Did You Know that the U.S. Mint struck 1898-dated Mexican Pesos and 1934-Dated Junk Dollars in 1949?

As the Chinese Civil War raged in the late 1940s, the United States made efforts to support the Nationalist Guomindang which, after Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II, had lost the initiative to the Communists in the country’s decades-long Civil War. In early 1949, the U.S. Mint began striking 1934-dated “Junk dollars” to support the Guomindang’s flagging currency regime; later in the year, 1898-dated Mexican one-peso coins were struck.

Inflation had been a persistent issue for China through most of the later stages of the Pacific War and remained an issue for both sides in the Civil War as hostilities resumed in 1945. The anticommunist Guomindang launched Silver Yuan Certificates in 1949 to provide a trusted currency as the Gold Yuan fell to inflation; to provide specie reserve for the new notes, back-dated Junk dollars and Mexican pesos were struck at the Mexico City and San Francisco mints. The new silver certificates bore representations of the Junk dollars for which they were redeemable.

Dies for the original 1934 Junk dollars were prepared at the Philadelphia Mint and the original coins were struck at the Shanghai Mint. According to the 1949 Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, over 12 million Chinese dollars were struck at United States facilities in that fiscal year, split between the mints at Philadelphia and Denver.

Mexican silver coins circulated in China for centuries before the Second World War, evidenced by the profusion of Spanish colonial and Mexican coins bearing chopmarks, characters stamped on them by merchants attesting to the coins’ weight and purity. Spanish imperial and Mexican coins continued to circulate in China well into the 20th century and when the Guomindang needed silver reserves, the United States and Mexican governments elected to strike Mexican pesos in addition to 1934 Junk dollars, counting on their popularity and ubiquity to ensure acceptance. More than 10 million 1898-dated pesos were produced, including 1,250,000 struck at the San Francisco Mint according to the Mint director’s Annual Report for 1949.

The restrikes are most obviously differentiated by the position of the “o” in Mexico City’s “Mo” mintmark. Original pesos have the top of the “M” and “o” flush with one another, where on the restrikes the top of the “o” sits above the top of the “M.” Other diagnostic criteria can be used to differentiate between originals and restrikes.

Some numismatists may have witnessed the striking of the restrike 1898 pesos as the American Numismatic Association’s convention took place in San Francisco in 1949 and some attendees toured the Mint.

1898 Peso restrikes and 1934 Junk dollars (originals and restrikes) are widely available and are affordable for collectors interested in the history of modern China, U.S. foreign policy, and Mexican silver crowns and world crowns. Stack’s Bowers Galleries offered 11 examples in our April 2023 Hong Kong Auction which sold for prices from about $200 to $1,000.

One 1934 Junk Dollar and two 1898 Peso restrikes from the San Francisco Mint are offered in Session K of Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ August 2023 Global Showcase Auction

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