World Coins

Pre-owned Chinese coins sell in Hong Kong auctions

The Year 17 (1928) Auto dollar from China’s Kweichow Province is probably the most famous commemorative Chinese coin of the 20th century.

Auction rooms in Hong Kong recently served as a veritable “pre-owned lot” as nine Auto dollars were sold by two firms in five days in early to mid-December. 

Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio’s Dec. 8 and 9 sale featured six examples, and Heritage Auctions’ Dec. 11 and 12 sale included three Auto dollars. 

As with used car shopping, the options and sales prices for these Auto dollars were all over the map (please see related chart). 

The Auto dollar from China’s Kweichow Province is probably the most famous commemoration of a public works project. It celebrates an era when road construction wasn’t just another hassle of day-to-day life, but rather something to celebrate. 

The silver dollar was issued by Kweichow Governor Chow Hsi Chien to celebrate the first (presumably paved) road in the province. The automobile on the obverse of the coin is reportedly the governor’s own automobile. 

In 2011, at the height of the Chinese market, Heritage Auctions realized a record price for the type during its April 14 to 18 auction. The coin, graded About Uncirculated 58 by Professional Coin Grading Service, realized $74,750 against an estimate of $25,000 to $30,000. 

The results at the Hong Kong auctions in December 2015 were far more measured, thanks to a more contained market for Chinese coins. 

Here are three pieces illustrating the wide array of pieces available. 

The top-of-the-line car

When it comes to price, the top seller was the example encapsulated by PCGS as Genuine, though cleaned. The coin exhibits About Uncirculated Details and was placed in a PCGS Secure holder.

The coin was sold by Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio. It realized $13,145, including the buyer’s fee, more than doubling the lower estimate of $6,000. 

Notably, this coin was the first example to sell at auction during the period in question.

According to the auction house, the coin appears to have been dipped at one time and is lightly toned with “crisp details” making it “far nicer than most examples encountered regardless of [the] net details grade assessment.”

Still, given the rest of the models on the lot, the result may seem like a surprise.

Highest grade Auto dollar without damage

Heritage offered the highest-graded coin without damage, as indicated by a grading service. 

The coin graded AU-50 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., realized $7,468.75, in line with its estimate of $7,000 to $9,000. 

According to Heritage, the coin exhibits “light tone on both sides and remnants of luster in the fields.”

Based on images provided by the two firms, this coin very well may be the most attractive example of all Auto dollars to cross the block in Hong Kong that week. It is the highest graded example, and exhibits none of the problems vexing several of the other coins. 

Multiple issues suppress the price

At the low end were a pair of pieces offered by Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio that each realized $3,883.75.

The PCGS-graded example, dubbed Genuine, Cleaning, VF Details in a Secure holder, is lighter in look than the higher graded NGC piece that exhibits a darker tone and rim damage. 

The PCGS piece is “an attractive example of this always in demand type,” while the NGC graded piece is “a very presentable example of this always in demand type,” according to the auction cataloger. 

Either would suffice for a collector who has coveted this famous type piece.

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