World Coins

Rejected medal design depicting dragon soars in sale

A rare pattern silver medal for the First Opium War in 1842 realized more than three times its high estimate during a June 22 auction in Hong Kong.

Medal images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

After British soldiers fought in the campaign known as the First Opium War, an early effort to honor them in medallic form was quickly squashed.

A pattern for the silver Queen Victoria military decoration for those engaged in battle was rejected for its design, showing a vanquished dragon (indicating the Chinese). A rare example of this pattern medal realized $26,290 U.S. (including the 19.5 percent buyer’s fee) during Heritage Auctions’ June 22 and 23 auction in Hong Kong. The medal had an estimate of $4,000 to $8,000. 

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Famed engraver William Wyon designed the medal, which shows a youthful portrait of Queen Victoria on the obverse and the British lion with paws atop a suppressed Chinese dragon on the reverse. A legend translating to “They demanded peace by force of arms” appears on the reverse.

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The design was rejected because “its illustration might unnecessarily harm the mending of relationships,” according to Heritage.

The Treaty of Nanking, signed in 1842 and giving Hong Kong to the British, marked an end to the First Opium War (1839 to 1842), which was waged between the United Kingdom and China. Although the war was broadly a result of wide-ranging imbalances in trade between the two nations, it was the dispute over the British importation of opium from India that ultimately gave the war its popular name. 

The Gem Uncirculated medal measures 37 millimeters in diameter and weighs 29.01 grams.

Only a few examples of the medal are known to exist, the auction firm reports; another example sold in a July 2010 Dix Noonan Webb auction having a suspension ribbon attached. “This piece, never having been suspended, is a die match to the example in the Royal Mint Museum,” reports Heritage.

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