Extremely Rare T’ai Ping Rebellion ¼ Tael

Just one week remains before the inaugural session of the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio August Hong Kong Showcase Auction. Be sure to view the auction here, and keep in mind that the first session starts live Monday August 18 at 10 AM Hong Kong Time, which is Sunday August 17 at 7 PM Pacific Time. The numismatic treasure we feature here is a silver ¼ Tael and hails from the tumultuous T’ai Ping Rebellion. The Qing Dynasty’s loss to Great Britain in the First Opium War in 1842, coupled with a series of natural disasters and economic problems had led to a widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling regime. Another factor in the discontent was the Qing Government’s ethnic composition of Manchus. The majority of the Chinese populace, ethnically Han Chinese, viewed the Manchus as corrupt and ineffective. The southern portion of the Chinese countryside, containing a majority of the laboring classes was especially strong in anti-Manchu sentiment. Enter Hong Xiuquan, a disillusioned would-be intellectual whose failed entrance into the ruling scholarly elite, coupled with a lengthy illness and a Protestant pamphlet transformed him into the eventual leader of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64). Hong established the Taiping Tian Guo (The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace) with the ideals of shared property, equality for women and their own brand of Christianity (to replace Confucianism and Buddhism). With his capital at Nanjing, his armies cut a swath of destruction across China, eventually moving as far north as Shanghai, where they were routed. After that defeat, the Taiping Rebel army was pushed south by a combined Qing and European coalition. Hong Xiuquan died just before the Qing army retook Nanjing and put most of the city to the sword. It is estimated that over 20 million civilians and soldiers died in the 15 years that the rebellion raged on, mostly as a result of plague and famine. The sack of Nanjing saw the deaths of more than 100,000 people within a span of three days.

The Taiping Kingdom issued a number of cast bronze cash coins, as well as a unique form of silver and perhaps even some gold coinage. All are scarce now, but were plentiful at the time and saw wide circulation. The silver pieces weighed one-half and one-quarter tael. Each coin was individually hand inscribed with the characters “T’ien Guo” (Heavenly Kingdom) on the obverse, and “Sheng Pao” (Sacred Currency) on the reverse. There is little information regarding this labor-intensive hand engraving process. Most certainly the nature of their production severely limited the output, and they may have been used only for special purposes. Since these pieces were produced in Nanjing, once the Qing army massacred the inhabitants and razed the city a great majority of these pieces were likely destroyed. Even after the end of the rebellion, owning such a coin in China would mark the owner as a former rebel, a designation that could very easily lead to death. As a result, only five pieces are known to exist, one of which is housed in the Smithsonian museum collection. More recently the Kenneth Bressett example sold for $28,750 in our April 2012 auction.

Look for this and other Asian numismatic rarities in our upcoming August Hong Kong Showcase Auction and Sale. Preview this incredible piece’s lot listing here. For details please refer to the Events Calendar link at While our Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio August Hong Kong Showcase Auction is closed for further consignments, we are currently taking consignments of Asian, world and ancient coins for our newly added December Macau Showcase Auction of Asian coins and currency (the inaugural show). We are also taking consignments for our November Baltimore and New York International auctions. 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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