World Coins

Dragon dollar pattern variety soars in Hong Kong sale

The Long Whisker Dragon variety of the pattern silver dollar from Year 3 (1911) in China realized $3 million during a May 4 auction in Hong Kong.

Images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers.

China’s Year 3 (1911) Dragon silver dollar pattern is a marquee example of a coin that could have been, and a recent sale of a rare variety of the pattern is an example of a marquee moment in numismatics.

A Specimen 63+ example of the “Long Whisker Dragon” type, graded by Professional Coin Grading Service, realized $3 million, including the 20% buyer’s fee, during Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Hong Kong auction May 4.

This becomes the highest price realized for a world coin sold by the firm.

Ben Orooji, senior numismatist and auctioneer with the firm, gaveled the coin to its record price. 

“We estimated the lot at $750,000 to $1,500,000,” he posted on Facebook. “Online pre-bidding had been creeping up all night and when the lot opened we were at $1,400,000.  After nine minutes of a slow back and forth with carefully considered bids, the gavel dropped at $2,500,000 bringing the total price realized to $3,000,000! Outstanding! What a night (morning) this is. So many six-figure lots and several seven figure lots and the fun isn’t over yet!”

His comment hints at the overall importance of the auction, which was dominated by rare Chinese coins.

Of the 11 world coin lots ever sold by the firm for $1 million or more, seven are Chinese, and three were sold in this auction.

In that top 11 group, all but one result was achieved in the last 13 months, demonstrating the recent market strength.

The pattern coin, struck at the Tientsin Mint, is cataloged as Kann 223 in Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Coins Gold, Silver, Nickel and Aluminum by Eduard Kann.

This type is among the most famous and certainly the most demanded of patterns, and of Chinese machine struck pieces generally.

“Dating from the final year of the Qing Dynasty, this example distills down into a dollar-sized flan all of the artistry and sublime majesty that one associates with China,” the firm said in the lot description.

Many die varieties are known for this series, with the present specimen distinguished through stylistic differences in the Manchu script and leaves.

Though all examples of this pattern are immensely desirable, what separates this piece is the unadopted obverse design.

Fewer than 25 examples of this variety have been certified by PCGS, and this coin is second behind one classified as Specimen 64.

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