The Only 1868 Hong Kong Proof Set Known to Exist

Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio is excited to offer this week’s August 2014 Hong Kong Showcase Auction highlight — a unique 1868 Hong Kong Proof Set, the only complete set known to exist. While unique as a complete set, on an individual basis every coin present is a great rarity. The 5 Cents, 10 Cents and Dollar were unknown to both Pridmore and Remick (two of the leading authors in this field). In fact, the 5 Cents and 10 Cents were totally unpublished and reportedly unknown as proofs prior to the discovery of this set. In researching the Irving Goodman, Jerry Remick, Fred Pridmore, Diana, and Dragon Collection, the only record for any denomination of 1868 Proof coinage appeared in Superior’s 1995 auction of the Irving Goodman collection that contained a 50 Cent 1868 Proof which sold for $109,250. Prior to the discovery of this set, the Goodman collection noted “possibly only one other 1868 50 Cent exists in a museum,” thus suggesting only two examples are known in private hands. This unique 1868 Hong Kong proof set first became known to the numismatic community when it appeared in Spink’s Auction #7023 (Lot #236, September 27, 2007). Prior to this, the set was completely unpublished and remained unknown to numismatic scholars. It was originally acquired in the course of doing business in Hong Kong and remained in the same family for more than 100 years.

The island of Hong Kong, located at the mouth of the Pearl River, has long been of huge maritime significance. Ceded to Great Britain at the end of the first Opium War in 1842, Hong Kong was leased for 99 years to Great Britain in 1898. These leases expired in 1997 and on July 1st, control reverted to the People’s Republic of China as a Special Administrative Region. The Hong Kong Mint was located in Causeway Bay on Sugar Street and conducted coining operations for only about two years. Authorization to establish the mint in Hong Kong was granted by England on April 10, 1863 and production began May 7, 1866. The mint in Hong Kong served as a colonial branch of the British Royal Mint; however, the operation proved to be a financial failure and shut down in April of 1868. After this closure, the machinery was sold to the Osaka Mint in Japan. The 1866-68 coinage is highly important, as it represents the first modern machine struck coinage actually produced in Hong Kong. Subsequent Hong Kong issues were produced in England, with the large majority being produced by the Heaton Mint at Birmingham.

All pieces are graded by NGC, and the set includes: 5 Cents, 10 Cents, 20 Cents, Half Dollar and Dollar pieces. The 5 Cents piece features the youthful head of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) facing left adorned with a crown, “Victoria – Queen” legend around. The reverse features four Chinese characters, “Hong Kong five cents”. In the outer border, the English legend states: “Hong-Kong Five Cents 1868”. The 10 Cent piece differs in its obverse design, which features a “Gothic” full bust of Victoria, “Victoria – Queen” legend around. The reverse is nearly identical to the 5 Cents piece, with the substitution of “Ten” in the Chinese and English legends. The 20 Cent piece returns to the obverse design of the 5 Cents piece, a coroneted head of Victoria facing left, “Victoria – Queen” around. The reverse is similar to the 5 and 10 Cents pieces; again it substitutes “20” in the Chinese and English legends. The two larger denominations, the Dollar and Half Dollar offer a more complex obverse and reverse design, owing to the larger surface area allowed. The Half Dollar obverse features a similar left facing coroneted head of Victoria, within a Chinese scroll pattern design that divides the legend. The upper and lower legend states the regnal name: “Victoria” and “Queen” respectively. Starting from the center and moving out, the standard reverse depicts a Chinese labyrinth designed by Owen Jones and contains one of the many forms of the character SHOU which stands for longevity. Four characters are encircling this design and state: “Hsiang Chiang Pan Yuan” or Hong Kong, 1/2 Dollar. The English legend around this design contains: “Half Dollar Hong Kong 1868. The Chinese scroll pattern completes the reverse. The Dollar piece, the “da bing” (big biscuit) could buy you 25 pounds of rice, over seven pounds of beef, or more than six pounds of pork at the time of mintage. The Dollar coin features a similar obverse design to the Half Dollar, a left facing coroneted head of Victoria, surrounded by a Chinese scroll pattern design with the legend “Victoria Queen” included. The reverse design is nearly identical to the Half Dollar, with the Chinese and English legends altered to state the change in denomination, among the Chinese labyrinth pattern.

All five pieces display some minor handling marks, and some inconsequential hairlines are present on some of the pieces. However, these trivial marks do not detract from the beautiful toning they all possess. Extended storage in its original case has artfully toned these pieces. Additionally, all of these pieces feature a milled edge. All five pieces are graded by NGC, with the 5 and 10 Cents pieces receiving Proof-63, the 20 Cents Proof-62, and the Half Dollar and Dollar both receiving Proof-61 grades. The coins are accompanied by the original heart shaped presentation case. The interior is velvet and silk lined with circular depressions to neatly house each piece, while the exterior is wrapped in embossed leather (perhaps shark skin) with golden trim. This truly remarkable rarity is sure to be the centerpiece of any collection.

Look for this and other Asian numismatic rarities in our upcoming August 2014 Hong Kong Showcase Auction. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this July and August at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Events Calendar. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. Our Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio August 2014 Hong Kong Showcase Auction is still open for further consignments of Asian coins, and our 2014 August ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction is still open for consignments of world and ancient coins as well. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.

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