Although I am not a big fan of the Olympics, I can appreciate a good show. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) put on an great show for the opening ceremonies. The committee for the London 2012 games will have its work cut out for itself after that presentation.

When we think about the Olympic games, we associate the results to the medals won by each athlete for their country. These medals are made of precious metals and awarded after the conclusion of final competition in each sport. While we do not think of the Olympic medals in a numismatic context, the BOCOG chose a design for these medals that are also a symbol of ancient Chinese money in its design and the by the use of jade.

Jade was discovered over 7000 years ago in China. Its beauty and toughness helped earn its nickname as the “imperial gem.” Skilled artists were brought in to create works art to honor deities and the dynasties. Jade art was considered so valuable that it use was preferred vehicle for trade on the Silk Road over gold and silver.

China’s use of jade as currency dates back to its discovery and ends when the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 9 CE) introduced bronze coinage. It was typical of the currency at that time to include a hole in the middle. The hole was to save on materials used and to aid in carrying. Typically, the hole reduced the metal content by half.

BOCOG is using the Olympics to convey that China is a modern country steeped in long tradition that defines them as a people. It was that purpose that BOCOG used to hold the first-ever public competition for the reverse design of the Olympic and Paralympics medals. The obverse of the medals are struck with the officials designs of the Olympics and Paralympics games. When reviewing the entries, the BOCOG selected a design to honor jade’s impact on early Chinese history and using the hole as a design element.

The result is a jade inlay covering half of the reverse of the medal that includes a 40 mm central hole. Within the hole is a simulated medal engraved with the logos for the respective games. BOCOG worked with the artists and engravers at the Shanghai Mint. This was a first for the Shanghai Mint since it is the facility that produces China’s circulated coins for China Banknote Printing and Mining company. Although working with the jade insert was a difficult process, the result is a beautifully executed modern interpretation of ancient Chinese culture.

One thousand of each medal were created for the games.

The use of jade and the rise in metal prices greatly increases the intrinsic value of the medal. Reports claim that the metal and jade makes the value of the medals $393. Medals issued for the 2004 Athens Games were worth $155 ($179.55 adjusting for inflation). This increase is directly attributable to the jade and the rise in copper prices in the last four years. Of course the price of gold is a big factor. Gold medals are silver plated with 6 grams of 24-karat gold.

Jade used for the medals were mined in China. The gold, silver, and copper were provided by BHP Billiton from their mines in Australia and Chile. BHP Billiton delivered the metals to the Shanghai Mint with much fanfare. BHP is based in Australia. The following video is likely a clip from an Australian news program when the metals were delivered to the Shanghai Mint on January 15, 2008:

Early in July, the Shanghai Mint presented BOCOG with the six thousand completed medals that will be awarded at the games. The South China Morning Post filed this report on July 3, 2008:

Medals for the 2008 Paralympic Games, scheduled for September 6-17 at the same venues as the able bodied Olympics, were given their own ceremony in Beijing. The following report was file by London’s CCTV 9:

When I watch, I will be cheering for the Americans participating in both games, especially the Redeem Team!

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