The 1980 Olympic Games Coin Series is an early and sought after Chinese modern coin series. It is actually two sets of coins: The “Winter Olympic” set was released in May 1980 to commemorate the 1980 Winter Olympic at Lake Placid, New York (Winter Olympic Coins), while the “China Olympic” set was released in June 1980 to commemorate the recognition of the Chinese Olympic Committee by the International Olympic Committee (the COC coins). Each set includes gold, silver and copper coins, both normal thickness and piedfort coins, as well as pattern coins.
The 1980 Olympic Coin series is a coin series with many firsts. It is not only the first Olympic coin series in Modern China, but also the first sports themed coin series. It is also the first series of modern Chinese coins which does not have the words “People’s Republic of China” on the obverse side: both the Winter Olympic and COC coins have “Chinese Olympic Committee” scribed instead. The series also contains the only copper piedfort coins in the history of modern China.
The series was designed by a number of famous designers and masters in coin arts and design, including Chen Jian, one of the most well-known coin designers in China. The Winter Olympic coins set features four coins. All four coins feature on the obverse side the PRC Coat of Arm, the words “Chinese Olympic Committee”, Chinese national flag, and the Olympic Rings. On the reverse side, four different winter sports were featured on each coin: women speed skating, figure skating, alpine skiing and cross-country skiing. The featured sports are framed by a snow flake, and the words “13th Winter Olympic” in Chinese, and “Lake Placid 1980” in English. Note that the Winter Olympic coin is probably the only set of coins in the world with the Olympic Rings on both side of the coin. This is because the Olympic Rings is proprietary of the International Olympic Committee, and cannot be used freely, so these Winter Olympic Coins are really an exception. The COC coins set also features four coins, with the obverse featuring again the PRC coat of arms, framed by decorative leaves at the bottom. The reverse features four ancient sports: equestrian, archery, soccer and wrestling, all scribed in an ancient stone painting style, emphasizing China’s long history and heritage. The two set of coins were struck in Shenyang Mint and Shanghai Mint respectively, and both set of coins were distributed by International Coins & Currency Inc. At the time ICC sold most of the coins as sets: the Winter Olympic and COC piedfort set which includes the gold, silver and copper piedforts for both sets; and separate coin sets for the normal gold, silver and copper coins. Only some were sold as individual coins.
Other than the many firsts that mentioned above, the Olympic coin series has a lot of special features, attracting coin collectors around the world. Take the gold coins for example. The Olympic series gold coins are well known for their special denomination. In particular, the archery gold is the only gold coin in modern China with a denomination of 300 Yuan, while the alpine skiing gold coin is one of the only two gold coins with a denomination of 250 Yuan. Because of this special denomination, the alpine skiing, which is 1/4 oz, is also one of two gold coins with the highest denomination/weight ratio. Furthermore, because of the high gold prices in the 1980, many of the gold coins were melted, so even though the Winter Olympic gold has a 10143 mintage and the COC gold has a 15019 mintage, these gold coins are not common. The gold piedforts, of course, are even more precious, with the Winter Olympic gold piedfort having an actual mintage of only 350.
The silvers coins, even though more common due to the higher mintage, are no less special compared to the gold coins. First of all, the silver Olympic coin set contains four patterned coins out of the eight silver coins in total: only the women speed skating, ancient wrestling, ancient soccer and ancient equestrian silver coins were ever issued. This makes a full set of Olympic silver coins especially valuable. Full mint sets are even rarer, as even though the minting and striking standard was very high, the standard of the plastic protectors was not, making it easy for the coins to slip out. Many coins that slipped out suffered the same fate: either a dent when the coin hit a hard surface or a grease mark when the owner tries to catch the coin by hand. This downfall of the plastic covering is affecting the silver coins much more than the gold, as it is relatively easier to clean gold coins, while many of the grease marked silver coins were cleaned poorly or incorrectly, destroying the toning or the mint luster. It is therefore extremely hard to find a mint set of Olympic Silver coins which still gives the cartwheel effect. Interestingly, mint CoC silver coins are harder to find, as the CoC silver coins have only 85% silver, i.e. a higher copper content, compared to the Winter Olympic silver coins (90% purity). This makes the CoC silver coins much more susceptible to the loss of toning and luster during a clean.
Out of all the silver variety in the 1980 Olympic series, the CoC archery silver piedfort really stands out to be the most special of all. Other than the fact that it is a pattern piedfort coin, it is also the most interesting in appearance: the much smaller diameter (23 mm) of the archery silver coin compared to the rest (28 – 33 mm) makes the archery piedfort look like a small silver cylinder when being thickened to the same thickness as the rest of the piedforts. Combined with a small mintage of 500 compared to the 2000 for its Winter Olympic cousins, the silver archery piedfort is one of the most precious Chinese modern coins. In fact, it is one of the rarest silver Olympic coins in the world, even rarer than the 1952 Finland Markka silver coin, the first Olympic silver coin since Ancient Greece.
The copper coins were the least valuable ones in the 1980 Olympic series. Even so, they have enough character to outshine many other gold and silver coin sets. As mentioned, the Olympic copper piedforts are the only copper piedfort coins ever produced by China. In particular, the Winter Olympic piedforts are especially rare, with a mintage of 1000. This is in fact less than the silver piedforts, which is pretty rare in itself as copper coins usually have a higher mintage compared to silver and gold coins. The normal copper coins are also pretty special, as there are only 12 copper coins released from 1980 – 1985, and the 1980 Olympic series has 8 of them. So even though the copper coins lack monetary value compared to their silver and gold counter parts, many collectors still consider them a gem to collect.
With the large variety of coins that it has, the historic events that it went through, and its many special features, the 1980 Olympic series gathered as much attentions now as when it was released. No wonder it is the favorite modern Chinese coin series of even the most renowned coin collectors in the world.
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