World Coins

French colonial military award medal in Heritage Hong Kong auction

The 1885 “Tonkin Campaign” silver medal was first awarded to all the French soldiers and sailors who took part in the battles of the Tonkin Campaign and the Sino-French War between 1883 and 1885.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

French colonization in Asia left footprints that, though eroded today, persisted for generations across the region.

The story of subjugation and warfare began more than a century ago, leaving a legacy of numismatic items, one of which is offered in Heritage Auctions’ April 4 Hong Kong monthly auction.

The 1885 “Tonkin Campaign” silver medal was awarded to all French soldiers and sailors who took part in the battles of the Tonkin Campaign and the Sino-French War between 1883 and 1885.

Designed by famed French artist Daniel Dupuis, the medal measures 30 millimeters in diameter without the attached ring (about the size of a Kennedy half dollar).

The medal depicts an effigy of the French Republic, represented as a helmeted young woman, enclosed within a laurel wreath. The word PATRIE (fatherland) is inscribed on the visor of her helmet.

The reverse lists some of the more notable engagements of the Tonkin Campaign and the Sino-French War. Two versions exist, one for the Navy and another for the Army.

The medal in the auction is the naval version, as indicated by the inclusion of Cau-giai in the list.

Issuing the medal

The medal was issued by a decree of Sept. 6, 1885, and was minted at the Monnaie de Paris. These were distributed shortly before the Bastille Day parade on July 14, 1886, to around 65,000 soldiers and sailors.

The medal was later awarded to participants in a number of earlier and later campaigns in Indochina, bringing the total number of recipients to 97,300.

The Tonkin Campaign was an armed conflict fought between June 1883 and April 1886 by the French against a shifting coalition of allied forces, including the Vietnamese, Liu Yongfu’s Black Flag Army and the Chinese Guangxi and Yunnan armies. Its goal was to occupy Tonkin (northern Vietnam) and entrench a French protectorate there.

The campaign officially ended in April 1886, with a draw-down to a limited number of occupying forces, and resulted in decades of French rule in what is part of modern-day Vietnam.

Graded About Uncirculated 55 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., the medal has an estimate of $150 to $200.

Consigned: 1885 Tonkin Campaign silver medal
Condition: About Uncirculated
Auction Location: Hong Kong
Auction Dates: April 4, 2021
Details: Silver military award medal is one of two versions issued for French soldiers in what is modern-day Vietnam

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