Rare Chinese silver tael leads Stephen Album sale

Artifact of failed currency reform crossing auction block
By , Coin World
Published : 01/06/16
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In 1904, viceroy Chang Chi Tung of Hupeh province in China tried to implement a currency reform that quickly was rejected.

One of the rare survivors from the reform is a highlight in Stephen Album Rare Coins’ Jan. 14 to 16 auction at the firm’s offices in Santa Rosa, Calif. 

The silver tael, struck during the 30th year of the reign of Kuang Hsu, depicts a pair of dragons rampant with a fiery pearl between the dragon heads.

The .877 fine silver tael was equal to 10 mace (and equal to 100 candareens), and this was intended to compete or replace the standard .900 fine silver dollar coin, which was worth 7 mace and 2 candareens. 

The initial proposal to produce these coins included the suggestion to produce smaller denominations (1-, 2- and 5-mace coins). However, no such pieces have surfaced (even in pattern form) and it is unlikely they were ever produced, according to the auction house. 

“The general populous found it complicated in converting two distinctly different coinage systems, especially when making change,” the firm said. “A Hupeh tael housed in the British museum supports this by showing evidence of cutting to make change. The British museum specimen is essentially mint state with a large pie shape section cut from the coin.”

This short-lived series circulated briefly before being replaced by the unified Tai Ching Ti Kuo .960 fine silver coinage, and most of the 648,000 Hupeh tael coins were likely melted down to be made into later coinage. 

Both large and small character types of the 1904 Hupeh tael are known. The Album auction offers the small character version. The coin is graded About Uncirculated 55 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., and has an estimate of $10,000 to $12,000.

The auction includes 2,831 lots of ancient, Islamic, Chinese, Indian, and world coins, in addition to numismatic literature. Several marquee collections are part of the latest auction. 

For full details, visit the firm’s website.

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