An effigy of Queen Elizabeth II graces the obverse of the Maple Leaf coins. Three distinct portraits have been used during the life of the program, the designs reflecting a graceful aging of the queen.
The RCM has extended the Maple Leaf program on many occasions, offering fractional sizes just twice in special sets, and issuing Maple Leaf coins with special privy marks, colorization or gold plating for special events, even issuing a Proof silver version to mark the silver Maple Leaf program’s 10th anniversary in 1998. In recent years, the Royal Canadian Mint has continually expanded its silver bullion program. A three-year, six-coin Canadian Wildlife silver bullion coin program featured different animals on the reverse in lieu of the national symbol on the 1-ounce $5 coins. This has been followed by a popular Birds of Prey series and other items, like the Superman 1-ounce silver bullion coins announced June 14.
Although these new iterations have added to overall sales, the standard Maple Leaf 1-ounce silver bullion coin remains the engine of the program’s success.
China enters the fold
Following the Canadian lead, in 1989, China launched its Panda silver bullion coins.
Although China had entered the silver coin market from 1983 to 1985 with Panda .900 fine silver 10-yuan coins, these were Proof issues, weighing just 27 grams (a troy ounce is the equivalent of 31.1 grams) with mintage limits of 10,000 pieces each year, appealing more to collectors than to worldwide silver investors. A Panda .925 fine silver 10-yuan coin containing a full ounce of actual silver made its debut in 1987, along with a 5-ounce version, but these too were Proof issues.
In 1989, China brought Panda silver bullion coins out of hibernation, launching the program with a .999 silver fineness to compete with the Canadian and American programs. The obverse of each Panda coin shows the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (the Temple of Heaven). Four different views of the temple have graced the canvas during the program’s tenure.
Unlike most nations’ bullion programs, the Panda coins’ reverse designs are changed annually (except in 2002, when the 2001 design was retained); each reverse shows a different design of a panda or pandas.
China’s Panda coins are minted at the Shenzhen Guobao Mint, Shenyang Mint and Shanghai Mint, and are generally not identified with a Mint mark. The first fractional Panda silver bullion coin, a half-ounce silver 5-yuan coin, was issued from 1993 to 1998, the only small silver bullion Pandas ever issued (and the multiple-ounce versions are all Proof issues.)
Huge changes came with the 2015 and 2016 Panda coins.
The 2015 Panda coins lack inscriptions confirming their metal content, weight and fineness. Since 1983, China’s Panda coins had included these inscriptions on the reverse, and since 2009 the wording was located below the changing panda design.
The 2015 move presaged a more drastic change that followed with the release of the 2016 Panda coins.
The 2016 versions of the Panda coins are offered in gram weights instead of being based on the troy ounce standard in other worldwide bullion coins. Reaction was initially mixed, but the change seems to have cause little impact on demand for the “cute” killer bear coin, at least for now.