World Coins

Machinery brings Dragon dollar design to China

The first Chinese Dragon dollars debuted in 1889 in Kwangtung, and soon the iconic image appeared on silver dollars across China.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Editor's note: this is the fourth part of a feature story by Jeff Starck about coins that are important, iconic or interesting. The story originally appears in the September monthly issue of Coin World

Nearly a century after the steam technology altered the course of British coinage, modernization came to Chinese coins.

In 1887, the Kwangtung Mint was authorized. Machinery, dies and other equipment were ordered from the Heaton Mint in Birmingham, England, arriving in China in 1888. When it opened in 1889, the Kwangtung facility became the first Chinese mint to use modern technology.

The first coinage series included a silver dollar that was also denominated as 7 mace and 3 candareens. The coin introduced a new design for circulation, featuring a dragon in its design, giving name to the Dragon design type. The design was inspired by Dragon dollars then in use in Japan, and the design was also used in Korea.

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The weight of 27.22 grams in .900 fine silver was meant to mirror the popular silver 8-real coin that served as a de facto worldwide currency for several centuries. 

Those early silver Dragon dollar coins contained one candareen (0.01202 troy ounce) of metal more than the coins they were intended to replace, the Mexican 8-real coin, so when circulation production began, many of the new coins were removed from circulation and melted.

The design became iconic. 

Dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and Chinese folklore, with appearances found in an archaeological context as far back as the fifth millennium B.C., so it’s only natural that the machine-struck coinage of China show the beast. 

The Dragon dollar design became standard across all provinces of China, not just Kwangtung. The dragon remained on the coins of China until the early decade of the new millennium. 

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