World Coins

Paper money backs large 14th century Chinese coin

This giant (78-millimeter diameter) bronze 5-qian coin was part of a currency reform that ultimately led to hyperinflation in 14th-century China.

Coin images courtesy of Stephen Album Rare Coins.

Fiscal policy throughout history has often dictated that certain paper money issues would be backed by coinage, usually in so-called “hard money” made of precious metal.

In 14th century China, giant bronze coins were issued with the promise that they backed a paper money issue. 

A rare example of this 5-qian (or mace) coin is one of many highlights of Stephen Album Rare Coins’ Jan. 17 to 19 auction. It has an estimate of $2,500 to $3,500 U.S.

Bill O’Rourke 1923-S Peace dollarInside Coin World: Finding a 1923-S Peace dollar in circulation: We preview columns exclusive to the Jan. 14 print and digital editions of Coin World, including “Found in Rolls” and “Detecting Counterfeits.”

The coin was issued circa 1350 during the Yuan dynasty, by Zhi Zheng.

In 1350, chancellor Toqto’a (Tuotuo) attempted to reform the Yuan dynasty currency by printing more paper money and creating large “Zhi Zheng Zhi Bao” copper coins that were inscribed with the promise that these coins were backed in paper money, and that these would be in equal value. 

The paper money, though, was made from inferior material and was easily damaged, making redeeming it more difficult. Problems with the money led to rebellions in the southern regions, which in turn caused the Yuan government to quickly print more money to finance its military expenditures. This further decreased confidence in the paper money and caused hyperinflation. 

Eventually, as entire carts filled with notes were needed for simple transactions, the people soon came to disregard paper money as currency, preferring barter instead as the norm, because coinage had already become a rarity.

The Album sale’s giant coin from the period weighs 154 grams (almost 5 ounces) and measures 78 millimeters in diameter (twice the diameter of an American Eagle silver dollar).

The coin is in Very Fine condition, according to the auction house.

For full details of the auction, visit the firm’s website

Connect with Coin World:  

Sign up for our free eNewsletter
Like us on Facebook  
Follow us on Twitter

Community Comments