The Curious Gold Fantasies of Shanghai

Outside the realm of normal Chinese numismatics is a series of unusual 50 and 25 tael denominations struck in gold, which have been seen for the past century as fantasies rather than official mint issues. These curious pieces feature legends that indicate they were struck during the reign of the Tóngzhì emperor (1861-1875), although their manufacture clearly points to a later date, likely after the establishment of the Republic near the end of the 20th century’s first quarter. As such, it is almost certain that they were issued privately for use as a higher value, pseudo trade coinage among the businessmen of Shanghai. This revised dating comes from a clue provided by a 50 tael bearing a cyclical date corresponding to 1869 along with an indication of a "50th anniversary," pointing to a striking date of 1919.

Our monumental 10th anniversary Hong Kong Auction, to be held on May 4-6, 2020, will feature not one, but two of these extremely interesting and rare fantasies denominated 25 taels. The obverses of these gold medallic types employ two imperial dragons, arranged vertically, with a fiery pearl above. A mix of English and Chinese legends is utilized, with the English referring to the "Empire of China" and "25 tael," while the Chinese legends translate to the aforementioned reign of the Tóngzhì emperor as well as a value of "20 and 5 liang (tael) in gold." The reverses present even more interesting iconography, with a 16-armed Tantric Buddhist deity—Mahakala—seated on a couch of lotus flowers, with various implements held in his many hands. Around, two more imperial dragons add an element to the border, with a fiery pearl again just out of their grasp at the top. The use of this deity is peculiar, although he is seen at the entrances of many Buddhist monasteries as a protective figure. This offering presents a great opportunity for specialists and connoisseurs of exotic Chinese issues and provides a glimpse into the bustling, emerging business climate that was Shanghai in the 1920s.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions (until May 4th) for our upcoming Collectors Choice Online auction in June 2020. Following that our next sales will be our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money and our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show, both in August 2020. 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.

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