The dust has settled after the tremendous Stack's Bowers & Ponterio April Hong Kong Showcase Auction. One of the stand-out results was lot 50307, a magnificent Long Whisker Dragon Pattern Dollar, that realized $180,000. This pattern came about during the final period of the Chinese Empire and the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty. The Central Mint in Tientsin minted a multitude of coinage types in the later portion of the Empire, in an attempt to unify the currency system of China. Unfortunately, China's administrative disorganization (as well as a lack of sufficient funds) inhibited the reforms from gaining traction. Certainly the revolution overthrowing the monarchy later that year also prohibited their widespread use.
The design for this new coinage would share many elements with preceding Imperial and provincial coinage but would have many simplified elements. These were meant to impart the message of continued Imperial authority throughout China, an important message as the reigning Emperor Hsuan Tung was only six years old at the time. This new coinage would bear an Imperial dragon (with five toes on each foot) much like its provincial forbearers, but this dragon would dominate the entire face of the coin. The dragon glares out from 12 o'clock, its body wrapping and twisting throughout the periphery of the coin while in the center is the denomination of one Yuan essentially encircled and protected by the symbol of the Emperor. The inscription and legends also send a stripped down clear message of Qing sovereignty.
The reverse design contains the Chinese and Manchu legends expressing all of the necessary information for the piece. Between the outer crenulated border and the inner pearled ring, the Manchu and Chinese characters form the outer legend. Four Manchu characters appear above, and four Chinese characters below which state: "Hsuen Tung, 3rd Year" (1911), and these sets of characters are separated by ornate floral sprays. The central Chinese inscription states: "Ta Ch'ing Yin Pi" meaning: Great Ch'ing (Dynasty) Silver Coin.
Once this initial design had been completed it was refined several times before the design was finalized. The first modification was a slight tweaking of the calligraphy in the legends and inscription along with a redesign of some of the floral sprays flanking them. Next the dragon's whiskers were shortened so they no longer surround the denomination at center, Kann also mentions seeing a transitional design in which the dragon bears medium length whiskers but this was never struck in any significant quantity. The final stages of design are more familiar to most collectors as the "Flying Dragon" dollars that share the same composition as the earlier models but the dragon has been refined with a smaller head, short wavy feelers and more realistically rendered clouds about it. This final design was struck in great quantity at the Tientsin and Wuchang mints, however the uprising of 1911 in the latter city forced this new design to enter circulation without ceremony as emergency military pay. Even after the establishment of the Republic of China this dragon coinage was still struck as an appropriate design, as a new Republic dollar could not be made quickly enough, and hence the dragon dollars were struck until the introduction of the Yuan Shih-kai dollars in 1914. This first variation of the "dragon in clouds" style features smaller more robust characters and blunt floral leaves. This type is referred to as the "ordinary obverse" as the characters resemble that of the later adopted standard design 1911 Empire Dollar.
We are currently accepting consignments of Chinese and other Asian coins and currency for our August 2018 Hong Kong Showcase Auction. In addition to this, we are taking consignments of world and ancient coins as well as world paper money for our May 2018 Collector's Choice Online Auction, the August 2018 ANA Auction and our January 2019 New York International Auction. 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.