Korea’s first modern machine-struck coins are an extremely rare series and we are excited this week to showcase a Warn pattern struck in white metal. In the late 1880s Korea sought to improve their monetary system. At the time the common circulating coins were old square holed copper coins called “yopchon.” The “yopchon” – meaning leaf money – were inconvenient by most standards, but many Koreans were still willing to use them as a matter of tradition, even if they were not widely accepted by foreigners. Foreign officials petitioned the Korean government to reform the monetary system and the Korean government established the ChonhwankukGovernment Mint in Seoul. The Korean government also hired Mr. Paul Georg von Mollendorf, a German linguist and diplomat, to act as General Superintendant for the mint. Mr. Mollendorf then hired Japanese engineers from the Osaka Mint in Japan to help modernize the mint and the coinage system.
In 1886, or year 23 of King Kojong’s reign, a pattern series was struck with the following denominations: Gold 20 Warn, 10 Warn, 5 Warn, 2 Warn, and 1 Warn; Silver 1 Warn, 5 Niang, 2 Niang, 1 Niang, and ½ Niang; Copper 20 Mun, 10 Mun, 2 Mun, and 1 Mun. Despite these patterns for every denomination, only the 1 Warn, 10 Mun, and 5 Mun were struck for circulation.
This white metal Warn pattern is sharply struck with good surfaces and only shows minor signs of handling. The obverse of the coin shows two stylized Eastern dragons circling each other in flight in the center. Starting at nine o’clock and moving clockwise, the legend reads “Great Korea – Founding of the Dynasty 495 Year” which means 495 years since the founding of the Yi dynasty. This allows us to date the coin at 1886. The bottom portion of the legend is in English and states the weight in grains (416 which equates to 26.95 grams), denomination of 1 Warn, and the purity of the silver at .9000. The reverse displays the denomination vertically in Korean characters surrounded by a floral wreath. At the top there is a target design with an alternating pattern of arches. This rare Warn pattern in white metal is a wonderful example of Korea’s modernization of struck coinage, and represents an important piece of Asian numismatic history.
Look for this and other Asian numismatic rarities in our upcoming April Hong Kong Sale. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this March at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine California. For details please refer to the Auction Schedule/Details link under Current Auctions at www.StacksBowers.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.566.2580.