World Coins

Rare Chinese silver pattern coin of Hunan in sale

A rare Chinese pattern coin leads Champion Auction’s Nov. 29 sale in Macau. The finest known example of the Hunan silver 50-cent pattern has a pre-sale estimate of $230,000 to $400,000 U.S.

Images courtesy of Champion Auctions.

A rare Chinese pattern coin leads Champion Auction’s Nov. 29 auction in Macau.

The star of the auction is the finest known 1897 silver 50-cent pattern for Hunan. This coin was struck at the Heaton Mint and is from the famed Irving Goodman Collection.

Graded Specimen 66+ by Professional Coin Grading Service, the coin is one of two graded by the firm, the other rated Specimen 63 and sold by Champion in 2009.

Six examples of this rarity are known, according to the auction house, citing research in the Heaton Mint archives by Richard Wright in the 1970s. Three of the coins are in collections in Taiwan, and the whereabouts of one example is unknown.

“No examples are in any Chinese museums or collections in mainland China,” the auction house said.

The circumstances allowing the existence of these coins are murky.

Earliest minting records for Hunan omit these coins, which pre-date the official opening of the provincial mint in 1901, but there are 10- and 20-cent coins dated 1898 and 1899.

The province’s noted reputation for rebuffing foreigners further clouds the waters.

“Why then would Hunan purchase a foreign style coinage plant, which would require the presence of foreign workmen to set it up and a foreign supervisor to keep in running?” the auction house asks.

A news article from 1897, recently discovered, suggests that the Canton Mint sent workers to Hunan to establish the mint there. The Heaton Mint was enlisted to create dies for this mint, but neither the dies nor the coins ever made it to China, according to Wright’s research, because of a change in provincial government.

In the 1970s, the sale of the Heaton Mint archives helped propel these coins into the marketplace, and Wright’s research helps answer questions (but poses many others) regarding their curious nature.

The coin in this auction has an estimate of $230,000 to $400,000 U.S.

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