Wednesday, 24 December 2014

China silver dollars

In ancient China, gold and silver had been symbols of wealth. All transactions were carried out with payment in gold or silver. Even when china lost a war with another nation, compensation was made in terms of how many silver ingots. Other than gold or silver, copper had also been used widely among common folks in the market places where most items were traded in copper coins. The copper coins are interesting as they all have a square hole in the middle and they were minted during the reign of a particular emperor. Dou know why such a design? The Chinese always believed that the sky (or heaven) was round and the earth was square (flat). Hence many things in ancient China were designed according to this concept. As for the copper coins, people liked to put the coins through a string and wrapped the strings of coins around their waist. Hence the saying waist carrying thousands of coins was used to described wealthy people.

Old China copper coins

Traditional silver ingots

Foreign silver dollar
From the 16th century through the first part of the 20th century, a variety of silver coins appeared in China through trades with foreigners — Spanish and Mexican pieces were common examples of silver coins circulated during that time. The Ming and Qing governments (before the late 9th century) did not mint silver coins. The coins minted during the late Qing dynasty carried the name of the reign in which they were produced. These coins carried the design of a dragon and hence they are commonly referred to as the dragon coins. Before minting their own version of silver coins, the use of silver ingots for foreign trade was a disadvantage to the Chinese as the silver ingots contained almost pure silver while the foreign silver coins only carried 90% silver.

A Qing dynasty dragon silver dollar
Collecting China silver coins (or  silver dollars) is both a fascinating and daunting task as there are so many counterfeit coins hiddened in a smaller pool of genuine coins. One must beware of counterfeit coins. Counterfeiting is rampant today, especially with Chinese coins. Never buy or sell a Chinese coin unless you trust the other party implicitly. Even for genuine cons, the task of collecting good and valuable ones is not a simple one.  Beside a large variety of coins, there are also subtle differences between them, and those subtle differences can change value quite a bit. If you have a nice-looking coin like this, it is a good idea to seek out a knowledgeable collector or coin dealer for an in-person appraisal.

Currency reform was a constant issue from the late Qing through the Republican period. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty, the President of the Republic, Yuan Shikai, minted the official silver dollars featuring his own portrait for circulation. This coin was produced to replace foreign and Provincial dragon dollars in circulation.The coins were struck at many mints with uniform dies provided by the Tientsin mint. The Republic of China National Currency Regulations issued in 1914 had envisioned a uniform standard, with one Yuan Shikai silver dollar equal to, for example five 20 cents silver coins or 100 copper cent.These silver coins of of Yuan Shikai gained some traction between 1915 and 1925, the political fragmentation of China further complicated the monetary system, with various warlords and provincial officials making their own money.

The silver dollars minted by Yan Shikai, more commonly called the Yuan big Head, are a favourite among collectors as the coins were very well minted with the president's portrait and some bunches of leaves ( or grains stalks). Each coin has a weight of 26.4 g and contains 90 % silver. The genuine coin produces a really nice chime when hit against another genuine one (a traditional method to filter out the genuine ones from the fakes). As there so many fakes around, it is important to be extra cautious when buying these coins. Some contained only 40% silver (not minted officially) while others are generally alloys of copper with silver plating on the outside. The fakes are slight lighter and they are made slightly bigger to fool the collectors. There are four versions of the cons, bearing the year of he Republic, for instance, the 3rd, 8th, 9th and 10th year of the Republic. Other than these versions, they are all fakes. When buying coins, always remember a saying: good things don't come cheap.

A rare coin of President Yuan in full military uniform was selling for more than 34 thousand pounds while another rare coin was recently auctioned for over 4 million RMB in China. One can see the excitement and joy derived from collecting ancient china silver dollars.

This coin was recently auctioned for over 4 million RMB
These rare coins of Yuan Shikai in military uniform

Another silver dollar depicting president Sun

Portrait of Yuan Shikai

No comments:

Post a Comment