Yuan Shi Kai silver dollar (1914)

Yuan Shi Kai silver dollar (1914)

The Yuan Shi Kai silver dollar coin is one of the most commonly found Chinese silver dollar around the world, but paradoxically, there is few accurate information available about in English. Called 袁大头 in China (literaly “Yuan [Shi Kai] big head”), and “Fatman dollar” in the United States, this coin was designed to put an end to the chaotic state of the Chinese monetary system and further the political agenda of Yuan Shi Kai, who had just taken over the function of President of the newly born Republic of China.

Introduced for Christmas 1914, the Yuan Shi Kai silver dollar had a standardized purity (0.89000 silver) and weight (26.4000g, .7555 oz ASW). Like the previous central imperial issues, this new currency would have to compete against the chinese silver dollars already in circulation, foreign trade dollars, and resistance from provinces using primarily copper currency or paper money. The introduction of the Yuan Shi Kai dollar coincided with the withdrawal and melting of about 280 million dragon dollars. The remaining dragon dollars, whose fineness was not always up to the standard, could be exchanged free of charge for the new Yuan Shi Kai dollar in all Bank of China, Bank of Communications branches or official provincial banks.

These political measures helped the new currency to gain traction, but at the beginning of World War I, the Mexican dollar was still trading at a premium against chinese dollars, due to its use as a means of payment for exports. It is only after the War caused exports to plummet than the Yuan Shi Kai dollar was able to replace the Mexican dollar. The loss of the export markets also undermined the faith in the interprovincial paper money, which relied on external demand for local products, and caused the collapse of local copper currencies.

Mexican dollar

Mexican dollar

These economical factors contributed to the outstanding success of the Yuan Shi Kai dollar, which gradually penetrated even the most remote provinces of China. In 1924, a survey  conducted by the Shanghai Bank found that of the estimated 960 million silver dollar in circulation in China, about 750 million were Yuan Shi Kai dollars.

Like the imperial dragon dollars before it, the Yuan Shi Kai dollar was minted in the Central Mint in Tianjin, and provincial mints were given official sets of dies. Due to its success, the “Fatman dollar” was minted during a longer time than any of its predecessor, and in much greater quantity, so the worn out dies eventually had to be retouched or re-engraved. This lead to a lot of dies varieties, some of which became very popular amongst coin collectors.


Scarce Die Variations: the 1914 Yuan Shi Kai Dollar (3rd Year of the Republic of China)

The 1914 Yuan Shih Kai dollar can be easily identified, even if you can not read Chinese, because it has only six characters on the obverse. All subsequent strikes have seven, due to the addition of the character “造” (made). This series offers some of the most interesting die differences.

T edge

T edge

"Western Eagle" edge

"Western Eagle" edge

The Central Mint in Tientsin issued some early pattern coins as a trial. Some of these coins have an ornamented edge, with a “T” like pattern (T字边), other have an edge similar to the one of the then popular Mexican dollar that this new currency sought to replace (鹰洋边, “Western Eagle” edge). These coins are the scarcest and most expensive.


L.Giorgi signature

L.Giorgi signature

Some of these trial coins also feature the signature of the italian engraver, L. Giorgi, who designed the coin. Most of the other die variations have been produced by provincial mints, and can usually be identified by looking at some details of the Yuan Shi Kai portrait. The design of the eyes and the 華 character (second starting from the right) are very different on the Kansu Mint die.

The coins issued by the Gansu Mint have a lower silver content than other Yuan Shi Kai dollar. They therefore circulated at a discount at the time, but ironically they are now more expensive than regular dollars due to their relative scarcity. The Gansu Mint also produced some coins with a custom die featuring the province name, which were quickly withdrawn by the government. This is now one of the most expensive versions of the Yuan Shi Kai dollar.

Kansu Yuan Shih Kai dollar (genuine)

Kansu Yuan Shih Kai dollar (genuine)

There is many more popular types amongst collectors, like the “O” die (O版), the “O die with triangular yuan character” (O版三角圆), or the “long leaves” dollar, all of which will be the object of another post…

69 Responses to “The Yuan Shi Kai Silver Dollar (Part I)”

  1. Angie says:

    I have a silver Yaun Shi Kai with six caracters over his head, but the second symbol is different, I cant find any on the internet that match this symbol, it looks rectangular with two brush strokes within….can anyone tell me anything about this coin???I got it with some silver Birth oif republic of china momento coins, and some other silver dollar types.

  2. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Angie, there is only 4 dates written on Yuan Shi Kai dollars: 3rd year of the Republic (三, six characters), 8th year (八, seven characters), 9th year (九, seven characters) and 10th year (十, seven characters). The character you described sounds like the chinese numeral 四, 4. Unfortunately, no dollars were issued with such a date. Maybe you can send me some pictures of the coin so it can be clarified?

  3. nici says:

    could you tell me what the 2 symbols mean on the front of the coin please?


  4. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Nici, the two characters “壹圆” on the reverse simply mean “One Yuan”.

  5. Josie says:

    I have a silver Yaun Shi Kai with six caracters over his head, but the second symbol is different, I can’t find anything on the internet that matches this symbol, it looks like two horizontal strokes one above other with the top one being smaller (a little less than half the size) than the bottom one. If anyone could please tell me anything about this coin I would really appreciate it….I’ve searched for information everywhere and just can’t find a match.

  6. Josie says:

    I just wanted to clarify my question…it’s the second character starting from the left.

  7. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello, is the character looking like this: 二 ? (in case you don’t have chinese fonts: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/%E4%BA%8C-order.gif)

    I guess it’s simply a regular 1914 dollar with the top stroke of the 三 character too worn out to be visible.

  8. Josie says:

    Yes, its exactly like that. :-) …I thought it might have been worn because that was the only resemblance I could find to my coin but it didn’t really look as if something had ever been there and just wore off. Thank you for your quick reply. Do you happen to know what it may be valued at?

  9. Matthew says:

    i have a coin that is called a chinese silver dragon coin that says over the top of the dragon yun nan province and underneath it says one teal and on the back are a lot of chinese symbols but when i looked online it said something else underneath the dragon. and when i looked at the fake ones it said that if its fake it should say some chinese words somewhere on it but mine doesnt. if anyone can please help me i would appreciate it.

  10. Dragon Dollar says:

    If it’s genuine, latest market price was about 800 chinese yuan for an almost uncirculated Yuan Shi Kai dollar, about $120 USD. If yours is worn out or cleaned, it will be worth less than $100 USD.

  11. Dragon Dollar says:

    You should post pictures of your coin, that way it will be easier to find out if it’s genuine or fake. However, be aware that chinese taels are very scarce coins, so unless you got it from a trusted source (like family heirloom) it is very likely to be fake.

  12. matthew says:

    ill try to send pictures

  13. matthew says:

    this website shows my coin. it looks axactly like that on the front could you tell me if its real please and whats its worth?

  14. matthew says:

    mine is a little less worn.

  15. Dragon Dollar says:

    Sorry, the coin you linked to is fake.

  16. matthew says:

    oh ok thats sad but glad to find out thank you for your quick response and information. can you tell me why its fake please and what its worth? if you get a chance

  17. Dragon Dollar says:

    It’s worth about $2 USD. In that case it’s very easy to tell it is fake, since no genuine one tael coin with this design was made in Yunnan province.

  18. matthew says:

    ok thank you

  19. Dragon Dollar says:

    Don’t get discouraged if you got a fake, we all do. It’s the “tuition fee” that allows one to find out genuine, rare coins amongst the chaff later :)

  20. Matthew says:

    thankyou for all your help i appreciate it and im glad i learned something in the process.

  21. jason says:

    i have a chinese fatman silver dollar, problem is it weighs only 23.7 i believe. it also has a date i do not recognize. the second letter is two strokes that form like a tent, if that makes sense, almost like a upside down v. i seen versions where this symbol was the 3rd symbol on the top right, but not the second sympbol like mine. it is also turning black, however thats a sign of the silver being present right? can anyone help?

  22. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello, this symbol is most likely 八, the chinese numeral for 8. This is a copy of a 1919 “fatman silver dollar”. Genuine YSK dollars always weigh the standard weight, 26.8 grams. The 1919 dollar is one of the scarcest year of emission, so it is also one of the most expensive and therefore a popular target for counterfeiters.

  23. Lee says:

    Hi…interesting article. I seem to have what looks like a Gansu Fatman but there are slight differences which make me unsure. For instance the star board on the shoulder does not come to a point over the collar and the center horizontal bar in the lower right most character goes only half way not the complete way across etc. I have a scan but don’t know how I can send it to you to see. Thanks for any information you can provide. Lee

  24. juju says:

    hi i have a Faftman dollar with the symbol 五 (second from left) its kinda worn , ive done lots of research on fakes, i was looking for a fake with this symbol but could not find one,..i have seen several other fakes,…this one may be too.,,im not sure..but i cant find and die flaws all symbols are clear?..does it sound real or fake to you?

  25. Dragon Dollar says:

    If this is a 1 dollar coin, it is most likely fake. Maybe you could post pictures of your coin either on the facebook page or using our Appraisal page?

  26. Tera says:

    I have six coins that i got from my grandmother… I am having trouble figuring out if they are fake or real… where can I take then to have them looked at?

  27. I have a 1914 Fatman Dollar in MS62 that is the crossed grains variety. Towards the bottom right of the grain wreath the tips intersect each other. Although such a die variation is not dramatically obvious, are the crossed grains variety any more collectible? Thanks, Julian

  28. Chenguang says:

    The last Kansu Dollar is fake.

  29. Dragon Dollar says:

    Actually, the pictures of T edge and “Western eagles” edges are from fake coins as well – real ones should be pristine, proof coins. I used these pictures for illustration purpose because I did not have access to genuine coins of this specific type. I will try to get a good picture of a genuine Kansu dollar, and if some kind-hearted reader has unslabbed genuine T edge/Western eagle YSK dollars, I would appreciate if they could send me pictures of the edge!

  30. Dragon Dollar says:

    The crossed leaves variety is definitively a collectable variation, however it is not as sought after as the O mark, triangle Yuan, or Kansu varieties. It is also much more common.

  31. Kim says:

    Hello, I think by the sounds of it that I might have a fake. Can you please take a look at it to see? A friend gave it to me. Neither he or I knew what it was till I looked it up. When he gave it to me he said he has like six or seven of them. It looks to be real silver. Please advise.
    Hmmm….. Not sure I can post a pic:-(
    Ok…. The third symbol on the front is a t or a cross. And the back has different markings also the top symbol on the back looks different then all the ones I have seen. But the bottom symbol looks the same?

  32. Kim says:

    Is there a place or site I can post a pic, so that you may see it? Or do you know of someone that I can email a picture or two to?
    Thanks so much for your help.

  33. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello, you can submit pictures of your coins for appraisal by following this link:

  34. Bel says:

    I have a coin that is similar but the Emporor on the back is different to your ones shown here,the other side is the same though..

  35. Dragon Dollar says:

    That sounds interesting, maybe you can show me pictures of your coin using the appraisal form?

  36. Hen says:

    Are these silver coins rare nowadays?

  37. Dragon Dollar says:

    Some variations are very rare, like the 双O版 (double O mint mark), or the 甘肃版 (Kansu dollar with the name of the province). Regular O mint mark or even triangle yuan are more rare than the common type, but still pretty easy to find.

  38. Dave says:

    I was lucky to bid for some mixed chinese coins that everyone else ignored. They are beautiful coins & non magnetic but they don’t appear to be pure silver as they have a chrome luster.

  39. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello, you can submit pictures of your coins for appraisal using this link:

  40. Jonah says:

    I have a Fatman dollar and it has six characters at the top but on the left and right of the group of six characters there are 5 leaf flowers. any information on this?

  41. Dragon Dollar says:

    This is a commonly seen forgery. Please return it if possible!

  42. Love your website, great information
    Do you have any info on a 1897 TA.TSING.TWENTYIRD. YEAR OF KWANG HSU.*ARSENAL YANG PEI?
    What is a gangsu fat an worth? Or a L. Giorgi?

  43. Dragon Dollar says:

    The Kansu and L. Giorgi Fat man dollars are very expensive. Price depends on the condition though. You can check this article to learn more about the 1897 Peiyang Arsenal dollar:

  44. Terence says:

    Dear sir,
    I have a Silver Yuan Shih Kai 5 yen coin and made in the 7th year of the of the people of China with 7 words of Chinese charactors. The wieght is 30 grams and 4.5 cm in diameter. The edge ornamented with english letters of l giorgi about half of the circumference and the other half is of several chinese characters. It was given to me by my father. I do not know it is either fake or geninue. Please advise.

    Kind Regards

  45. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Terence, your description matches a well known type of fantasy coin. When they are made out of silver, these coins can still sell at a slight premium over melt. The provenance of these coins is obscure, and it is very likely they were made during the 1980′s to be sold to tourists visiting China.

  46. Terri says:

    Hi, we have recently found the fatman dollar coin with the 5 leaf flowers on either side of the 6 characters and saw that it was a forgery. Is this forgery coin of any value? thank you

  47. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello, if your replica was struck in some silver alloy, you may be able to sell it for its melt value. Most forgeries are made out of cheap metal though, and are worth at most one or two dollars.

  48. Colby says:

    my coin appears to be a 1914, it has six symbols. But the second symbol from the left only has 2 lines and it doesnt show any sign of missing a third.

  49. Ganesh says:

    I have got a The Yuan Shi Kai Silver Dollar (Part )

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