The “Auto Dollars” of Kweichow

Numismatic representations of automobiles are always popular due to their immense crossover appeal and the fact that such commonplace machines are seldom encountered in the hobby. Some of the earliest appearances were on medals rather than coins, as these generally commemorated auto shows and races as far back as the first decade of the 20th century. Coins, however, had fewer depictions. One of the more popular racing motifs among modern issues is the controversial 100 Patacas from Macao, issued for the 25th anniversary of the Grand Prix and featuring an open wheel racecar both with and without decals. One of the earliest, if not the earliest, automotive coins, however, wasn’t issued for racing. The 1928 "auto dollars" from the Chinese province of Kweichow instead employ a vehicle much more suited for a joyride.

In the 17th year of the Republic (1928), the first motor road was opened in Kweichow and, because of this momentous occasion, the legendary "auto dollar" was born. What other vehicle to employ on one side of the coin than that of the provincial governor, Zhōu Xīchéng (Chow Hsi-chen). Featuring a fairly luxurious automobile for the time, this design   perfectly channels the flair of the roaring ’20’s on the eve of the Great Depression. Minor varieties are identifiable, such as the style of the car’s ventilator, the degree of detailing on the doors, and even the shape of the spare tire. The major variation, however, centers around the blades of grass directly below the rear tire. The more common type exhibits two blades, while the rarer displays three. The great Eduard Kann relayed the theory that the various blades of grass were arranged in such a fashion as to loosely resemble the 西成  (Hsi-chen) characters in the governor’s name. Though this provides a rather interesting story, it is difficult to determine if anything was actually to be conveyed by this scattered flora.

Our upcoming October Hong Kong auction will feature two of these outstanding "auto dollars," and both are of the "two grass blades" variety. While one is graded just PCGS VF Details with some damage (lot 32303), it nevertheless serves as a suitable type for the more budget-minded collector looking to possess one of these dollars. The other, however, offers the rather robust grade of PCGS AU-50, complete with pleasing gray toning and some subtle hints of shimmering luster (lot 32202). For the connoisseur, this is an incredible example of the type and high on the list within the Chinese series as a whole. Look for these two storied specimens, along with the rest of our impressive sale, online now!

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 for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions for our next CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction, the consignment deadline of which is September 8th. Following that, our next larger format auction will be our official auction of the 2021 N.Y.I.N.C. in January. 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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