1982 saw the inception of the Panda series which now stands as the most prominent and well-known series in the varied pantheon of Chinese coins available today. Initially the 1982 Pandas were all gold, but the silver Panda was introduced the following year in 1983. This was the 10 yuan silver Panda, and it marked the start of possibly the most popular and collectible set in the Panda series.
When they were first issued, the 10 yuan silver Pandas were a proof coin weighing just shy of the full ounce at 27 g. However in 1987 – after a year without a silver Panda in 1986 – while the denomination remained the same at 10 yuan, the weight was increased to the full 1 oz giving us the 10 yuan 1 oz silver Panda that we are familiar with today. Strangely the 1 oz silver Panda was also absent from the 1988 Panda series, even though other weights of silver Pandas were issued.
The collectibility of this set among all the possible Pandas is perhaps down to the affordability of this coin type, making it an accessible option for collectors of all budgets. It is also an exciting set to collect as there are many varieties of the same date with many different avenues for exploration when it comes to acquiring a set. Some of the more well-known types for certain years include proof and bullion varieties (distinguished by the “P” mint mark), small and large date varieties, serif and sans serif varieties, frosted and mirrored finishes, as well as some colourised pieces. This list is by no means exhaustive, and new coin types are constantly being identified and debated over as eagle-eyed collectors closely inspect and compare their collections. Some differences take a while to become identified and widely recognised as they can be incredibly subtle!
While these variations are littered throughout the entire range of years in which 1 oz silver Pandas have been issued, these opportunities are perhaps most frequently found among the 10 yuan silver Pandas issued in the 1990s. For the 10 yuan silver Panda this period might be considered somewhat of a golden age. This decade is typified by the small and large date varieties, with a small and large date variety available for each year 1990 through to 1999. With the exception of the years 1996-1999, small date 1 oz silver Pandas were struck at the Shenyang Mint, while the large date was struck at the Shanghai Mint. Both mints used the same Panda design, with the size of the year inscription being the main distinguishing factor. For 1 oz silver Pandas dating from 1996 – 1999 it was the other way round. The large date was a product of the Shenyang Mint and the small date was struck at the Shanghai Mint. In 1999, the Shenzhen Mint also started to contribute to 1 oz silver Panda production, and is responsible for the 1999 large date with serif variety.
The easiest way to identify a small date or large date coin is to take a straight edge down the line of the railings running down either side of the steps of the Temple of Heaven image on the obverse face. If the date inscription fits within (or just about fits within) the lines formed then you have a small date coin. If part of the year falls outside these lines then it is a large date coin.
For some years the above method is not entirely suitable as the difference between the date sizes is not so significant. This is especially difficult if you don’t have the other coin variety to compare it to. So in this vein, another useful way of distinguishing the date varieties is by the shape of the gaps in the railings on the terraced steps – again on the Temple of Heaven image. The Shanghai Mint tended to produce coins with gaps that are almost half-moon in shape, while the gaps on coins struck at the Shengyang Mint are noticeably rectangular. Once the mint has been identified, the corresponding date can be cross-referenced, thereby indicating whether you have a small or large date coin.