World Coins

‘Bullets’ fly in Hong Kong auction from Heritage

What may be Thailand’s most famous numismatic contribution, at the least the most familiar to collectors in the West, are the roundish ball-shaped silver (and sometimes gold) coins known as bullet money.

An array of this material was offered during Heritage Auctions’ Dec. 5 and 6 auction in Hong Kong.

Bullet money was made in various sizes, with the unit or basic example, called a tical or baht, weighing 15 grams and measuring slightly less than 15 millimeters in diameter.

According to The MacMillan Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatics by Richard Doty, the coins “began as a thick round glob of metal, the ends of which were hammered upward to form a very tight ‘U’; coinage was completed with one or more validating punches.”

Silver examples ranged from one-64th to 4 ticals, and gold examples are known.

The bullet money was phased out when machine-struck coinage began to appear in the 1860s, but the baht name is in use today.

Precursor to bullet money

The first lot in the section offered a circa 1300s zinc “bullet” denominated 50 baht.

Issued anonymously during the kingdom of Sukothai (Sukhothai), the coin weighs 735.8 grams and measures 50 millimeters in diameter.

It features five wheel stamps, two triangular stamps with a group of pellets, and two elephant stamps.

Referred to as “Khub” money, this early coinage served as the forerunner to the later pot duang or bullet money, and supposedly functioned for ceremonial exchange rather than as a general circulating medium of payment. Though lighter examples are common, heavier pieces such as this are not.

This coin was part of the Charles Opitz Collection. Opitz is a well-known researcher and collector of non-traditional money (often called primitive money).

Graded Good–Extremely Fine by the auction house, the coin realized $2,400 including the 20 percent buyer’s fee.

Gold bullet presentation set

A seven-coin set of gold bullet coins was offered during the sale.

The coins were issued in 1851, among King Rama IV’s multiple efforts to induce gold coins to circulate.

“Despite issuing over 19 different types of gold money, none ever found general acceptance, and there is doubt whether they were ever minted in sufficient quantities,” according to the auction house. “As such, individual pieces seldom become available, let alone in nearly complete, multi-denomination sets as the present offering.”

Denominations in this set are 1/64 baht, 1/32 baht, 1/16 baht, 1/8 baht, 1/4 baht, 1/2 baht, and 1 baht.

The set is missing only the 2- and 4-baht coins, which the firm notes are both extremely difficult to locate in any grade.

From the Opitz Collection, the set realized $11,400, including the buyer’s fee.

Ceremonial 20-baht bullet money

An 1880 silver 20-baht coin for Rama V was another highlight. The coin (also valued at 1/4 chang or 5 tamlung) is in Extremely Fine  condition, according to the firm, and realized $13,200 with the fee.

The coin weighs 302.67 grams and measures 37 millimeters in diameter.

It was produced on the occasion of the cremation of the Princess Mother, Somdet Pr’a Deb Sirindhra, and reportedly given to attendees of the Princess Mother’s cremation ceremony on May 24, 1880.

The coin was also part of the Opitz Collection.

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