Interview with Martin Weiss
of Panda America
How did you get into the Panda coin
In the early 1980s, a friend offered me the distributorship
of the coins of Macau. I approached a large New York
marketing company to see if they were interested, but
they were not. Instead they asked me if I was interested
in distributing coins for China. Understand that at
that time there was virtually no market for modern Chinese
coins in the United States or anywhere else. And for
good reasons. The People’s Republic of China had
only issued small denomination coins for circulation
before 1979. No commemoratives … no silver …
no gold. At the time, we were still in the Cold War,
and the idea of selling coins from a Communist country
did not necessarily sound like a sure winner. But the
New York marketing company did not follow through with
their offer, and gave the rights to someone else.
changes were made to the gold Pandas issued the following
a result of requests from myself and others, China added
denominations to the Panda gold coins in 1983. Since
the Mint had to make new obverse dies in order to add
the denominations, they decided to change the Panda
design as well. They continued to change the design
every year thereafter, which added greatly to the attractiveness
and desirability of the Panda coins as a popular collectible
series, in addition to their original purpose as bullion
So what happened?
I had prepared a marketing plan and had
begun to execute it. When I was told that I could not
purchase the new Panda gold coins in the United States,
I arranged to buy them from an Asian source. That’s
when I changed the name of my numismatic enterprise
to Panda America, and became the first company to promote
and sell the Panda gold coins in the United States.
We were so successful, that the original marketing company
that had turned me down, named Panda America as an official
distributor, and now -- over 20 years later -- we are
pleased to be one of the world’s leading market-makers
of Panda coins.
are Panda mintages determined?
Chinese consider these as bullion issues, and their
policy has been to produce enough coins to fill the
orders received each year. Mintages are cut off at the
end of each year. Only 15,815 1 oz. gold Pandas were
made (and sold) in 1982, 22,470 in 1983, and 23,330
in 1984. Spurred on by the tremendous publicity generated
by the loan of two Pandas to the Los Angeles Zoo during
the 1984 Olympics, mintages skyrocketed beginning in
1985 through 1992, ranging from about 50,000 to over
150,000. The adorable 1985 design also encouraged many
new purchasers, and continues to be a best-seller in
the series. Mintages were reduced from 1993 through
1996, before mushrooming to over 100,000 per year thereafter.
the story behind the 1982 gold Pandas?
I was originally shown the proposed design, the denomination
was indicated. But when the first coins came in, no
face values were indicated on the 1, ½, ¼
or 1/10 oz. gold coins. It seems that someone over there
thought that the coins looked better without the denomination.
As a consequence, the 1982 gold Pandas are not listed
in The Standard Catalog of World Coins, but are relegated
to Unusual World Coins. But this is wrong. They are
legal tender, as was attested to by a letter from the
China Mint that allowed the coins to be imported duty
free, which would not have been given the case if they
had been medals or tokens. There is the precedence of
other legal tender coins that have no denominations
indicated that are listed in The Standard Catalog, like
British Sovereigns or Mexican Libertads.
coined the word “Pandamonium” for the exploding
Panda coin market that witnessed the 1982 coin jumping
to $2,000 in 1983, and then climbing to $4,000 within
a few years. Unfortunately, the fact that the price
had risen too quickly combined with a weakening gold
market, resulted in the price falling back. But continued
demand, especially from new collectors in China, is
again causing shortages in supply and increasing prices
– to about $2,000 right now and rising.
is your relationship with the China Mint?
has been a close, friendly relationship. I made 27 trips
there -- sometimes three times in a single year –
in order to coordinate new products and marketing efforts.
I recall meeting Mr. Bien, Director of the Shanghai
Mint, at the 1983 convention of the American Numismatic
Association in San Diego. He was wearing an old fashioned
hearing aid that didn’t work very well. I helped
him get a new model. Mr. Bien was so delighted with
the improvement that he offered to do us a favor. I
suggested that they mint a 12 oz. pure gold Panda coin,
and the Chinese officials quickly approved the production
of 250 pieces.
do you think the future holds for the Panda gold coin
the past year, we sold more Panda coins than in the
previous 5 years combined. I think that the future will
be amazing. It reminds me of U.S. coin prices in the
early 1950’s, when I started to collect coins.
For instance, you could have bought an uncirculated
1909-S VDB Cent for about $25 that’s worth over
$1,000 now … and that classic American rarity
had a mintage of more than 30 times greater than the
1982 Panda 1 oz. gold coin! The Chinese now have both
the opportunity and the money to collect their own coins.
With well over a billion people, including over 250,000
millionaires, in China it doesn’t take a genius
to figure out the future.
China Panda Gold Coin
next: The Lunar-Zodiac Series