012: CHINA-YUNNAN Spring 1910 Dollar Silver NGC AU55
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012: CHINA-YUNNAN Spring 1910 Dollar Silver NGC AU55
CHINA-YUNNAN Spring 1910 Silver Dragon Dollar, Kann 177, L&M 428, NGC AU55
The Mystery of the Yunnan 1910 Spring Dollar
While numismatic experts agree that the Yunnan 1910 Spring Dollar is extremely rare, its mystique lies in the four Chinese characters “Geng Xu Chun Ji” that grace its face. The characters translate to English as "Spring 1910". As was the style, all coins made in Yunnan were stamped with the name of the reigning emperor. While infrequent, Chinese coins were sometimes dated in 60 year cycles (“Ganzhi”), so it is not unusual in 1910. However, it is a first to see the season listed with the text of the date.
This begs a set of questions: Why add the season next to the date on a coin? Why this coin? And why choose the spring? After all, it is the marking of the season that makes this coin extremely rare.
There have been a host of guesses to answer the above questions, many centering upon a special occasion. Since major events have been engraved on coins for centuries, this particular hypothesis seems reasonable. The next obvious question centers upon Yunnan circa 1910. What was happening at that time to generate enthusiasm for a spring coin?
On April 1st 1910, the French-built Tonkin-Yunnan railroad had laid down its last bit of tracks after 40 years of planning and construction. Completing the Tonkin-Yunnan line could have been a momentous occasion to celebrate since it was the first railway in Yunnan Province. Running 465 kilometers (the track was 1 m, which was 1.6 m narrower than the national track distance), it was given the name "Dian" (Yunnan) in Yunnan and "Tonkin" in Vietnam. The names seem appropriate to each region since the railway started at Haiphong, Vietnam.
The rail line was first proposed in 1871 but it took until 1885 to consult with the Qing government. The French government approved the financing for the construction in 1887 but delays put the project on hold. After the 1899 signing of the Treaty of Vietnam by the Qing government, land surveys indicated that the construction of the railway would soon begin. After some further delays, the Tonkin-Yunnan line finally started construction in 1903 and finished in 1910. The Tonkin-Yunnan railroad was notorious for being very difficult to complete. However, once it was done, the rail line became the country's second transnational line and the Southwest's first railway. Tonkin-Yunnan opened the doors to commerce with Yunnan’s neighbors, promoting economic development and modernization.
Commemoration of the Yunnan Spring Dollar
The official opening for the railway occurred soon after the Spring Equinox (March 21st) of 1910, which matches the season on the coin. This could mean that the Yunnan 1910 Spring Dollar was planned to commemorate a significant event. Certainly, a transcontinental railway was an important breaking down of barriers so close to the turn of the century.
After completing the early versions of the coin, production seems to have come to a halt. This may be due to the strokes of the Chinese character “Xu”. Unfortunately, they are far from precise, which could be due to a lack of experience with this metal. The mint had been striking a great deal of copper coins at the time. Due to the limited minting, this coin is now considered to be extremely rare and historically important, especially when compared to the only other commemorative coin issued during Qing Dynasty, the Guangdong Empress Longevity one tael. The Longevity one tael memorialized a personal birthday and saw a much larger production.
As for the Tonkin-Yunnan railroad, it was planned and managed by the French with many contractors coming from Italy. The construction was divided into sections as there was strong opposition from the townsfolk who lived along the route. Some resistance was mollified, however, when business interests saw the potential for new markets and welcomed the railway. Even with the aid of local businesses, the actual laying down of the tracks was a serious challenge due to the steep terrain. Workers were brought in from near and far to complete the tough job. For example many laborers came from neighboring Kwangtung, Szechuan while quite a few others arrived from the distant city Tiensin. In 1904, the Mengzikou Custom reported and commented “It is not easy to construct this railway. If it could be successfully completed, it would be immortal.” From the record of the Custom’s report, “along the Nanxi River, there were about 5,000 workers dead which meant a 70% death rate to workers.” It is startling to consider the loss of life at this point in the construction, five years before completion. In 1905, the total population of Yunnan Province and its Southeast region was approximately 85,000. Today, Kunming, the political and cultural centre of Yunnan province and a city with thousands of years of culture history, has a population of more than three million.
Quite apropos, this coin may represent a modern-day milestone, the 100th anniversary of the completion of Tonkin-Yunnan Railroad! The long mystery of the 1910 Yunnan Spring Season pattern may be solved and confirming this coin as the one of most important artifacts of Chinese Numismatic history.
Planning for the Yunnan Provincial Mint at Kunming began in 1905. By 1907 some of the machinery had arrived at the mint, but the rest was still on its way to Yunnan at the end of that year. The last of the equipment finally arrived in 1908, and the first silver coins were struck in late 1908. According to the description in the 1908 Chinese Maritime Customs Report, these first coins were the Yunnan dragon coins with an English inscription around the dragon (KM Y252-254; Kann 166-168). In 1909 a new emperor came to the throne, so at some point during 1909 or 1910, new coins were issued with the name of the new emperor and with an English inscription (KM Y259-260; Kann 175-176). The original set, with the name of the old emperor, probably continued to be struck into the new reign and perhaps even beyond, as they are common coins today. The Yunnan silver dragon coins with no English (KM Y255-258; Kann 169-174), though they are inscribed with the name of the Kuang Hsu emperor, may have first been struck in 1911, during the Hsuan T’ung reign, but most of them were actually struck during Republican times.
Meanwhile in the spring of 1910, a dragon dollar was struck in the name of the Hsuan T’ung emperor, with the remarkable date in Chinese “Spring 1910.” This is the only Chinese coin which names a season as part of its date, but the reason it was issued is still a mystery. The leading theory is that it was struck to commemorate the completion of the French built Tonkin-Yunnan Railroad, and was, perhaps intended as a presentation piece for French or Chinese officials connected with the railroad. Although the railway was completed to Kunming in 1910, apparently the coin was never distributed, because it is exceedingly rare today. Only one or two genuine pieces are known to exist, and the first of these did not come up for public auction until April 2002.
The existence of this coin was known to collectors as early as 1920. A rubbing made in 1921 of an example owned by the Italian collector of Chinese coins, Giuseppe Ros, is in the files of the American Numismatic Society in New York. Unfortunately, forgeries of the coin were already on the market by the 1930’s. Between 1961 and 1991 the coin appeared at auction at least nine times in England, America and Hong Kong – but all of those coins were forgeries. Among these sales, the Kreisburg-Schulman (NY) sale in February 1961, offered a coin with an impressive pedigree - A. M. Tracey Woodward - King Farouk - Lee - Lindner - but it was a forgery. The specimen in the Von Halle Collection, sold by Glendining (London) in November 1966 was also a fake. And the coin in the Goodman Collection, sold by Superior in June 1991, was a forgery, but of a different type than in the earlier sales.
The first genuine example to appear in auction was in the Hua Chen (Beijing) sale in April 2002. That coin sold for 1,089,000 RMB Yuan (about US $150,000) – the first coin to sell for more than one million RMB in China. The same piece was offered five years later in a Cheng Xuan (Beijing) sale in April 2007, where it sold for US $468,000 (3,192,000 RMB). This coin is said to have been held by a family in Yunnan, and was the example from which famous collector, Ma Dingxiang, made a rubbing many years ago (illustrated in the Cheng Xuan catalog). This coin has small scratches on both sides and reddish-gold toning among the letters and design elements. This is the same coin now offered in our sale, and the only example agreed to be genuine.
Distinguishing the Real Coin from the Forgeries
Genuine Coin - There are a number of differences between the photograph concern the flame on the dragon’s lower left leg, the middle cloud to the left of the fireball, the character “pao” and the character “ch’I” (seven). On the genuine oin, one flame on the dragon’s leg curves to the right and another points down the leg. The middle cloud left of the fireball has a triangular notch on the left and right ends. The western numeral “2” is double punched. The last stroke (leg) of the character “pao” almost touches the other “leg” of the character, and the bottom horizontal stroke is longer than on the fake. The Chinese numeral “ch’i” (7) is smaller than on the fake.
Fake A - This is the oldest and most commonly seen forgery of the Yunnan Spring 1910 Dollar. Both flames on the dragon’s leg curve to the right, instead of one pointing down the leg. The middle cloud to the left of the fireball looks like the letter “H” or a tray with long handles at each end. The last stroke of “pao” is shorter and the bottom horizontal stroke is shorter, leaving more opening in the bottom of that character. The numeral “ch’i” is larger.
Fake B - Very similar to Fake A, but there are no flames on the dragon’s lower left leg. The numeral “ch’i” is smaller than on Fake A, but “pao” has the same large opening at the bottom. This fake has only been seen in Goodman specimen of this coin. It was probably made in the 1960’s or 1970’s based on the photo of this coin in M. Oka’s 1966 book, “Silver Crowns of the Far East.” The photo in the Oka book is not of an actual coin. The dragon side is simply a reproduction of the photo of the regular Hsuan T’ung dragon dollar (without date) which was issued for circulation. The Chinese side is a photo of Fake A. The photo which Oka used for the dragon side was of a worn coin; the flames on the dragon’s leg were worn off. Someone made a fake based on this photo, and thus omitted the flames.
Fake C - A well made copy, very similar to the genuine coin. The flame on the dragon’s leg is correct, as is the cloud to the left of the fireball. The western numeral “2” has a flat bottom, lacking the curves in the numeral on the genuine coin. The cloud nearest to the right rosette is simply an arc instead of the normal triangular shaped cloud found there. On the Chinese side, the “pao” is the same as in the other fake coins (large opening), but the numeral “ch’i” is small, as on the real coin. This fake has only been seen in a Cheng Xuan (Beijing) auction in April 2008, where it was sold as an imitation. It was probably made within the last 20 years.
This is one of China’s most famous coins, and with the Fengtien Tael of 1903, one of the two rarest of all Chinese coins. Missing from all important collection including - King Farouk, Woodward, Kann, Chin, Shih, Lee, Goodman, Liu and Chang. And all important museums in and out of China also without this coin.