Among all the Panda coin types out there, 1 oz and small scale (less than 1 oz in weight) gold Pandas have the longest and most complete history as far as modern Chinese precious metal coins are concerned. When the series began in 1982, only brilliant uncirculated (abbreviated to BU) coins were available. It was not until as late as 1986 that the proof sets first made their appearance and were distinguished at the time from their bullion counterparts by the characteristic “P” mint-mark.
Back to 1982. The initial 1982 Panda issues were rather small in scale and were exclusively gold. This was due to a number of reasons. With the series in its early stages and the People’s Bank – while it would have undoubtedly done its market research – was still not entirely sure of how the series would be received abroad, which was then the main target market for modern Chinese coins due to precious metal ownership restrictions for Chinese citizens. The ban on gold ownership was lifted only in 2003, which really opened up the domestic market for Chinese precious metal coins. Understandably, the People’s Bank would not have wanted to commit too many resources to a project that may not have been profitable if the series was not well received! They did, however, have nothing to worry about as the Panda coins proved to be very popular.
So in this environment the range of the early series was rather small, consisting only of gold coins in weights of 1 oz, ½ oz, ¼ oz, and 1/10 oz. This emphasis on the smaller scale coins may well have been significantly influenced by the relatively modest gold reserves in China at the time, which were almost nothing until 1980. This stands in stark comparison to current levels of gold holdings in China, especially as gold production became a serious undertaking in China around 1990 when domestic mining really took off in a big way.
The 1982 Panda coins are curious in that they had not face value, technically making them medals, although they are legal tender in the People’s Republic of China, and are widely recognised as coins rather than medals in the numismatic community. The denomination started to appear on Pandas in 1983.
The gold Panda series was expanded in 1983 to include the 1/20 oz gold Panda – also a brilliant uncirculated or bullion issue. Such a small coin type might be expected to suffer from low demand, but the 1/10 oz and 1/20 oz gold Pandas surprised everyone and proved extremely popular due to their affordability and their small size which allowed them to be incorporated conveniently into pieces of jewellery. Because of this, the actual number of these unadulterated small scale coins in existence today (or the survival mintage) is relatively low.
Unfortunately the first Pandas that were issued in 1982 were not well struck, mainly due to the production process at the mint. Dies were poorly made and the coin blanks (or planchets) were also badly prepared. Any well-graded 1982 Pandas will see high prices compared to other coins of a similar specification in different years because of this.
For a solid investment option, largely down to their low survival mintage, the smallest denominations of gold Pandas dating from the early 1980s come highly recommended. Given that high-quality 1982 Pandas are also rather hard to come by, any well-graded 1982 Panda coins are also a very worthwhile choice, and opportunities to acquire these coin types for the right price should not be passed on.