By Huang Ruiyong
Posted on August 16, 2006
Good evening everyone. My lectures have been warmly received by you all since they started. I am absolutely grateful. The series, in my humble opinion, is designed to tell the stories behind each exquisite coin. By and by, they will provide spiritual joy to collectors. Today I am going to talk about a recent hot topic in the coin community – Olympics.
But I will not discuss the upcoming Beijing Olympics coins. Instead, I will elaborate on the forerunners of sports coins and Olympics coins from our country – the 1980 coins to commemorate the Chinese Olympic Committee and Winter Olympics. Many collectors may have passed these two sets of coins, but there is a lot to be learned about them. They were issued separately in February, 1980 (Winter Olympics) and June, 1980 (Chinese Olympics Committee). Each set consists of gold, silver and brass coins, in normal thickness and double thickness. Of course they have patterns among themselves, which are top rarities. Let's examine them closely, focusing on gold coins first.
The gold sets have rich characteristics:
1. They were the earliest sports coins from our country;
2. They were the earliest Olympics coins from our country;
3. They were the earliest coins with no country name "People's Republic of China" on it. The text "Chinese Olympics Committee" was used on the obverse in place of the country name.
4. They all had unusual denominations. The Alpine Skiing coin had a denomination of 250 Yuan, matched only by the 8 gram Rooster. The 300 Yuan denomination on Archery was the only one among gold coins, although silver coins with the 300 Yuan denomination are commonplace (for example 1 kilo lunars, 1 kilo pandas and the 1 kilo Soccer).
5. Winter Olympics and the 8 gram Rooster tie for the first place among all the gold coins for the denomination/weight ratio. They are both 8 grams, equal to 1/4 OZ, with a denomination of 250 Yuan. After conversion, the value is 1,000 Yuan per ounce, which was pretty high.
6. The Winter Olympics coins are worth mentioning because they bear the five-ring Olympics logo on both sides. This may be the only use case among all the Olympics coins in the world. It is well known that the five-ring Olympics logo belongs exclusively to the International Olympics Committee, without whose permission, the logo cannot be used at will. But we did. As we were not bound by international laws in those years, we just made use of the logo without much thinking. What could anyone do about it? The same error occurred on the Sword Dancer gold coin from 1988. After that, China showed respect for intellectual property rights and stopped making such mistakes. So in the strict sense, both the Chinese Olympics Committee and Winter Olympics coins are error coins with improper content.
We all know that the piedfort gold coins in these two sets are rarities, but even the thin gold coins are outstanding, too. They were not born at the right moment. Many were melted due to the rapid rise of international gold price. So few thin versions survived in the pristine condition. Their original actual mintages were:
Winter Olympics: 10,143, from Shenyang Mint
Chinese Olympic Committee: 15,019, from Shanghai Mint
So much for the gold coins. Let's turn to the silver coins.
Oh my God, the silver coins even dwarfed the gold coins, because these two silver sets have four patterns between them. Their rarity is beyond description. In the Winter Olympics set, only the woman Speed Skater has a thin version. Thin versions of the other three coins were never officially released. This is reversed in the Chinese Olympics Committee set: only Archery does not have a thin version; thin versions of the other three were officially released.
The distributor of these two sets of coins was International Coins & Currency Inc., often called ICC. As a dealer with 40 years of experience in gold and silver coins described, who was close to ICC, ICC only sold complete piedfort sets (gold, silver and brass) of the Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee, complete thin sets as well as some odd coins. Jin Weiwei, a veteran dealer at the Lugong Market, had a complete piedfort set not long ago. The imitation mahogany box lined with blue velvet was very eye-catching. But this set disappeared recently. My hearty congratulations to whoever snatched the set.
The thin version of the complete silver set has only four coins: Speed Skater, Ancient Soccer, Ancient Wrestling, and Ancient Equestrian. Why the other four thin version coins were held from release is a topic we want to keep exploring in days to come. Patterns in these two silver sets are absolutely top rarities.
But even the piedfort silver coins are hard to come by. 2,000 sets were struck for the Winter Olympics piedfort silver coins. As for the Chinese Olympics Committee piedfort silver coins, it is said that only 500 sets were struck. Piedfort silver coins in these two sets in perfect conditions are very rare. Why so?
Coins minted by our country in those years were top quality, but the plastic capsules were poorly made. As they did not fit tightly, the coins often dropped out. Some quick people would pick them up with their bare hands, leaving their fingerprints on the coins.
Fingerprints are easy to remove on gold coins with gold cleaners, but cleaning silver coins requires skills. Toning might be damaged if the coin is handled without ultimate care. Silver coins without luster are not appealing to the eye, like a girl's face without the radiance of youth.
I have seen quite a few Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee piedfort silver coins with toning completely removed, like a human face rubbed with sandpaper for a extended period of time. I just couldn't bear the sight. So when it comes to buying the Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee piedfort silver coins, to quote a cliché, "Condition, condition and condition".
For the Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee sets, the little brass brethren are as shiny as the gorgeous gold and silver coins. New China did not produce many proof brass coins in the early days. Besides the 4 Winter Olympics and 4 Chinese Olympics Committee brass coins, the remaining ones include the 1982 brass Soccer, and the 1983-1985 brass pandas. It does not cost a leg to collect them all (the 1985 brass panda would cost both legs now – translator), but they nevertheless come with a sense of success.
A special note： the Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee piedfort brass coins are the only two sets of piedfort brass coins up to this day. Their significance can never be exaggerated. 1,000 sets were struck for the Winter Olympics piedfort brass coins (based on Shen Jiaju's catalog), and 2,500 sets were struck for the Chinese Olympics Committee piedfort brass coins. It is extremely difficult to find them in pristine condition with splendid luster.
The Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee sets caught the attention of the world with their unique styles. I have in my collection promotion booklets for these two sets from many years ago. The text was all intriguing. A comment on the Archery gold coin is quoted below:
"Archery, one of the most striking Olympics gold coins in history."
European and American collectors saw it as one of the most unique gold coins in the world, with great admiration. Before Archery, the most unique Olympics commemorative coin was the 1952 Finnish silver coin, with a mintage of 18,500.
Now I have an interesting story for you all. Mr. King Chan in Hong Kong is the number one collector of modern Chinese precious metal coins. His collection is hugely extensive. Before the catalog "Currencies from the People's Republic of China" was published by the Finance Publishing House, facts had to be checked against his collection in his residence. The first coin in his modern Chinese gold coin collection was a Winter Olympics gold coin. It was priced at 2,750 Hong Kong dollars in 1980. It was a very valuable coin sold through Wing Hang Bank. Lo and behold, the current price is lower than its original price, indicating that the price of old coins has not been discovered.
I forgot to highlight the Chinese Olympics Committee piedfort silver coins. Why do they deserve special attention? Well, the Winter Olympics silver coins have the same diameter 33 mm. They do not look unusual with extra thickness. But the Chinese Olympics Committee silver coins are a different story. The Archery coin has a diameter of 23 mm, while the diameter of the Wrestling coin is 28 mm. After thickening, Archery weighs 20 grams, the same weight as Wrestling. No wonder Archery looks very thick, like a small silver cylinder, very cool. Of course, the rejection rate in producing such coins was very high.
Let's remember the names of the following designers.
Winter Olympics Committee:
Obverse: Zhong Youqin
Reverse: Shen Xianzhang, Song Wenyuan, Wang Fude, Li Xiaochuan
Chinese Olympics Committee:
Obverse: Zhong Youqin
Reverse: Tong Youming, Chen Jian, Luo Yonghui, Luo Xingsha, Sun Qiling
These are all masters, representing the highest standards in the design and engraving of precious metal coins in China.
Now let's look at the packaging and COAs of the Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee coins. In addition to the packaging of the complete piedfort set I mentioned above, typical packaging includes the following:
1. The Archery gold coin is packed with three Chinese Olympics Committee silver coins in a blue square plastic box, lined with blue velvet. Very beautiful.
2. A set of three Chinese Olympics Committee silver coins are packed in a long blue hard box, also lined with blue velvet.
3. A small blue box like a jewelry box (for America), with plush on the outside and velvet lining, used for the Archery gold coin or the Alpine Skiing gold coin. Very exquisite!
4. Red hard plastic box (for Germany) as shown by Youxia, for single Archery or Alpine Skiing gold coins.
1. A small COA for the Archery gold coin and the Chinese Olympics Committee silver coins was issued by the People's Bank of China, with the national emblem stamped in gold or silver. Very elegant. But there is a small error in the COA for the silver coins. All the denominations of the silver coins were printed as 1 Yuan. The error was later discovered and corrected manually.
2. Colored COA for the Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee coins, with "Commemorative Coins for the Chinese Olympics Committee" and "Commemorative Coins for the Thirteenth Winter Olympics" on the front, and the signature of Yang Binchao, General Manager of China Mint Company, on the back. This COA is very big.
3. A small yellow English COA for Alpine Skiing, noting ICC as the distributor.
4. A small yellow German COA for Alpine Skiing. The Chinese characters are not in fonts for printing, but in the handwritten form.
Do not overlook the brass coins in these two sets. Now brass coins in perfect conditions are still available at low cost. They will be hard to come by in the future.
These two sets of coins are outstanding from the design perspective. The Winter Olympics coins have a big snow flake as the background on the reverse, perfectly combining the glossy mirror field and the crystal clear ice and snow. On the other hand, the Chinese Olympics Committee coins were designed in the artistic style of stone reliefs from the Han Dynasty, highlighting the national character and leaving an everlasting impression on viewers. Even now these two sets are highly enjoyable.
A well made old coin is like a bottle of nice wine stored in the cellar. The taster needs to know it, understanding the story embodied in it. Then with the cork popping open, the room is filled with its aroma. After all, it is not the wine that intoxicates but the drinker who gets himself drunk.
Let's rank these two sets.
Four patterns: thin versions of the silver coins of Archery, Figure Skating, Alpine Skiing and Biathlon
Four stars and a half
Alpine Skiing and Archery piedfort gold coins
Winter Olympics and Chinese Olympics Committee piedfort silver coins
Thin version of the Archery and Alpine Skiing gold coins
Thin version of the Speed Skater, Wrestling, Soccer and Equestrian silver coins