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Modern Chinese Commemoratives: A Robust Market with Rare Pattern Issues

With a form of coinage dating back over two millennia, China has an extensive numismatic history. It is China’s modern commemorative program, however, that has become a standard bearer within the market, featuring hotly contested and greatly sought-after coins in a variety of designs, metals, and denominations. In order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s founding of the People’s Republic of China, a series of commemorative coins was issued in 1979—an event that would spark a modern commemorative juggernaut. Not long after, the immensely popular "panda" series made its debut in 1982, with designs that would captivate collectors around the world. Other series would follow, such as those highlighting Olympic games and their events, those featuring the fabled unicorn, those honoring past cultural figures and icons, and even those paying homage to bronze age relics, artifacts, and other historical items.

This final group, the so-called "bronze age" series, first appeared in 1981, with a group of four fauna-inspired figurines decorating various gold denominations. Another series, this time in 1990, paralleled the previous issues, but instead in silver and accordingly in smaller denominations. In 1992, a third installment was struck in both gold and silver with new takes on this popular series. Given the rich history of the vast nation, a wealth of historical treasures was could be included in this project, leading to many proposals being delayed or even outright rejected during the series’ first round in 1981. Some designs did, in fact, find their way into the 1992 release, while others were never utilized. The way in which we know of such superfluous designs is not through mint records or even sketches, but from actual brass patterns struck in 1981 experimenting with different motifs and modules.

Our April 2021 Hong Kong auction will feature a total of 19 brass pattern issues from this "bronze age" series, split between pieces denominated at 700 Yuan and measuring 33mm, and at 350 Yuan and 27mm. The "square caldron with human faces" and the "four goats copper pot" ask the question "what if?," while others, such as the "Changxin court lantern," were simply delayed until 1992. Still others, like the "mythical winged creature" type, were passed over in favor of a different design that was ultimately chosen for use. In all, this incredible array presents the first time these seemingly unique patterns have been seen by us and are the only such specimens graded at NGC or PCGS. Their immense rarity and their importance to the hobby—especially as a look behind the curtain and at the design process during the early years of the modern Chinese commemorative coin program—is obvious to all who view them.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our June Collector’s Choice Online (CCO) auction as well as our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in August. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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