The Heritage Hong Kong International Numismatic Fair (HKINF) closed in late June and continued the trend of offering glamorous rarities in stunning conditions. The main focus was on Chinese coinage of the 19th century, with great classics from various provinces including Fengtien, Chili, Kirin, Kwangtung and Hupeh.
Included in the Heritage HKINF auction were many pattern pieces from several states and eras of China’s history but for this article I will keep to the business and proof strikes of regular issue coins.
The Kwangtung offering was outstanding in quality. Of particular interest were a pair of Heaton mint restrikes Y203 specimen dollar strike graded SP67 by PCGS and a specimen trial strike 20 cents Y196 graded Sp63 by NGC. Each is so stunning in quality of strike and eye appeal as to boggle the mind.
On the other hand an extremely scarce circulation type from Kwangtung, the Y195.1 10 cents with adjusted denomination as 7.2 Candareens, of which only a few are known, stirred little interest in bidding. Though famously rare, this example only graded VG with scratches.
It may have been a pocket piece, as the type never officially entered circulation lacking the approval of authorities in Peking. But rarity alone does not carry enough weight these days and this little gem went home with some very lucky collector for a mere $3,840 with the juice.
There was a nice looking Kirin Flower Basket Dollar in the Heritage HKINF sale. A scarce type and the toughest date the 1900 Flower basket is rarely encountered and most pieces are circulated, while this example was PCGS MS62.
Though not the finest known grade, this coin may have been the best grade available in the market. I am guessing that someone walked away with a bargain at the final price of $120,000.
Kweichow Province produced very little coinage and the Republic era silver, brass and copper types are all highly sought by collectors. This province produced both the Auto Dollar in 1928 and the Bamboo Dollar in 1949. Both iconic Chinese crowns with high demand and high prices. Finding either one graded XF or better is quite a feat.
Heritage had this to say of the Bamboo Dollar offered in the HKINF sale, “the Bamboo Dollar was produced amidst the turbulent years of the 1940s, standing as the final issue produced prior to the Communist victory in October of the same year. Though this emission is more "commonly" encountered in lesser states of preservation, with neither NGC nor PCGS certifying any above AU58, the present coin seems to fly in the face of the lower grades often presumed for the type”
This is a very attractive coin and quite tightly graded. It has the great eye appeal and a superior strike one looks for in any silver crown. These factors must have been considered by the bidder who took it home for a grand total of $408,000.
So much attention has been focused lately of the grand auctions of 19th century Chinese coinage with their high grades and ever rising prices that I feel obligated to remind readers that the phenomenon has not been exclusive to that area of our hobby. Coins of all areas of the world are realizing fabulous prices, even for relatively common types so long as they represent the highest possible grade known to exist for that coin.
It’s a very logical process and a reliable one for collectors of past eras. Buy the best possible coins in terms of grade and appreciation will naturally follow. Previously, collectors had also centered in on rarities in high grades as they worked to build cohesive collections of coinage they loved.
Now however, we are seeing commonly traded types bringing astronomical prices for the finest known example. Even the second or third finest of a type are bringing greatly elevated prices, endorsing a collector/investor approach to building the classic collection with a mid towards substantial appreciation.
A great example of this trend can be seen in the well-loved Austrian 100 corona of 1908 commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the reign of Franz Joseph I. This gold coin is quite common in circulated grades, much tougher in mint state grades and extremely scarce in proof.
While it’s reclining figure of Fame resting in the clouds is certainly an iconic design, the mintage of 16,000 has made the circulation strike pretty much bullion or at least investment gold in status. A nice looking AU or a low end MS grade makes this type collectible in a range from about $3,500 to $5,000.
We don’t know the mintage for the proof issue however and attractive examples of any proof of the type are rising in price quickly. A quick look back to the beginning of pandemic awareness reveals a PR62 selling at Heritage in January 2019 for $15,000. In August 2019 Heritage sold a PR62 for $10,800. In January 2020, three PR62 examples passed through Heritage for prices from $11,100 to $14,400.
A year later a PR62 example realized $24,000 through Heritage. May brought $32,400 for another PR62 and in the Heritage HKINF auction a PR62+ brought $33,600. In essence, we’ve seen PR62 examples of the Lady in the Clouds increasing tri-fold in about two and a half years during pandemic buying.
The bulk of known proof strikes for the 1908 100 corona grade out at PR61, PR62 and PR63, with just a handful grading PR64. One PR64 example sold in January 2021 through Heritage for $66,000. But the lone known PR65 realized $70,500 in 2017, leaving us to wonder what that finest known of the type would bring at auction in 2021.
A pair of 53 millimeter uniface essais for the popular 1931 Piastre of French Indo-China appeared in the Heritage HKINF auction. These were a gift from artist Lindauer to French politician François Piétri, as detailed in the compact outer edge inscription, making them both historically and numismatically extremely interesting, as well as unique.
I was very pleased to see that these items were sold together in a single lot for historical preservation. They realized a respectable $19,200 including buyer’s fees and should be the centerpiece of their new French colonial collection home.
Several excellent Republic of China types came up in the Heritage HKINF auction. A Yuan Shih-kai copper pattern of the well-known design from 1914 realized $99,000. A lovely toned Li Yuan-hung Dollar, Y321, without hat type grading MS66 realized $72,000. There are a few MS66’s of this type that have appeared in the market, but population reports from NGC and PCGS indicate there are no examples in higher grade than that.
Two Li Yuan-hung Y320’s, the with hat type, also were sold by Heritage at the HKINF auction. The first was toned and graded MS65. It brought $108,000. However, the second example, graded MS64 with a blazing white appearance, closed higher at $132,000. The second example was a scarce variety lacking the crossbar in the H of CHINA. Heritage noted that the last time this variety appeared for sale in similar technical quality was in the 2008 Norman Jacobs collection sale.
Some of the many highlights of Chinese provincial coinage offered good insight to the structural relationships between types. For instance, there were three Chili Dollars; a Y65.1 Year 23 (1897) in MS62 realized $105,000 and two Y73.1 Year 34 (1908) Dollars in MS66 and MS64 which realized $43,200 and $28,800 respectively. All of these prices float way above the most recent Standard Catalog of World Coins values, as one would expect, given the age of the current editions and the limitation of space for various grades. However, to bring your book up to date in the MS60 top grade listed you would want to multiply each of these by about the same factor of fifteen. Sound structures, exploding levels.
For classic Chinese fantasy issues there is even more to learn.
In the ten years since publication of the 6th edition of Unusual World Coins, prices for Chinese fantasy coinage have risen at a steady pace rivaling that for traditional 19th century coinage of provincial China. The trend towards great desire for the highest possible grade has also been running parallel in both areas.
We have reported on several big auctions of classic 19th and 20th century Chinese rarities since the fall of 2020, each breaking records right and left. Most of these sales are now taking place in Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau, where competition can draw on all areas of the world through internet, phone and live bidding.
However, in most previous auctions we have seen very little in the way of Chinese fantasy coinage. We know prices have surged since 2011 when the last UWC went to the press and the question of how much was answered in the Heritage HKINF auction which closed at the end of June.
Two classic Chinese fantasy designs were represented in the sale and both were high grade, with good eye appeal. Both were Taels from the 1885 types; one struck for Kuang-hsü grading NGC MS62 and the other for Empress Lun Yu grading NGC AU58. They realized $23,400 and $18,000 respectively, with the juice.
The next big world coin sale for Heritage should be their ANA offering, though there will be several online sales in the interim. Visit their website at www.coin.ha.com to see what’s happening, set up an account, search or research and of course to bid on the coins you love.