The Chinese zodiac scheme (also known as the lunar scheme) assigns an animal to each year in a rotating 12-year cycle. It is an important aspect of Asian culture and is widely recognized in China, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Burma, and the Philippines. In celebration of this cultural institution, various world mints have issued lunar-themed coins. Each piece display tigers, rabbits, dragons, snakes, horses, goats, monkeys, roosters, dogs, pigs, rats, and oxen to commemorate each year in the Chinese zodiac.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese government was the first to issue lunar-themed coins. Since 1981, the Chinese Mint has released a wide variety of zodiac coins in silver, gold, and platinum. Some are measured in terms of grams (e.g. 15 grams), which others were issued in single-ounce or multi-ounce sizes. Many of these coins are extremely rare. For instance, the 1992 gold monkey struck in 12 ounces of gold has a mintage of just 99 pieces. There is an extremely active collector market for these Chinese lunar coins, especially in pristine condition and/or with original packaging in excellent condition.
The Perth Mint of Australia was the next sovereign facility to issue lunar coins. It began releasing eight different gold zodiac coins in 1996 (1/20 oz, 1/10 oz, 1/4 oz, 1/2 oz, 1 oz, 2 oz, 10 oz and kilo) and six silver versions (1/2 oz, 1 oz, 2 oz, 5 oz, 10 oz and kilo) in 1999. Later, the Perth Mint also introduced collector-edition proof, high relief, gilded and colorized versions of their lunar issues. Whereas the standard bullion edition coins usually have unlimited mintages, the collector versions are usually struck in small quantities. They are also released in special mint packaging (e.g. with presentation box, certificate of authenticity, etc).
More recently, the United Kingdom’s British Royal Mint has released their own lunar program too. The series launched in 2014 with a one-ounce gold coin (mintage of 30,000) and a one-ounce silver coin (mintage of 300,000). The program continued in 2015 with smaller mintages of 8,888 one ounce gold and 188,888 silver coins. The unusual production figures are not a coincidence; the number eight is considered lucky in many Asian cultures. Much like the Britannia (the British Royal Mint’s most famous bullion coin), the lunar series pieces are issued in monster boxes via their network of distributors. The gold coins are struck in .9999 fine gold, while the silver has a purity of .999.