By Huang Ruiyong
The 1979 Year of Child piedfort gold coin (commonly known as "piedfort gold Flower Watering") weighs 34.34 grams, with a fineness of 90%. It contains 30.906 grams of gold. This was the first piedfort gold coin from the PRC, with a planned mintage of 500. In 1976, at the proposal of the Philippines government, the 31st United Nations General Assembly officially proclaimed 1979 as the Year of the Child, in order to encourage all the countries in the world to promote the causes of child protection, education and welfare. To commemorate the Year of the Child, 12 countries issued commemorative gold coins, including Bolivia, Canada, China, Ethiopia, Tunisia and UAE. Only a handful of these countries, China, Nepal and Thailand, issued piedfort gold coins, which are rare gems.
On May 12, 1979, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Finance Ministry, the People's Bank of China and the All-China Women's Federation submitted a proposal to the State Council for participating in the United Nations’ plan to issue commemorative precious metal coins for the Year of the Child. In the initial proposal, it was specified that the gold coin would have a diameter of 27mm, with a weight of 17.17 grams, a fineness of 90%, and a face value of 450 Yuan, and that the piedfort gold coin would have a diameter of 27mm, with a weight of 34.34 grams, a fineness of 90%, and a face value of 900 Yuan. Upon the approval of the State Council, the People's Bank of China authorized the State-Owned Factory 614 (Shanghai Mint) to take up the work of design and minting of this set of coins. Shanghai Mint appointed their arts and crafts master, Mr. Chen Jian (38 years old then) as the designer of the coin.
The first draft from Mr. Chen Jian had the country name, the national emblem and the year on the obverse. On the reverse was a young girl watering flowers with a watering can, in a squatting position. But when the design was submitted for review, Mrs. Chen Muhua (then Governor of the People's Bank of China – translator) wanted the design on the reverse to be modified: besides the girl, a boy should be added to the design. Following her advice, Mr. Chen Jian changed the design to a young boy with a shovel and a girl watering a flower with a can. When the design was finalized, the People's Bank of China selected March, 1980 to be the release time for the Year of the Child gold and silver coins, which would be distributed by Paramount International Coins Co. The specifications of the finalized Year of the Child piedfort gold coin remained unchanged except for the face value, which was the same as on the ordinary gold coin, at 450 Yuan.
(Year of the Child first draft )
It should be mentioned that New China attached great importance to the first set of commemorative precious metal coins with an international theme. A photo in my collection provides the evidence: the first ambassador of New China to the United States, Mr. Chai Zemin, and the then Secretary of the State of the United States, Dr. Henry Kissinger, were both formally dressed and greeted each other with a hearty handshake when attending the ceremony for the initial release of the Year of the Child gold and silver coins. The release of a set of coins resulted in "Sino-American Friendship". This bears witness to the uniqueness of this set of coins from a different perspective.
Paramount targeted top collectors in the international numismatic community when distributing the Year of the Child piedfort gold coins. Accordingly the selling price was exorbitant, as high as 4,000 US dollars. (The thin version of the gold coin sold only for 737 US dollars, and the ordinary silver coin sold for 125 US dollars, which highlighted the huge gap in the selling prices of the piedfort and the thin versions of the coin.) To emphasize the rarity of the piedfort gold coin, Paramount solicited the famous American jewelry company Tiffany & Co. for the design of the classic packaging of the coin. But the selling price of the piedfort coin was way beyond expectations, and the distributor and coin dealers in many countries had a hard time selling it. Moreover, the sudden invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union pushed the international gold price to a peak. The Year of the Child piedfort coins were melted by many dealers and sold as gold bullion.
There are three key numbers about the Year of the Child piedfort gold coin:
1. Planned mintage: 500
2. Actual mintage: I only found the actual mintage numbers for the following Year of the Child gold and silver coins among the original mintage records at Shanghai Mint: the ordinary gold coin, the piedfort silver coin, the ordinary silver coin and the matte silver coin. The actual mintage of the piedfort gold coin was mysteriously missing. From my discussions with top collectors and top dealers both in China and abroad, the mintage should be a lot less than 500. The reason is as follows: Paramount intended to sell the Year of the Child piedfort gold coins to top collectors in the international numismatic community. Many of the Chinese piedfort gold coins were packaged together with the Year of the Child piedfort gold coins from other countries, in a big exquisite custom-made box. As the selling price was unusually high, Paramount certainly would not have placed an order for full production. Instead it would have had some coins minted to see whether collectors would fall for this set of piedfort gold coins. Here is the evidence: according to the official announcement from the Thai government, the actual mintage of the Thai Year of the Child piedfort gold coin is 61. This number should not be very far from the actual mintage of the Year of the Child piedfort gold coin from China.
3. Surviving mintage: After my extensive interactions with international coin dealers, collectors and numismatists that deal in or collect Chinese gold coins, I learned that this coin had turned up in the following regions: the United States, Germany, Japan, Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Russia, Austria and Brazil, with a total surviving mintage of probably less than 50. The Year of the Child piedfort gold coin differs from the many large size gold coins from the PRC in that the large gold coins (5oz and above) have a release mintage of less than 100, which inherently ensures their rarity. On the other hand, the Year of the Child piedfort gold coin went through the complete process of production, sales, absorption and melting. This rarity is a lot harder to achieve than the rarity of the large size gold coins. The Year of the Child piedfort gold coin is the king of all small size precious metal coins from the PRC. Its rarity resulted from historical reasons, which has aroused overwhelming interest from many Chinese and foreign collectors. The last three public transactions were: 1. At the 2007 Munich Coin Expo, an Australian coin dealer sold one specimen; 2. At an Austrian coin auction at the beginning of 2007, a top Russian collector got hold of one specimen; 3. At the first major coin auction by the Shanghai Dongfang International Commodity Auction Company, an entrepreneur from North China won the bid for one specimen.
The following facts also speak to the rarity of this coin. As far as I know, Mr. Robert Mish, who is one of the most authoritative American dealers of gold coins from the PRC, and a consultant to the Krause International Coin Catalogs, handled only 4 specimens of this coin in his more than 20 years of business in precious metal coins from the PRC, while a lot more 1980 piedfort gold coins for the Lake Placid Winter Olympics and for the Chinese Olympics Committee passed through him in the same period of time. King Chan, a top collector, recalled that some piedfort gold coins for the Winter Olympics and for the Chinese Olympics Committee turned up every year at the Hong Kong Coin Expo from 1997 to 2006, but the Year of the Child piedfort gold coin only made one appearance during those ten years. The personal experience of a top collector Mr. Li Guoying is more convincing: he has been collecting gold and silver coins from China for more than 15 years in Germany. During all this time, he saw the Year of the Child piedfort gold coin only two times. (One passed through him; the other was seen at the 2007 Munich Coin Expo.) Mr. Li had the chance of handling many top gems. Even the Seismograph and Compass kilo gold coins from the 1992 Ancient Inventions and Discoveries set were once in his possession (with a release mintage of 10 only, both top rarities). He believes that the Year of the Child piedfort gold coin is one of the toughest coins to collect among the precious metal coins from the PRC.
In foreign countries, coin dealers are closely connected to their business partners. Some top dealers can find all the rarest coins in their insider circle. But even those with extensive networks like Mr. Robert Mish, Mr. King Chan and Mr. Li Guoying had very few chances to run into the Year of the Child piedfort gold coins in 10 to 20 years. The difficulty of collecting this coin is beyond description.
Finally, it should be mentioned that Mr. Chen Jian’s name was listed as the designer for the first time in the international COA of the Flower Watering piedfort gold coin. He was praised as an outstanding Chinese designer and engraver. The profile of the designer in the COA of precious metal coins enriched the culture of the Chinese gold coins, deepening public understanding of the coins.
(Comparison of the coin to a top Chinese stamp is omitted – translator)
The revelations above resulted from my interactions and discussions with many top Chinese and international collectors, coin dealers, numismatists and professionals. When the Year of the Child piedfort gold coin was minted in 1980, I was still a child, missing the chance of experiencing the whole sales process of the coin. I see my post as a teaser, so that experts with precise knowledge of the sales, absorption and melting process of the coin can come out with more detailed historical data. Of course, I myself will spare no efforts in digging out historical stories behind this coin.