Monday, December 17, 2012

On "OMP" and "COAs" of Precious Metal Commemorative Coins

By Huang Ruiyong

First and foremost, judging from the trend and direction of coin collection, OMP and COAs are not of utmost importance to collectors. Let's see how foreign collectors view this issue. Milled coins made their first appearance in Europe and America, and were introduced to China only in the late Qing Dynasty. In the collection and research of milled coins, European and American collectors are far more advanced than we are. In Europe and in the US, collectors, connoisseurs and professional grading services treat lightly the OMP and COA of a coin. Instead the condition of the coin is the focus. A coin in excellent condition is hotly pursued even if it is raw. A coin in OMP with a COA will not sell at a higher price than a raw coin in the same condition.

Secondly, OMP of precious metal coins from the PRC is limited to certain historical periods. Many early coins did not have the so called OMP packaging, such as the 30th Anniversary of the Founding of the PRC, the proof version of Year of the Child, the first set of the Bronze Age gold coins, and the International Year of Peace. Many BU Panda gold coins and large size coins and medals were simply sealed in a plastic pouch, such as the 1984 12oz gold Panda, the 1985 and 1986 Hong Kong Expo silver medals, and the 1986 Sun Yat-Sen 5oz silver coin. The so-called OMP came in fashion after the China Gold Coin Co. was founded in 1987. Our definition of OMP here is the coin sealed in a round capsule, which is in turn sealed in a plastic pouch. In recent years, many new commemorative coins followed the international trend, with a round capsule to protect the raw coin and no plastic pouches. A fixed number of coins are then placed directly into a rectangular or round coin plate, shown in pictures 1 and 2. We can conclude that the so-called OMP may well be the phenomenon for some specific periods in the history of precious metal coins and medals from the PRC. Nobody can tell whether coins released in the future will be sealed in plastic pouches.

Picture 1
Picture 2

Thirdly, does OMP really make sense? Many take the following as the advantage of OMP:

1.      If in OMP, the coin has never been cleaned.
2.      The vacuumed pouch can protect the coin from sulfuration or oxidation.
3.      Coins in OMP must be in perfect condition.

Are these true facts? Not necessarily! First, collectors or coin dealers can send early-year coins dipped in cleaning solutions to the mint for re-sealing if they know the mint well. That's why we find brand new external packaging on many coins issued years ago. Next, the plastic film used to seal coins is often made of polyethylene, PVC or polypropylene. Of these materials, polyethylene and polypropylene are harmless, but PVC is harmful. That means that coins sealed in PVC should have the plastic pouch removed. Besides, plastic pouches do not stay vacuumed or provide moisture protection. We often see early coins (such as lunars and Unicorns) with small bags of desiccant in the pouch, proving that the plastic pouch alone cannot isolate the coin from external air.

But the discussion above has not touched on the most crucial point. We may all have discovered that precious metal coins released in the last few years have a good fit with the round plastic capsule, and are well sealed. In the early years, however, the capsule did not close tightly. As a result, when we pick up the coin by holding the cover of the capsule, the bottom of the capsule may fall out with the coin. If there are no cushions or carpets underneath, it will be a disaster. Due to the loose fit of the cover of the plastic capsule, and also to the poor design of the capsules, many gem coins with high relief were damaged. Most frequent problems include the following: 1. Head rub, most often seen on 1987 and 1988 platinum Pandas, the 1989 palladium Panda, 1992 and 1993 1oz proof silver Pandas, 1994 5oz and 12oz Children at Play silver coins, 1990 Munich Expo gold and silver medals; 2. Nose rub, most often seen on 1990 BU and proof silver Pandas, 1993 1oz Sun Yat-Sen gold coin, 1993 Song Qingling silver coin (with signature); 3. Shoulder rub: 1989 Founding of the PRC gold coin; 4. Belly rub: 1984 Olympics Volleyball mirror and matte versions; 5. Bust rub: 1991 25th Olympics Women Ping Pong Players. Many rare coins are not in good condition even though they are in OMP. The main culprit is the poor fit of the plastic capsule, which allows constant rubbing and bumping during transportation and results in serious damage of the coins.

Due to the subpar quality of the plastic capsules of our country, the capsules may have been shattered during frequent movement or long distance transportation, even if the coin is still in OMP. When this happens, the debris of the plastic capsule may roll around on the mirror field of the coin when we pick them up. If we run into coins in this condition, OMP should be removed without any hesitation. Otherwise the debris may scratch the mirror field of the coin.

The funny thing is that when we examine OMP coins from the Shanghai Mint or Shenyang Mint, we run into surprises from time to time, among which are seed shells or hair. Please see Picture 3.

Picture 3

Speaking from the perspective of a coin collector, many of the coins from earlier years do not have good plastic capsules, which need to be replaced by more professional plastic capsules or pouches, like in Picture 4. Generally speaking, capsules from Europe and the US have very good fit, especially those with black rings. It takes some effort to open the capsule once it is closed tightly. This will reduce the risk of the coin rubbing the plastic capsule during movement.

Picture 4
Next, we will talk about COAs. The so-called COAs for precious metal coins are nothing but a piece of paper with descriptions. As Mr. Ge Zukang said, a fake COA with a genuine coin does not falsify the coin, while a genuine COA with a fake coin does not turn the coin into a genuine one. Early COAs came in various forms. Even the paper used for printing COAs fell into different categories: Linen finished paper, card paper, coated paper… Only recently did COAs start to be printed on banknote paper with water marks.

Many coins were distributed by foreign companies, and the so called COAs were not printed by the People’s Bank of China. Instead, they were printed by foreign distributors, such as those for all the gold, silver and platinum Unicorn coins, Taiwan Scenery gold coin Set 1… The domestic COAs for such coins currently on the market were printed by Chinese dealers later on, but have been accepted by all. Besides, COAs for many coins were discarded by distributors in their business in early years, such as those for the Year of the Child silver and gold coins, the 1982 Soccer gold and silver coins, and the UN Decade of Women silver coin. We have gotten used to collecting these coins without COAs. As for the 8 gram lunar coins, the 1986 27 gram Sun Yat-Sen silver coin, the 1/2oz Three Kingdoms gold coins Set 1, 5oz gold Qi Baishi, the 1988 Woman Sword Dancer gold coin, their fake COAs are as good the genuine ones. Moreover, the fake COAs for the 12oz gold Snake, 1oz gold Dragon and the 1989 1oz silver Snake are better made than the genuine COAs. If the collector comes across the fake ones first and gains a false impression, he or she would throw out the genuine COAS later on. In this light, if undue emphasis is placed on the so-called COAs, those who are away from the Lugong and Madian Markets will get hurt most, because they do not have easy access to the physical coins, let alone catching the slight difference between fake and genuine COAs.

As King Chan once said, it would be more desirable to collect COAs as documents related to coins. COAs can still capture the heart of collectors for now primarily because the gold and silver coin and medal market is still a buyer’s market or a semi-buyer’s market. The COA is sometimes used as a tool for bargaining. Imagine that in the near future, if the precious metal coin market changes completely into a seller’s market, the COA will totally lose its function as a bargaining chip when a coin in perfect condition is madly chased by multiple collectors. At that time, finding a coin would be lucky enough. The collector may never see the coin again if he insists on COAs.

What COAs are worth collecting? Theoretically, it would be perfect if the coins we buy come with COAs or descriptions. But if there are no COAs at all, or coins with and without COAs have a big price gap, COAs are not an accessory we have to buy to feel happy about. The following COAs are well worth collecting: 1. Dunhuang Caves Discovery 100th Anniversary silver coins are stored in a hard carton box in the shape of a 16k book. The COA is printed like a stamp mini-pane on 16k size paper, very pleasant to the eye; 2. The Founding of the PRC 20oz gold coin has its COA in the form of a magnetic card, very unusual and worth collecting, as in Picture 5; 3. COAs for the 1oz platinum and gold Snake and for the 1990 Dragon and Phoenix gold and silver coins were made into beautiful booklets, well worth collecting. In other words, if the COA of a coin is valuable both for artistic appreciation and for historical significance, it becomes an integral part of the culture of this coin. I suggest that collectors go for this type of COAs now. 

Picture 5

For beginners, please remember: “condition, condition, condition!” Condition is always the top concern for a coin. In addition to the coin, it would be great to collect anything that is valuable, such as COAs, posters, hand scrolls, designer’s drafts, plaster dies, steel dies, packaging from different distributors, phone cards, first day covers and jewelry. OMP should not be the focus, though. This way, we can make sure that we will not miss gem coins, and make steady progress on the journey of precious metal coin collection.


  1. Hi Frank, very informative and educational. So assuming the Chinese Mint made the right thing by using plastic pouches for silver and gold coins in capsule is questionable for long term conservation?

    1. Hi Yin, I am not sure how to read your question. The "old school" tradition in China is still OMP, despite the evidence that the plastic pouch is not as protective and authentic as it looks, although more and more collectors, especially new ones like me, are open to graded coins or even raw coins with the pouch removed.

    2. Hi Frank, In short, the Focus must be on the coin and its condition/protection, common points to all collectors. That makes sense. Thanks

  2. I am a US coin collector. Your article starts off stating there is a trend that collectors don't care so much for OMP and COA. Unless I am strictly buying for melt, I will not buy a set without complete OMP or COA.