Weights Of Chinese Silver Dollars And Taels Leave a comment

Beldeu Singh (beldeu@yahoo.com)

 

INTRODUCTION

One often comes across coins of China with different weights even when they are of the same design – eg Yuan Shi Kai silver dollar or Hung Shien dollar with the flying dragon on the obverse. The Krause catalogs tend to state the ‘correct weight” as 27.0 grams but this is not always so, and these may be official weights. The weights of China coins tends to vary . Some coins may weigh at 27.18 while others only weigh around 26.67 grams or 26.68 grams and some weight 26.7 grams (eg dragon coin with large clouds).

Some Chinese catalogs catalogs state the different weights (for coins with diameter varying from 38.0mm to 39.5mm). For instance the Hung Shien Flying Dollar is listed as weighing at 28.82 grams, 27.0 grams, 26.68 grams and 26.4 grams. Some of these coins come within the tolerance limit while others may weigh at 26.38 – 26.45 grams. The Yun-Nan mint also made crown size dollars on a thinner planchet sometimes weighing only 22.6 grams. Yet other struck coins appear at around 25.0 grams, though the official weight is 25.8 grams. After the death of Yuan Shih Kai, mints associated with certain warlords also produced dollar coins using base silver of fineness at .884 and some of these weight only 24.6 grams.

While coin dealers usually talk about a standard weight such as 26.7 grams and a variation as within an acceptable limit called the tolerance limit, a numismatic study of small hoards of coins from attics ranging from 30-290 showed that China coins have a range from 26.1 grams to 27.14 grams with three peaks, at 26.45, 26.67 and 26.95 grams. Most of the coins are distributed around 26.67 and at around 26.45-26.56 grams. Such studies reveal that there is a significant variation in standard deviation of coin weights about the mean, which is not, strictly speaking, the tolerance limit. This is simply because, for a long time, mints struggled to produce coins of a standard weight with a small tolerance limit, which is in fact, a small standard deviation about the standard weight, but there are other factors that influenced coin weights over time.

 

VARIATIONS IN TAEL COINS

In China, the dollar (yuan) system prevailed side by side with the Tael (liang) system until the Tael system was abolished. In addition to the silver dollar, a number of large silver coins were minted on a trial basis at a weight of one tael at Tianjin (Tientsin) during 1903. The Taels measure at around 44-45 mm. Some Taels are at 40-41 mm but come on a slightly thicker planchet. Many other Taels weigh at around 37.5 grams (Shanghai Tael) and others weigh at around 37.67 grams. Some earlier Taels weight 40-41 grams. There is great variation in the weight of the coins of the Tael System. The crown size taels weighed at around 26.67 – 27 grams. The large Taels show the weight in Chinese characters, the name of the Minstry of Finance, HU POO and bear the date 29th YEAR OF KUANG HSÜ. More one tael coins were minted in 1904 (30th year of Guang Xu) with HU PEH PROVINCE and the weight stated in English ONE TAEL. Patterns from the Heaton mint exists with the words One Tael. Even the Hu Peh Taels comes in two sizes. Others were minted in 1906 (32nd year of Guang Xu) with the intention that they would become the standard coin and compete with the Reales and Mexican silver Dollar. Accordingly, a complete set of coins based on the one tael standard were produced with values of one tael, 5 mace, 2 mace and the legend TAI-CHING-TI-KUO (Great Ching Empire) SILVER COIN. Even this coin has large variations in size from 38.5 mm produced at the Central Mint, including large Taels of 44-46 mm in diameter. One pattern, probably struck at the Heaton Mint has an interesting design at the edge on the obverse that serves as a security edge. The Kouping Tael also comes in two sizes, one of which is the crown size and probably exists only as a pattern with the mint mark in the center on the obverse, And with the branch mint mark is even more rare. A complete set of Taels is a good investment.

The Hu Peh Tael is of a different and attractive design, with two beautiful dragons and was probably first proposed by the engravers at the Heaton Mint, which was also visited by one of the ministers. A large medal was designed to commemorate his visit. The Heaton Mint patterns probably are part of the exercise of the Central Mint in 1929 that invited new pattern designs but sadly the local mints did not come up with anything really new. The Berlin mint produced patterns for Hei Lung Kiang province in the north, bordering the Soviet Union and also produced the pattern for Shantung province with the usual Chinese dragon. These Berlin patterns, including the tael for Hei Lung Kiang province are beautiful but the dragon design for Shantung province exists only as a pattern. The Sungarei Tael is mispelt as One Teal.  

In conjunction with these coins a large gold coin, also with a weight of one tael, was minted in 1907, together with smaller denominations of two and one mace, all bearing their weight in Chinese characters. Allegedly, most of these coins were used to pay the army. Very large coins were minted either on a trial basis or in limited quantities that include Five Dollars and possibly with significant variations in weight and were not ideal for commercial transactions. Gold five dollars patterns exists for some provinces. Xinjiang also minted silver coins of one tael at Kashi (Kashgar) in 1905 together with a gold coin of 5 mace.

Several mints also produced large tael size (44-45mm) silver medals with interesting and creative designs which were accepted in trade and in transactions and are now listed, not as fantasy coins, but as medallic coins and are accepted as part of medallic coinage and are becoming popular with numismatists.

FACTORS THAT INFLUENCED COIN WEIGHTS

 There are several factors that influenced coin weights. The key factors are listed below.

  1. The value of the Tael itself was not fixed but was accepted as within a range of 800-1600 (Chinese) cash. This was one of the major factors that influenced the weight of the Tael silver coin in different parts of China.
  2. New coinage laws and changes in coinage laws played its own role to influence coin weights. By a Notification No.14, dated, 10 January 1874, the American Trade Dollar and the Japanese Yen or Dollar were admitted to the Straits Settlements as unlimited legal tender. On 21 October 1890 by order of Her Majesty the Queen in Council, the silver Mexican dollar was declared the standard legal tender coin of the Straits Settlements. The silver dollar of Hong Kong and the Japanese Yen or Dollar were also acceptable provided they were not below the minimum weight and fineness. The Silver dollar of Spain, Peru and Bolivia were declared non legal tender. By an Order dated 11th Feb 1907, the standard weight of the Straits Settlement Dollar was set at 26.957 grams and its least acceptable weight was set at 26.633 grams. Colonial coinage regulations also stipulated the weights of the American Trade Dollar, Yen, Mexican Dollar and the HongKong Dollar. The New Currency Act, 1871, of Japan defined the Yen as 24.26 grams of pure silver or 1.5 grams of pure gold. The very early Yen of very fine silver weighed 24.26 grams but later the weight increased slightly by adding some copper and later after 1899 the coins were standardized to 26.96 grams. Very few of the early silver coins survived as they were recycled by several mints in and outside Japan.
  3. Monetary reforms that aimed to create standards or uniformity for the convenience of trade and the merchant community played an important role that influenced coin weights.
  4. While the Central Mints attempted to create uniformity and standards, mints controlled by the military and warlords very often did not abide by such regulation. Issiung coins of a lower weight turned out to be very lucrative indeed.
  5. Fluctuations in the price of silver and wars (eg WWI) greatly affected coin weights. For instance, the Straits Settlements One Dollar 1904 is much larger that the 1903 issue. It was decided that due to the increase in the price of silver, the weight of the 1903 dollar be reduced with the same finess of silver. The 20 cents Straits SettlementS coins of 1918, when silver was scarce due to WWI for a short period, the copper content was increased and the weight of the coin reduced.
  6. Remote mints in China did not produce coins to meet the requirements of mintage laws of far away places such as the Straits Settlements or to meet the requirement of the international merchant community but instead minted coins for use within their own remote regions. The Kweichow and Taku mints, which were rather small mints, produced the silver yuan weighing 24.8 grams while the Yun Nan mint produced coins weighing 25.8 grams but occassionally one may find coins with 26.4 grams (or thereabout) minted in these mints. It is not unusual to find coins weighing 22.6 grams along with coins that weigh 24.8 grams or slightly more in the same hoard minted in such remote mints, including those minted at the China-Soviet border, collectively called the Soviet issues of Chinese coins to facilitate trade in the remote border region.

 MONETARY REFORMS

Standardisation of the currency system was advisable and appeared useful in a large country especially when the weights of taels varied in a very wide rage, some going up to 51.2 grams. The two units of silver currency – the tael and the dollar – circulated side by side for decades. Since the tael unit differed in weight from one locality to another, beside which existed a number of fictitious taels used only for accounting purposes; calculating their relative exchange rates presented an exceedingly complicated problem. In 1930, the government proposed the weight of 30.25 grams for the ‘market tael’ but later, the mints produced taels that came under 30.0 grams. This chaotic situation came to an end when the tael system was abolished in 1933. Many were melted and turned into dollar coins. Hence taels are scarce or rare. The Standard Silver Dollar Coinage Law was promulgated to establish a silver dollar of .880 fineness, containing 23.49 grams of silver. This new national dollar was to be known as the yuan and was to replace all provincial silver dollars then in circulation. These moves brought about the first notable monetary reform in China’s history.

 CONCLUSION

Since the last 25 years, there have been a large number of fakes but these are mostly produced with cast or high pressure casting technology. They do not have the sheen or the mint luster expected from striking coins at mints and can be easily picked out. Fortunately, this fake industry is shrinking. Coin weights alone do not serve as a definitive rule in authentication and one has to study the coin to determine if it was indeed struck and if it is a silver coin keeping in mind that some warlord issues have silver content as low as 75%. It was a practice of the Central Mint to produce master dies for other mints to produce silver coins, yet there are differences in weights and mint variations and die varieties as in the case of the British Trade Dollar or Morgan Dollar, with slight variations in script or tail feathers or junk or size of head of Yuan Shi Kai or size of neck or forearms of Britannia etc and in some China Taels, the hyphen may be missing as in rare Fen-Tien One Tael or the denticles in the rim are replaced by dots. Coins struck in Tibet for use in trade in China may show some variations. It appears that the coinage laws of the Straits Settlements, especially the requirement of “least current weight” set at 26.633 grams, greatly influenced weights of coins in trade in the Far East as it was one of the most important trading region in the world at that time.

TAELS OF CHINA : The Longevity Tael. Two different sizes. There is great variation in the weight of the large tael ranging from 30.25 to 51.2 grams while the smaller one is about 26.7 grams.

 

References

  1. Krause & Chinese Catalogs:   http://www.kenelks.co.uk/chinese/chinesedragon.htm
  2. A Gold Standard For The Straits Settlements, EW Kremmer, 1870
  3. Shanghai’s Wartime Emergency Money by John E. Sandrock
  4. Straits Settlements Coinage History – http://www.obsoletecoin.com/2013/02/straits-settlements-coins-history.html
  5. A. Piatt Andrew, Quarterly Journal of Economics, “The End of the Mexican Dollar”,18:3:321-356, 1904, p.345
  6. Standard Catalogue of world Coins, 1999, Krause Publications
  7. Unusual World Coins, Krause publications, 2007
  8. Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Gold and Silver Coins, 7th edition, Lim gwo Ming, publisher – mak Tak Wo Numismatic Co Ltd.
  9. Coins and Coinages of The Straits Settlements & British Malaya (1786-1951), Pridmorew F,1955, Govt Printing Office Singapore, FS Hoslin Govt Printer.

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