Kiangnan dollars were minted at the Nanking mint from 1897 to 1905. Early coins have a unique design and are quite scarce, but from 1899 on, the Nanking mint was one of the most prolific mint in China and the subsequent issues are common chinese coins. Some later years emissions have scarce variations or interesting varieties, though it may not be easy to immediately identify them for the casual collector, since the coins are all dated using the sexagenary cycle of the traditional chinese calendar.
A picture is worth a thousand words: the table below should make it very easy for anyone to identify the year of production of the various Kiangnan dollars.
Amongst them, the 1903 Gui Mao (癸卯) and the 1905 Yi Si (乙巳) coins are the scarcest and most valuable. In this article, I would like however to focus on the 1904 Jia Chen (甲辰) coin, which is more common but has an interesting history.
Starting from 1901, all the Kiangnan coins had some marks added next to the characters indicating the year. In the year of Xin Chou (辛丑), the initials of the British assayer H. A. Holmes, working for the Nanking mint, were apposed on the coins as a guarantee of their purity. Indeed, sloppy minting in the previous years raised concerns that people would start to distrust the coins and return to using the foreign currency circulating at the time. On the Gui Mao (癸卯) coins, a distinctive five pointed rosette was added as well.
In 1904 (Jia Chen (甲辰) year), two different marks were used in addition to the usual HAH initials: TH and CH.
According to the mint records, only one million coins with the TH mark were minted. It is generally supposed that “TH” are the initials of the die engraver, but his name has unfortunately been lost. Some have said that “TH” stood for the first two letters of the name of the auxiliary mint director (副厂长), Deng Ju (邓矩), but this seems unlikely. The Wade-Giles romanisation (in use at the time) of his name would be Teng Chü, not Theng.
While the meaning of the TH initials remains obscure, it is probable that CH does actually stand for the name of the new director of the mint, who took up his functions the same year. At the time, the direction of the mint changed frequently due to the fact it was a very lucrative – and thus, coveted – position. In April 1903, Shen Bang Xian (沈邦宪) was appointed director, then replaced in September of the same year by Pan Ru Jie (潘汝杰), himself succeeded in April 1904 by Zhang Qian Jie (张迁杰)… Zhang Qian Jie was in charge during the time the Jia Chen coin were minted, and the initials of his surname (romanised Chang at the time) match the CH mark.
If this is indeed the meaning of the CH mark, it becomes easier to put a timeline on the production of the different versions of this coin. The coins marked TH use the same design than the previous year, likely because the engraver didn’t had the time yet to complete the new dies. Some CH coins use the old dragon design too, but with a new reverse, as seen below.
Why the haste to engrave a new reverse and put it in production when the obverse wasn’t even completed? Well, it must have been tempting for the newly appointed director to seize the opportunity to immortalise his name on the new dies, knowing full well that his successor in six months would not be able to replace them before the next year… This scheme worked even better than he could have expected when the Jia Chen dies bearing his initials were reused from November 1911 to February 1912, after the fall of the last Emperor.
From this timeline, it is easier to determine which coins were minted during the Qing era and which coins are republican restrikes: coins bearing the TH marks, and early CH coins featuring the old dragon design, were both obviously made in 1904. For subsequent coins, things are somewhat less clear. Coins with the new dragon design and the CH initials have die differences too; and the most common of them is the addition of dots on the reverse.
As seen above, the new dragon design only differs subtly from its predecessor. The face of the dragon and the design of the flame to the left of the central fireball are the most distinctive differences; one can see that the weaker strike on the tail of the dragon (next to its right hindleg) has also been fixed.
The coin pictured above features another interesting difference: a dot has been added next to the denomination. This alteration was probably made on republican restrikes, like the variant of the 1911 imperial silver dollar (with a dot after “DOLLAR”) which was actually minted after the fall of the Manchu regime. Coins with dots on the reverse but without the dot after the denomination were thus quite possibly minted during the Qing era.
A scarcer variation exists, with rosettes instead of dots on the reverse. It is likely that this coin was minted in 1904 as well.
Of all these variations, the coins bearing the TH mark are the scarcest and the most expensive. The CH coins are all much less valuable, due to their relative abundance. This lead less than scrupulous coins dealers to scrub the C out of their common coin, and replace it with a T in an attempt to “upgrade” their coin and sell it for an higher price. Unfortunately for them, these initials is not the only difference between these coins. As we discussed before, some CH coins have the same dragon design than the TH coins, but not all. Even if the counterfeiter is careful and pick the right dragon pattern, the reverse of these coins has obvious differences for the connoisseur.
- The “legs” (3rd and 4th stroke) of the Yuan character, 元, are connected on a genuine TH
- The 甲 character points between the top and middle horizontal bars (1st and 2nd stroke) of the 元 character on a genuine TH coin
- The 甲 character points to the 2nd stroke of the 元 character on a CH coin
- the 辰 character is slightly “higher” (closer to HAH) on a genuine TH coin
As usual, always be careful and exerce your judgement when you buy an old chinese coin !