I had previously written about the 25th year of Kwang Hsu Fengtien dollars, which is one of my favourite Chinese silver dollars. I would like to complete my previous article by introducing another interesting die variation, which brings the total to 4 main variations for this one year type coin.

1st variation: Smiling Dragon, Pearl Circle (细龙珠圈)

This is most likely the first variation produced. The style is very similar to the one of the previous year, and it is very well executed. However, die engraving is quite a technical art, and a small mistake can lead to damaged dies and coins defects. This particular variation was unfortunately afflicted with a die crack running through the 绪 character. The severity of the die crack varies depending on the time the coin was struck, but it is always present on genuine coins. You will also notice that the swirl on the fireball is weakly struck. On the reverse, there is a problem with typography (bad spacing between F and U) and weak strike (on G -).

First variation, with defects highlighted

First variation, with defects highlighted


2nd variation: Crude Dragon, Pearl Circle (粗龙珠圈)

This variation is a complete redesign of the previous one. It is likely that this pair of dies was made as soon as the defects of the previous one were known. Compared to its predecessor, it seems like a rushed job. The face of the dragon looks flat and crude compared to the first version. The spacing of the Chinese characters is unbalanced (局 and 造 are too close, 年 and 奉 as well), while the legend of the first version was evenly spaced. The reverse was improved though, the bad spacing in the English text was fixed and it is now clearly struck, however it was the turn of the pearl circle to suffer from weak strike.

Second variation - Crude dragon, Pearl circle

Second variation - Crude dragon, Pearl circle


3rd variation; Crude Dragon, Double Circle (粗龙双圈)

While overall the 25th year of Guang Xu Fengtien coins are rare, some variations are scarcer than others. The coins with a single circle of pearls are more common than the double circle variations. The first variation to present this double circle is actually an incremental revision of the 2nd variation. The obverse was reworked to correct the chinese characters spacing and slightly improve the dragon pattern, which remains cruder than the 1st design.

Third variation, with weak strike highlighted

Third variation, with weak strike highlighted

On the reverse, I suspect the solid circle was added while correcting the weak strike on the pearl circle. By superposing a pictures of the 2nd and 3rd variation, it is easy to see that the dragon pattern was heavily modified, but that the die for the reverse is virtually identical – only the circle was added. However, as seen above, it was now TIEN which was weakly struck…

Superposition of the second and third variations

Superposition of the second and third variations


4th variation: Smiling Dragon, Double Circle (细龙双圈)

This is the additional version that I want to introduce. It is in my opinion the most interesting variation for this coin. The reverse has been completely reworked, keeping the solid circle. The manchu script has been fixed, and the whole face is well struck.

Reverse of the fourth variation, with corrections highlighted

Reverse of the fourth variation, with corrections highlighted

However, a die crack appeared at 5 o’clock.

5 o'clock die crack

5 o'clock die crack

The dragon design has been updated as well, in the fine style of the 1st variation. Its face is artfully designed, in the fashion of previous Fengtien coins, with the smiling dragon seemingly flying toward the high relief fireball.

Smiling dragon

Smiling dragon (courtesy of Mr Karan Solanki)

The dragon is much smaller than the one featured on the cruder variations, and the spacing of the Chinese legend has been improved as well, which makes this obverse much more balanced and good looking.

Size comparison of the obverses design

Size comparison of the obverses design

I believe this variation was the last silver dollar minted at the Fengtien machine bureau before the short lived 1903 dollar, four years later. Indeed, this particular design is often seen with a huge die crack on the reverse, and late samples seem to have been struck with very worn out and damaged dies. This leads me to believe no more dies were made afterward and the last ones were used until they broke down, their degradation mirroring the one of the political situation in the Fungtien province.

Late specimen, with very visible die crack

Late specimen, with very visible die crack

Some readers have asked which dragon dollar is the most popular amongst collectors. The most famous chinese silver dollar from the late Qing era is most likely the Y31 silver dollar, colloquially referred to as “宣三” in China. It was minted in 1911 (3rd year of the rule of Xuan Tong) at the Central Mint in Tianjin. It was the last imperial coin issued before the regime was toppled by the Xinhai revolution. The design of this chinese silver dollar is considered by many collectors to be the most beautiful, and it is also the only imperial chinese coin bearing the “ONE DOLLAR” face value to have been circulated. While not rare by any measure, the Y31 dollar has seen its market value rise steeply in recent years due this popularity.

Y31 Chinese silver dollar

Y31 Chinese silver dollar

This dragon dollar was issued by the central authority, which means it had standardised weight, metal composition and design, but there exists nonetheless three die variations of this chinese coin.

The most commonly seen is called “浅版” in China, or “shallow strike version” (see below). Since it was struck with old dies, the details of the design are less clear in this version than in early ones. By looking carefully at the DOLLAR word on the reverse, one can see that the R was repaired by adding back a missing leg. It is labelled as “w/o Flame, w/o Dot” by PCGS:

Y31 Chinese silver dollar - "shallow" version (浅版)

Y31 Chinese silver dollar - "shallow" version (浅版)

The earliest version is called “深版“, or “deep strike version”. The details of this version are very sharp, the R in DOLLAR is still intact, and an additional spine which was lost to weak strike or die deterioration in subsequent versions is still visible at the tip of the tail of the dragon, across the cloud. While this version is only slightly scarcer than the 浅版, it is usually more expensive due to its popularity. This coin is labelled “Extra flame” by PCGS, due to the “additional” spine at the end of the tail of the dragon:

Y31 Chinese silver dollar - detailed version (深版)

Y31 Chinese silver dollar - detailed version (深版)

The last version is actually a restrike of the 浅版. In the years following the 1911 revolution, old dies were reused to issue new coins and avoid currency shortages. The already well worn dies of the 浅版 Y31 were briefly reused to mint the Y31.1 dollar, much scarcer than the earlier “official” issues. The only difference with the original dies is the addition of a dot after the word “DOLLAR“. Similar alterations were done to other revolutionary restrikes, like the 1904 Kiang Nan dollar with dots in the denomination.

Since the Y31.1 dollar is much more rare and expensive than other versions, many unscrupulous coin dealers or counterfeiters have tooled genuine dollars to add a silver dot, thus instantly doubling their profits. Most of these coins have been polished or cleaned first, though, to make the modification less obvious.

It is therefore advised to avoid buying cleaned or polished Y31.1 dollars. Genuine coins from the type “dot after dollar” (带点) were all made using the “w/o Flame, w/o Dot” 浅版 dies, so they have the same characteristics: fixed “R”, unclear details, and one spine less on the dragon tail. Uneven toning around the dot should be considered with extreme suspicion. A dot on a “Extra flame” dollar is a certain indication of tooling. Once again, be careful when buying chinese coins!

Y31.1 Chinese silver dollar - with dot after "dollar"

Y31.1 Chinese silver dollar - with dot after "dollar"