Machine-struck coinage had played an indispensable role in Chinese history during the modernization and industrialization period, and it remains a topic of intense interest. However, new archival findings struggle to find their way to the wider public and academic books are seldom easily comprehensible, especially those compiled by scholars who work for state-owned institutions. Before the publishing of Mr. Sun Hao’s work, only several books thoroughly dedicated to the area, which are merely illustrated catalogues without historical interpretations. As an independent scholar, Mr. Sun Hao set out to write One Hundred Years of Silver and Gold Coins, 1838-1949 and its sequel Illustrated Introductions of Milled Coins and Medals of Modern China, 1889-1949 regarding milled coinage of China from the late Qing dynasty to the failure of Kuomintang. Sun, as a coin collector and numismatist, has published several papers on the topic in numismatic journals. Systematically, Sun’s volumes shed important new light for the context of Chinese milled coinage from, mainly, primary resources, and in so doing clarify some disinformation that long-misguided numismatists and collectors. As an overview of Chinese milled coins, Mr. Sun arranges his first book into eight chapters, broken down as follows:
- Chapter 1: Provincial silver coinage of the Qing dynasty
- Chapter 2: The General Mint’s silver coinage of the Qing dynasty
- Chapter 3: Silver coinage of the Republic with portraits
- Chapter 4: Provincial silver coinage of the Republic
- Chapter 5: Unofficial “silver cake” coins and tael coins
- Chapter 6: Modern gold coins and medals
- Chapter 7: Silver coinage of the communist rebels
- Chapter 8: Miscellaneous
The first two chapters, which devote to the late Qing period (1838-1911), comprise 114 out of 251 pages of the book, while the short-lived but eventful Republic period is condensed into 57 pages. The fifth chapter covers unofficial or private silver coinages, including “silver cakes” issued by Fukien and Taiwan local authorities for the first time from the 1840s to 1860s. Shanghai Tael patterns, Kweichow silver taels, and stags-head taels and Fu taels are also listed. Chapter six shows gold coins and medals from both the Qing dynasty and the Republic. He does not forget silver dollars struck by the communist rebels after they established fortified posts.
The (Hi-)Story of China’s Coinage
For each kind of coinage, Sun uncovers the story from its origin to the end by providing ample primary and secondary sources, making his book much more convincing than peer volumes. The level of detail and familiarity with primary and secondary sources that Sun brings to the telling of coins’ story is extremely impressive. Unlike the numismatists who work for state-owned museums and universities can hardly read and write in English properly, Sun incorporates not only domestic references, but also overseas references by Richard N. J. Wright, James O. Sweeny, Elliott Woodward, and other valuable numismatic work. These English references largely help to clarify some problems that puzzled numismatists for years. For example, in the first chapter, he concludes that the patterns for the first coins of Kwangtung Mint, known as the “Seven Three Reversed Pattern series,” was the only patterns which were designed and manufactured in Ralph Heaton & Sons (later renamed as the Birmingham Mint), while the rest of the patterns and circulation coins for Kwangtung were minted in China.
Rarities and Auction Records
Apart from the use of overseas primary resources, the volume incorporates auctions records with hammer prices that have emerged over the past fifty years. For example, there were copper patterns which suggested manufactured in Heilungkiang Province, according to the PCGS Population Report. However, no mint had been set up in the province. In June 2012, the Künker Auction House, as Sun cites, offered minting tools and patterns from the archives of Otto Beh’s company. The collection contains brass patterns of 20 cents and 10 cents for Heilungkiang Province. It was the first time that these well-preserved dies and patterns showed to the public. Sun also provides pictures of the extremely rare coin Funtien One Tael at high resolution, supporting by PCGS, and the Hunan pattern dollar, supporting by Chengxuan Auctions. And these are the most obvious contributions!
Essays For Coin Collectors
The first seven chapters occupy the first 220 pages of the volume and they followed by chapter eight as an appendix. Chapter eight complies with five essays that provide very useful information for coins collectors. The first essay sorts out a particular genre in the coin collection – fantasy. Sun points out that fantasies, which had never existed in history, were created for contemporary collectors but they had gradually recognized by modern-day collectors. The second essay analyses the differences between cast coins and milled coins. The third essay offers a brief history of the Birmingham Mint which largely involved in Chinese mintage. The fourth essay provides short biographies of those who related to Chinese milled coinage, including Edward Wyon, Allan Wyon, Giuseppe Ros, Luigi Giorgi, Alphonse Woodward, Eduard Kann, Clifford Hewitt, Richard Wright who first revealed the picture of the Hunan pattern dollar, which appeared in the 2006 Beijing Chengxuan Auctions as I provided above, in his paper, and some Chinese coins’ engravers. The last essay discusses certification services of coins like NGC and PCGS.
Admittedly, there are some obvious weaknesses in the book. First of all, Sun does not fully investigate Tibetan and Sinkiang’s coins. The coinage of Tibet merely occupies two pages in chapter one, and that is all! The reason has to be attributed to the ubiquitous censorship in mainland China. Any unacceptable content specifically related to Tibet, Sinkiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan will not allow publishing. The Chinese version of the Standard Catalogue of World Coins 1901-present has excluded coins from Tibet, Sinkiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Second, Sun does not completely discuss the communist rebellions’ coinage (only five pages). The reason for this probably because he is not good at this field, according to the bibliography where contains only one reference for communist coins. In fact, China Finance Publishing House has published a series of the monetary history of revolutionary base areas and nineteen volumes have been come out so far. Third, Sun apparently missed some rare coins. One of the memento dollars of the Republic was a portrait of a man with beards, who is supposed to be Yuan Shikai, on the obverse. The copies rarely appeared in auctions and exhibitions. Another mysterious Republican dollar was Zhao Hengti commemorative dollar of Hunan Province. The China Numismatic Museum holds a copy which is known as the only one copy at present. Allegedly, Hunan Museum owns a sample. In October 2019, I contacted the museum to confirm the information and they gave me a negative answer. The extremely rare fifty cents silver coin of Kweichow was not included as well.
In case you want to buy the book you may buy it through Amazon.
Read more about the history of Chinese coinage in our series: part 1, part 2 and part 3.