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