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Scarce $50 note claims record

Aficionados of Asian paper money could perhaps consider taking time out to scan the results of Spink China’s latest collectors’ sale in Hong Kong. The early April auction saw some fascinating prices realized. At the very least, these suggest increases in insured values of existing collections are required.

It would seem that cherry-pickers were out in force. Certainly some bidders knew what they wanted and were prepared to pay the Earth, if not Mars and Venus, to acquire their hearts’ desires.

This $50 note issued by the Mercantile Bank of India rose to three times its high estimate en route to commanding $144,780 during the early April auction presented by Spink China. (Image courtesy and © Spink, London)

Top-selling paper money lot was an extremely rare issued Mercantile Bank of India $50 dated 1 May 1924 (P-238). It came graded VF, lacked any repairs, holes or tears but had a single line of chopmarks on the back reading ‘Hong Kong Sheung Wan Tai Fook Goldsmith’s.’

Perhaps the inability of the cataloger to locate any previous public auction sale of this note in the past 20 years explains why the SCWPM entry is in need of urgent revision. That on offer realized well over three times upper estimate of $144,780 [HKD1,140,000]. This is a record price for any single vintage Hong Kong bank note.

A second extremely rare lot appeared on the block late in the sale to vie with the above $50 for top billing: a People’s Republic of China 500 yuan 1st series renminbi of 1951 (P-857a). Although graded PMG-45 Choice Extremely Fine, the catalog description qualified it as “retouched.” Nonetheless, it bid up to over double upper estimate to take $137,160 [HKD1,080,000].

This $5 issued by the Oriental Bank Corporation found a new home for $121,920. (Image courtesy and © Spink, London)

An Oriental Bank Corporation $5 dated 7 March 1879 over the original 1866 date provided a third rarity (P-267b). This is the third such example to surface in Hong Kong in the last few years. It is by far and away in the best condition, grading a solid F despite faint annotations, pinholes and a small rust spot. On an estimate of HKD800,000-900,000, it took $121,920 [HKD960,000].

Other heavy hitters included a Mercantile Bank $500 specimen of 26 May 1959 (P-243s) that went for $39,624 [HKD312,000] in PMG 64; a choice Ming dynasty 1 kuan 1368-1399 (P-AA10) that fetched $27,432 [HKD216,000] in PMG 55EPQ About Uncirculated; and a People’s Republic of China 10,000 yuan 1st series renminbi of 1951 (P-858a) that raced away to score $25,146 [HKD198,000] or almost double upper estimate in PMG40.

The Spink catalog was also offering the second Yuan Dynasty 2 kuan to surface in Hong Kong in April (NIP, SM-C167-1). This one graded PCGS 10 Very Good with splits, tears and repairs commensurate with its age. On an estimate of HKD180,000-250,000, it managed a most respectable $36,576 [HKD288,000].

The HKD prices-cited have been converted at a rate of 7.85HKD=1USD and include a buyer’s premium of 20 precent.


This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter. >> Subscribe today.


More Collecting Resources

• With over 25,000 listings and 15,500 illustrations, the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Modern Issues is your go-to guide for modern bank notes.

• Order the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues to learn about circulating paper money from 14th century China to the mid 20th century.

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