Our December Hong Kong Collectors Choice Auction of Asian Coins will offer an intriguing early Republic of China Commemorative Pattern [L&M-937; K-B54 (plate coin); WS-0117 (rarity: five stars)]; Wenchao-1099 (rarity: four stars). It is the only certified example listed on the NGC or PCGS population reports, and it is an EXTREMELY RARE and highly desirable issue, clearly struck in limited quantities. It seldom appears on the market and there are very few examples known.
The obverse depicts the bearded bust of Yuan Shih-kai within solid border and the legend "Da Zong Tong Xiao Xiang" (Presidential Portrait), with a wreath below. The iconography on the reverse is composed of two crossed flags (the Five-Colored Flag of the Republic of China and the Iron Blood Eighteen-star flag of the Wuchang Uprising), with the vertical legend "Kai Guo Ji Nian" (Commemoration of the founding of the Country).
Perhaps one of the rarest early Republican issues known, this short-lived commemorative has attracted much interest from collectors and scholars for more than 100 years. In an article published in The China Journal, February 1931, A.M. Tracey Woodward, a previous owner of this piece, discusses several interesting contemporary accounts from his dear friend Dr. John Abner Snell who lived and worked in Suchow. Dr. Snell reported that the city had two mints, one was exclusively for producing copper coins and was located outside the city walls, while the other was for silver issues and was situated on the interior; both closed in 1906. According to Dr. Snell, late in 1911 the silver mint went back into production ultimately closing a few months later in early 1912. All the minting equipment was dismantled and transferred to the Nanking mint. Woodward was aware of two different types of Yuan Shih-kai patterns struck during this time, although the quantity of each is unknown. Obviously, these designs never went into full production and were abandoned, leaving many questions for future numismatists. The portrait on this coin matches that on the famed 1912 silver dollar pattern known as the "Big Beard Dollar," with that issue bearing a more standard reverse that is like the 1912 Sun Yat Sen Dollar (L&M-42). The Chinese Economic Bulletin Volume 10 #331 (June 25, 1927) declares: "The Soochow Mint also issued a kind of commemorative coin, bearing the effigy of President Yuan on one side and two flags of the Republic on the other. Only 40 coins were issued." It seems likely the coin described is the type offered in the December CCO auction, though the case is circumstantial. If so, this example would be one of the last issues of the Soochow mint, within a period of a few months at the beginning of 1912. That would place the production of this coin right after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.
Another aspect to consider is the person depicted on this issue. Monumental research was undertaken by Mr. Ma Chuande, based on his father’s research (Mr. Ma Dingxiang), and subsequently published in the June 21, 1993 edition of World Coin News, Zhongguo Qianbi (China Numismatics) 1993 # 3 and in Qianbi Bolun 1995 #3. Ma was able to uncover images of a bearded Yuan Shih-kai from around 1912 whose resemblance was uncanny and is without doubt the inspiration of this issue.
This commemorative pattern highlights not only a transition in Chinese numismatics, but a broader change in the political and social landscape of China. 1912 was the end of the Qing Dynasty that had dominated China for nearly 400 years. In the place of Qing rule, arose the newly established Republic of China under the powerful sway of Yuan Shih-Kai. Yuan was born into a wealthy military family and rose through the ranks of the Chinese military and political bureaucracies during the twilight of the Qing era. After the final dissolution of the Qing Dynasty, Yuan was seen as the choice of both conservative and revolutionary factions in China as leader of the new Republic. Yuan’s rule was highlighted by stifling autocracy and conflict driven from both inside and out, primarily with Japan. Though throughout much of his reign Yuan was despotic and ultimately deposed, there was no other contemporary Chinese figure who could sufficiently hold China together as one cohesive unit. After Yuan’s death, China descended into a period of factional strife known as the Warlord Era. During this period many rival military leaders maintained only piecemeal and ever shifting control over China.
This tenuous situation continued until the nationalist Kuomintang Party led by Chaing Kai-Shek united China once again in 1928. The unification of the Kuomintang was not fully complete, and Civil War between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist party broke out almost immediately. Many warlords retained influence and often offered support against the Nationalist Government. The Chinese Civil War was only interrupted by the Second Sino-Japanese War, that became subsumed into the Pacific Theater of World War Two. In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party achieved a victory in the protracted conflict, and the Kuomintang was forced off Mainland China, onto the island of Taiwan, ending nearly a half-century of conflict and the government rule known as the Republic of China on the mainland.
The legacy of Yuan Shih-Kai remains complex and divisive in Mainland China and Taiwan. He was a uniter of China during a tumultuous time, yet his dictatorial tendencies and attempt at reinstating the office of emperor, with him on the throne, has left his legacy murky. Nevertheless, his stature in the history of the modern Chinese state cannot be understated, and this exceptionally rare pattern is perhaps one of the first numismatic issues of Yuan Shih-Kai. The ever-popular circulation Yuan Shih-Kai Dollar was produced well after Yuan’s deposition and death. This issue should be seen as the forerunner to that popular series of coins, and as one of the first concrete examples of any historical testimony tied to the new Republic of China.
To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales. We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our January 2022 Official Auction of the NYINC and our spring 2022 Hong Kong auction. Additionally, we are always accepting submissions for our Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auctions, the next of which will be in February. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.