This week's highlight from the Stack's Bowers and Ponterio August Hong Kong Showcase Auction is a lovely example of a perennially popular issue. The Hupeh Tael was part of a projected coinage reform based on the traditional Chinese weight standard rather than the dollar system. In the initial proposal it was also suggested to produce smaller denominations in the values of 5, 2 and 1 Mace. However, no such pieces have surfaced (even in pattern form) and it is unlikely they were ever produced. The general population found it complicated to convert two distinctly different coinage systems, especially when making change. A Hupeh Tael housed in the British Museum supports this by showing evidence of cutting to make change. The British Museum specimen is essentially Mint State with a large pie-shaped section cut from the coin in a similar manner to the "broken dollars" picture on page 121; figure 4.10 of Joe Cribb's reference Money in the Bank. This short-lived series circulated for only a brief period of time and was soon replaced by the unified Tai Ching Ti Kuo silver coinage. The Hupeh Tael has a mintage of 648,000 coins, which includes both large and small character types. It is unknown, however, exactly how many of each were struck. Although the Hupeh Tael coinage has a fairly large mintage, most likely much of this was melted down to be made into later coinage. It is interesting to note that the Hupeh Taels were struck in 0.877 fine silver as opposed to the 0.960 fine silver set forth by the currency regulations of 1905.
The obverse of this coin features the famous Chinese dragon, but this design surpasses the standard design by incorporating two of the awe-inspiring beasts. Two dragons are depicted flying and striving toward a flaming pearl which is descending towards the middle of the coin's design. The dragons appear to mirror each other, with spiraling clouds placed intermittently around them. Within the circle formed by these two flying dragons, the Chinese characters denoting One Tael are found. Manchu characters at the right and left also state the denomination of One Tael. The upper and lower English legends convey the location of Hu-peh Province and One Tael. The reverse of the coin displays an all Chinese and Manchu legend. The upper portion states in Chinese: "Made in Hupeh Province (in the) 30th Year (of emperor) Kuang Hsu. The lower legend reads: Kuping (weight) 1 Tael and these legends are separated by a rosette composed of seven dots. The inner inscription is surrounded by a border of dots, and dominates most of the visual field for the reverse. The center legend contains four Chinese symbols which denote: "Valuable Coin (of the) Kuang Hsu (regime)." Four Manchu characters appear within the larger Chinese characters and convey the same meaning as the central inscription.
While we are no longer accepting consignments of Chinese and other Asian coins and currency for our August 2018 Hong Kong Showcase Auction, we are accepting consignments for the March 2019 Hong Kong Showcase Auction. In addition, we are currently taking consignments of world and ancient coins as well as world paper money for our October 2018 Collector's Choice Online Auction and the 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) contact one of our consignment directors.