The Shēngxiào (Chinese: 生肖, literally “birth likeness”), also known in English as the Chinese zodiac (“zodiac” derives from the similar concept in Western Astrology and means “circle of animals”), is a scheme and systematic plan of future action, that relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes, according to a 12-year cycle. It remains popular in several East Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. We have a full breakdown of the cycles on our Chinese Lunar Calendar page, with all the attributes associated with each animal broken down.
The gold range started out in 1996 as just 1oz and 1/4, 1/10, & 1/20oz fractionals. In 2000, three larger sizes were added, being 2oz, 10oz & 1kg in weight. In 2004 a 1/2oz coin was added to the range which was finally rounded out in the penultimate year, 2006, with a monstrous 10kg giant. All the coins are 99.99% pure.
The silver range underwent a similar evolution, starting out in 1999 with 1kg, 10oz, 2oz, 1oz and 1/2oz sizes. In 2004, 1/2kg and 5oz versions were added. While there were no silver coins minted for the first three lunar animals, demand from collectors led the Perth Mint to strike new designs in the Lunar I style at the same time as they were striking new coins for Lunar II. Thus there are no silver coins dated 1996-1998, but there are dated 2008-2010. This excellent addition gave silver collectors a full set, although they were only minted in 1kg, 2oz and 1oz sizes. All the coins are 99.9% pure.
For gold there were only ever three numismatic releases, a 1/4oz proof, a 1/10oz proof and a three-coin proof set containing those two sizes partnered up with a 1oz. Clean, simple and unchanging, they were a refreshing change from the variety released today.
By contrast the silver range has, to put it bluntly, been a scene of chaos. Changing sizes, fluctuating maximum mintages and experimentation with colour, gilding and inserts led to in 2004 there being eighteen different numismatic releases. Adding in some more variants only available in other years, like the Year of the Pig Lenticular below, and you have a series in need of guidance.
This particular coin was never repeated for another year and contained an image made up of 24 frames that showed motion when moved.
While the bullion coins are attractive with their reverse finish, the proof coins are the way to show off the artwork, being really beautiful and collectable pieces.
For the first three years when only gold coins were available, the obverse depicted the excellent portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Ralph Maklouf (centre). In 1999 it was changed to the later portrait by Ian Rank Broadley that shows the Queen in an older light and was also used on the silver coins.