimetal little panda (anti-frosting big eye and anti-frosting small eye). Over time, collection based on varieties will achieve great sophistication.
We can also collect key dates or standalone coins. This process promotes the advance of coin knowledge. Only through research while collecting, can we understand the rule of “a tiny difference makes a huge impact on price.” For example, for the same Welcome the Spring 1/10oz gold coin, the second release is much rarer than the first release. Another example is the 1/10oz BU Guanyin gold coin. The 1996 release is a lot less valuable than the 93, 94 and 97 releases.

These findings will force us to dive into coin knowledge. For example, we all know that the second set of the Traditional Culture 1/10oz gold coins is far superior to the first set of 1/10oz gold coins in the series. But why? After some research, we will notice an interesting fact: in the history of gold and silver coins released by the PRC, there were three years in which some categories of coins had very low actual mintage.

First came 1989. Due to the political turmoil of the year, the release of Dragon and Phoenix gold and silver coins was postponed to 1990. At the same time, the 1oz piefort silver Snake, 5oz silver Snake and the 12oz silver Snake all had the lowest mintage in their series. Besides, 1oz platinum and palladium Pandas of this year both had a small mintage and became very rare.

Next was 1995, which featured releases of a large variety of coin categories. However, just because too many categories were released, many of them have very low actual mintage or surviving mintage, for example: 5oz gold Dragon Boat, 1/2oz gold Ancient Ships, 5oz Xu Beihong, 12oz and 20oz silver Unicorns, 5oz and 12oz silver Pandas, 1oz Traditional Culture Set 1 gold coins, 2x1oz gold coins of the 50th anniversary of the Anti-Japanese War, 1oz proof gold panda…

The third period was 1997-1998. Many coins were canceled or changed. For example, 5 sets of Traditional Culture hand been planned, but the series stopped at Set 2. 6 sets of Ancient Inventions and Discoveries had been planned, but the 6th set remained as patterns. 3 sets of the Culture of the Yellow River had been planned, but Set 2 closed the series. The dodecagon birds were totally re-invented, from the natural color dodecagon coins to colored Bird of Paradise (Bird and Flowers) and Hoopoe Bird. Many coins never got released, and remained as patterns, such as 12oz 97 and 98 silver Auspicious Matters, 98 piefort Auspicious Matters, 98 World Cup, 98 Children at Play, 97 bimetal large size Panda, 1/4oz gold coin and 1oz proof silver coin in the 2nd set of Welcome the Spring, 97 Guanyin piefort silver coin…

With full understanding of the interesting facts in the years mentioned above, we can now more easily track the flow and market availability of some of the 1/10oz gold coins, and conduct a more logical analysis of the turnover of many coins.
Let’s look at the breadth of the 1/10oz gold coins in the context of modern Chinese gold and silver coins. As recorded in the official catalogs, 114 coins were released officially (including bimetal coins, but excluding the varieties of panda coins from different mints, and varieties resulting from varying details on the coin). There are a lot of hidden treasures among them, some of which are favorites of top collectors, and others gems for the masses. This sector is cool both for beginners and more advanced collectors on their way up. For those with collection and investment in mind at the same time, this sector’s future potential should never be underestimated. 
I missed the 1985 1/10oz Baoyuan Vault Protector and 1990 1/10oz Five Fortunes gold medal during the discussion of the 1/10oz gold coin sector. The former originated from ancient vault protectors, and the latter from ancient exorcism coins. They are in the same category as the 1998 1/10oz Tang Dynasty Vault Protector gold coin. These are all modern inheritors of the Chinese numismatic culture.

I have been compiling a star list for gold and silver coins from the PRC since 2007, in an effort to accurately describe the rarity of the important precious metal coins. They are listed in the independent categories of large size gold coins (5oz and above), small size gold coins (2oz and under), silver coins, platinum and palladium coins and panda coins. I have been fine tuning the list, and included the details of the list in my book Ode to Grace in a Prosperous Time – Collection, Investment and Appreciation of Modern Chinese Precious Metal Coins and Medals, published by the Shanghai Classics Publishing House.
Here is the star list of the mini gold coins (good for April, 2010):

Four stars: 1997 1/10oz Traditional Culture gold coin Set 2

Three and a half stars: 1993 1/20oz BU Guanyin gold coin (with “S”), 1998 1/10oz colored gold Tiger, 1998 1/10oz Welcome the Spring gold coin Set 2

Three stars: 1993 1/10oz BU Guanyin gold coin (with and without “S”), 1994 bimetal Dragon and Phoenix, 1995 1/10oz Guanyin gold coin set, 1996 1/20oz gold Unicorn (with “P”), 1997 1/10oz gold Unicorn, 1997 1/20oz gold Guanyin

Two and a half stars: 1993 1/20oz BU Guanyin gold coin (without “S”), 1997 1/10oz gold Guanyin, 1998 1/10oz gold Culture of Dragon, 2005 1/10oz colored gold Rooster (medal alignment)

Two stars: 1994 1/10oz gold Guanyin, 94-96 1/10oz gold Unicorn, 1995 1/10oz Traditional Culture Set 1, 1997 1/20oz Auspicious Matters, 2002 1/10oz colored gold Horse, 2006 1/10oz colored gold Dog

One star: 1983 1 gram Marco Polo, 1990 1 gram gold Dragon and Phoenix, 1997 1/10oz colored Auspicious Matters

Oversight may occur despite our best efforts, and the ranking list above should have some room for improvement. Moreover, the ranking of modern Chinese gold and silver coins does not have to be static. It can be tuned dynamically. For example, some gold coins with a large mintage were ignored by collectors, and so many coin dealers just had them melted into gold for sale. The unintended consequence is that rarity of these coins was enhanced continuously. This case is especially noticeable when the international gold price spikes. As a result, the ranking list needs to be adjusted as time goes on. Likewise, the China Rich List by Rupert Hoogewerf was updated repeatedly before achieving accuracy. A good ranking list should have the following features:

1.       Attracts a large audience
2.       Updated dynamically on a regular basis
3.       Plays a significant role in the history of scholarship
4.       Serves as a valid guide to collection
“Birds chirp, to seek response from companions.” Hopefully the star list can bring together the many friends who love modern Chinese gold and silver coins with passion. Let a hundred schools of thought contend, and let a hundred flowers bloom together, so that we can keep exploring and sharing our findings, and elevate the collection of modern Chinese coins to a new level.

The star list will be expanded with modern Chinese precious metal medals and coin varieties. Everyone is welcome to explore them with me.

The Labor Day golden week holiday is just around the corner. My hearty thanks to you all who spent this enjoyable evening with me.

A graceful hobby in a prosperous time; immense pleasure from coin collection.

Wish everyone a happy holiday, loving, hunting for, playing with and making money from coin collection.

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