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Qing Dynasty Gold Medal for the Establishment of the Foochow Arsenal

By Chris Chatigny, Numismatist & Cataloger

Author: Chris Chatigny / Friday, March 06, 2015 / Categories: World Coin of the Week

This week’s preview for the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio April Hong Kong Showcase Auction is a remarkable gold medal from the Qing Dynasty. This historically important medal is from a series of medals (in gold and silver) honoring foreign advisors who assisted the Qing government in constructing and maintaining an arsenal, shipyard and naval academy at Foochow. Following a series of military defeats by foreign powers (namely the Opium Wars), China went to great lengths to strengthen and modernize its military. The goal was to build China's military as an industry, by constructing a series of arsenals as well as shipyards and a naval academy at Mawei Foochow. The petition to build the Foochow Arsenal shipyard was presented to the Qing court in 1866 by Tso Tsung-t'ang, who was then governor of Fukien and Chekiang. Construction of the Foochow Arsenal began in 1867 under the guidance of French Naval officer Prosper Marie Giquel. From 1867 to 1874 Giquel and his colleague Paul d'Aiguebelle were in charge of the project. The two Frenchmen set about assembling a team of European engineers, mechanics and craftsman capable of such a task. Once plans were in motion a "guarantee agreement" or contract was made, stating that the foreigners would have the shipyard and academy completed within a five-year period. As per the agreement foreign craftsmen should ensure the Chinese co-workers were taught the appropriate skills to build ships, cast tools, operate forges, and essentially operate the facilities independently. By the end of 1873 Giquel had fulfilled his obligation and the five year agreement was about to expire. In 1874 Shen Pao-chen petitioned the Qing court, recommending the foreign advisors for special recognition. In response, the Qing court ordered the Imperial Palace Construction Section to manufacture award medals in the name of the Qing government.

The obverse of this piece features two dragons ascending, flanking a central column of four characters. This design appears over a stippled background. Above, the sun appears and is flanked by two characters. This obverse design appears within a geometric border. The reverse design bears a heavy similarity to the obverse, with a vertical inscription, yet the reverse replaces the dragons with columns of clouds. The reverse also contains a stippled background and a geometric border. Produced in high relief with sharp and refined details, the protected areas, particularly the stippled fields and geometric border, are toned with age while the less protected regions are more vibrant lustrous gold. Of a slightly smaller size than the silver example of this medal which was brought to auction last August, but certainly no less impressive. The first example of the gold version of this extremely rare historically important Qing medals we have had the honor of handling.

Look for this and other Asian and world numismatic rarities in our upcoming April Hong Kong Showcase Auction and 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 Events Calendar link at www.StacksBowers.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers Galleries April Hong Kong Showcase Auction is no longer open for consignments, we are currently taking consignments of ancient and world coins for our August 2015 ANA World’s Fair of Money Showcase Auction and Asian coins and currency for our August 2015 Hong Kong Showcase Auction. 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.