This week an incredible Shantung 10 Dollars Pattern struck in gold offers a brilliant and rare coin and an incredible story. This beautiful coin was struck on a pattern basis and was never released for circulation which greatly enhanced its rarity. The story of the warlord who issued it adds interesting history to the coin as well. This chaotic period of Chinese history is known as the “Warlord Era” (1916-1930), and for good reason. The local military governors and various warlords were vying for control after the death of Yuan Shih-kai, which had left a power vacuum. One of these warlords was Zhang Zhongchang who grew up in poverty in the province of Shantung. At the age of 30 Zhang joined a bandit gang and maneuvered it into the service of the local military governor. After an early defeat he sought refuge in Manchuria with the warlord Zhang Zuolin. Zhang Zhongchang quickly impressed his superior by offering him a simple gift which represented his ability to bear any burden handed to him, and was promptly promoted.
With a command position Zhang Zhongchang rapidly became a capable and effective warlord general, effectively using armored trains, nurses, and White Russian mercenaries. Zhang incorporated a large number of members of the White Russian faction from the Russian civil war (1917-22). A large group of White Russian nurses helped to boost the morale of Zhang’s troops, and their combat efficiency. This success made Zhang very popular, and he earned several nicknames over the course of his career. Zhang was an avid gambler, and he especially enjoyed Pai Gow, which earned him the nickname “Dogmeat General” because Pai Gow is sometimes called “eating dog meat.” One of his other interesting nicknames is “72 Cannon Chang.” Another colorful nickname attributed to him was “Three Don’t Knows” because he said he “didn’t know how much money he had, how many concubines, or how many men in his army.” His harem of concubines of various nationalities was indeed very large, and he is said to have assigned each woman a number since he could not remember all of their names (or speak their languages). Yet another fascinating story about the Dogmeat General is his ingenuity with his supplies. After defeating a rival army and absorbing a large amount of defectors, Zhang chose to incorporate them into his own officer corps. He then promoted all of his existing officers but his supply of metal had run low, so he had his men fashion stars out of gold and silver foil from their cigarette packages.
This lack of metal helps to explain why these Pattern 10 Dollars gold coins are so scarce. Zhang ordered this coin to be minted in 1926 at the Tientsin Mint in small quantities. They were never released for circulation most likely due to the lack of physical metal. In addition to his involvement in the coin production for his province, Zhang also oversaw the cremation of banknotes for the Shantung province.
This coin is extremely well finished according to Kann, due to its minting at Tientsin and its pattern quality. The details on the obverse of this coin exemplify the precision and care taken in the creation of these pattern gold pieces. A circle encloses an open wreath of decorative ears of wheat, which surrounds two Chinese characters which state the denomination of 10 Dollars. The upper Chinese legend states: “15th Year of the Republic of China” while the lower legend reads: “Gold Coin of Shantung Province.” These two legends are separated by eight-petalled flowers or rosettes. While the obverse provides all of the necessary numismatic information, the reverse visually stuns the viewer with its incredible design.
This dazzling design integrates Imperial symbolism but it was issued by the Republic. Imperial sympathizers may have influenced this design to commemorate the wedding of the last Manchu emperor, Pu Yi. The Dragon, well established as an Imperial symbol, is shown on the right side, meeting with the phoenix on the left side over the insignia of longevity, according to Kann. The connection to a wedding is further reinforced when you notice that the phoenix and dragon are each holding wine cups, possibly toasting to the emperor and his new wife’s health. The design is similar to an earlier silver dollar issue, but the level of detail for this piece – given its uncirculated pattern characteristic – elevates this coin’s value and collectability considerably. This particular coin is the highest certified by NGC or PCGS for its type. The story of Zhang Zhongchang further enhances the mystique surrounding this coin, resulting in an incredible coin with a fascinating story.
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.