Paper Money

Chinese paper money stars in Stack's Bowers auction

An unlisted and unissued 2-yuan note proof from the People’s Republic of China, estimated to sell for not more than $100,000, realized $240,000, including the buyer’s fee, at the Hong Kong auction conducted by Stack’s Bowers Galleries on March 25. The pink and blue rarity with watermarks of stars was designed for the People’s Republic of China in 1975 but was never issued as a circulating note. 

In the center of the face of the proof is a vignette of Wang Jinxi, known as “The Iron Man,” at work. A poor peasant, Wang started work in an oil field at the age of 15. When China decided to attempt self-sufficiency in oil in 1960, he and his No. 1205 Drilling Team worked in subzero temperatures for five days before striking oil at what would be China’s first big oil field. For his constant work, he was called “Iron Man” and became a national hero and a member of the Central Committee. He died in 1970 at the age of 47.

The back of the proof note shows a construction dump truck and excavator at a construction site. 


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The note still has the printer’s crop marks and annotations.

An early issue of the People’s Republic of China, a 5,000-yuan note of 1951, realized $51,600 in a grade of Paper Money Guaranty Very Fine 20. This note, attributed to Xinjiang Province, was issued mainly for China’s northern regions, and features on its face an interesting vignette of a camel, two tents and a yurt. The blue back has Mongolian characters in the center flanked by the denomination on each side.

The always popular British Commonwealth was not forgotten. A Straits Settlements Feb. 1, 1901, $100 note, from the colony’s first series of notes and considered the most important and hardest design of the series to acquire, sold for $40,800 in a grade of Very Fine 25 by PMG. The bright red note has four languages on the face: English, Chinese, Malay, and Jawi. The center of the back side shows a prowling tiger.

Also featured, from the reign of Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368), was a large, vertical format, mulberry-paper 2-kuan note. It has an image of 20 strings of cash coins in the center with a large red stamped seal, and ornate bordering. Ming Dynasty notes may be more famous, but these are nearly a century older. Besides the expected restorations and internal tears, the note was graded very fine 25 by PCGS Currency and attracted a $33,600 bid. 

The auction also offered a run of 10 Ming Dynasty 1-kuan notes, one of which reached $11,800 in About Uncirculated condition.

In all, 15 lots in the paper money session broke $10,000, reflecting, Stack’s Bowers says, “an expanding collector base for condition sensitive and hard to find banknotes.”  

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