During the troubled period of the early Republic of China, a lot of privately minted coins (私铸版) were issued by warlords or wealthy individuals either for profit or avoid currency shortages. They were made to resemble popular coins like the Yuan Shih Kai dollar or common imperial dollars, only using debased silver alloy. These copies entered circulation and were actually used as legal tender in some places nonetheless. Warlord issues therefore lies in a grey area of numismatics – some consider them as contemporary forgeries, others think of them as fantasy coins, but they are very interesting historical pieces and their popularity has been growing steadily amongst Chinese coins collectors.
One must however exerce extreme caution when collecting these coins. Warlord issues share a lot of characteristics with modern forgeries: they are basically inexact copies of popular coins made out of dubious metal alloy. In recent years, modern counterfeiters have noticed the growing interest for warlord coinage and started making their own. To sell a fake warlord version of a coin, it is only necessary to persuade the buyer that this fake coin is old, which is much easier than deceiving a collector looking for a genuine coin.
Recently, fake Warlord versions of the 1908 Chihli dollar have turning up for sale on both eBay and Chinese markets, and I thought it would be helpful to warn fellow collectors against them.
A friend of mine bought this coin last month, thinking he was acquiring an interesting warlord version of the famous 1908 Peiyang dollar. This type of coin is actually easily available on eBay, especially recently (you can see a current listing here). My friend’s coin can be easily identified as a modern forgery because the counterfeiters cut corners. The artificial aging is somewhat crude, with fake verdigris splotches on the reverse typical of modern replicas. The design of the coin would be very good if it were a genuine warlord version, and it is bound to attract the curious collector. As usual the best way to avoid being deceived is to avoid impulse buying, and research the market first.