A reader from Germany contacted me recently about an enigmatic coin he bought on the flea market for 5 Euros. While not a coin collector, he loves curiosities and was profundly intrigued by this unusual Dragon Dollar


A lucky dollar!

A lucky dollar!

… a beautiful Almond Eyed Dragon from the Peiyang Arsenal mint, one of the rarest variety of an already scarce type. It was obviously handled with great care; the dragon had kept all its scales, his fierce eyes still as piercing as a hundred years ago, when it first went out of the Peiyang Arsenal.

Without the mounting marks at 4 and 8 o’clock, this coin would be worth at least 4,000 Euros!

The design of the early Peiyang dragons is interesting as it is very strictly conforming to the traditional nine anatomical attributes of the Chinese Dragon:

  • Deer horns
  • Camel head
  • Demon eyes
  • Bull ears
  • Snake neck
  • Sea-serpent (蜃) belly
  • Carp scales
  • Eagle claws
  • Tiger soles

Additionally, the Chinese dragon has a growth on his forehead, the Chĭ Mù (尺木), without which it is unable to ascend to the sky (龙无尺木,无以升天).

The depiction of the dragon on the coins issued in the 23rd year of Guāng Xù has been altered multiple times, with most changes related to the dragon’s eyes – probably due to the difficulty in finding a Demon to pose and capture its gaze…

The Evil-eyed Dragon (三角眼)

Evil-eyed Dragon Dollar

Evil-eyed Dragon Dollar

The dragon engraved on this first variety has evil, sightless “Triangle Eyes“, not unlike the 1896 test piece. It had most likely a high mintage, since it is only slightly scarcer than the most common variety for this year, the Beady Eyed Dragon, but it is hard to find in good condition nonetheless. Most of the surviving coins are worn out and damaged. There exists two additional variations of the “Evil Eyed Dragon”, both extremely rare:

The Hidden Cross (异形龙尾上十字)

The Hidden Cross (异形龙尾上十字)

The Hidden Rose (异形龙尾上花)

The Hidden Rose (异形龙尾上花)

The “Hidden Cross” and “Hidden Rose” die variations. In both varieties, a mysterious mark was added above the tip of the coiled tail.

The Almond-eyed Dragon (过渡眼三角眼)

Almond-eyed Dragon Dollar

Almond-eyed Dragon Dollar

This beautiful die variation can seem superficially very similar to the Evil Eyed Dragon, with only the addition of irides to the previously blind triangle eyes. However, by looking carefully, one can see clearly that this variety is not a mere modification of the original “Evil Eyed Dragon” but a whole revision of the initial pattern. The shape of the clouds surrounding the dragon is different, more intricate. The thigh of the dragon is now shorter. Five dots disposed in a cross pattern were also added to the pearl of wisdom. This type is only second in rarity to the mysterious Hidden Cross and Hidden Rose varieties.

The Beady-eyed Dragon (圆眼龙)

Beady-eyed Dragon Dollar

Beady-eyed Dragon Dollar

The Beady Eyed Dragon (which is the most common variant of the 1897 Peiyang dollar) has rounded eyes, contrary to the all the previous dies made that year. Like the Almond Eyed Dragon, it is a complete redesign, with the surrounding clouds and the shape of the eyes being modified. The change from a triangular to a rounded shape will persist in all the subsequent issues of the Peiyang mint.

The Dog-headed Dragon (狗头龙)

Dog-headed Dragon Dollar

Dog-headed Dragon Dollar

This very rare type is the last one minted in the 23rd year of Kwang Hsü. The dragon’s head has been completely redesigned, with short horns and a much bigger Chĭ Mù (尺木) on his forehead. The shape and style of the clouds has also been refined. This coin likely served as the prototype for the 24th year of Guāng Xù dollar, which keeps most of the new cloud details and the same Dragon face, although engraved in a crude fashion. The very striking difference in style makes me wonder if the Dog Headed Dragon dies could have been commissioned from another mint, but there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory.

All these dragon dollars are hard to find nowadays, due to the initial unpopularity of these coins: they were the first Chinese coinage denominated in Yuan (圆) and Jiao (角), while the whole country was still using the traditional monetary system based on weight. Their rejection caused most of them to be melted in order to mint new coins denominated in Mace and Candareens.

Congratulations to our German reader for making such a wonderful Snäppchen!

10 Responses to “Early Chinese Yuan from the Peiyang Arsenal”

  1. MWF says:

    Hi – I wanted to send you a couple of photos of four beautiful Chinese coins that I found. I’d like to know your thoughts as to rarity and value – Thanks so much!

  2. loren1 says:

    Hi. I have 2 Chinese coins , 7 mace and 2 candareens, and i would really love to know if they are fake or not and sure if they value anything. I really appreciate it. If i can send few pictures,Thank you

  3. John says:

    I just purchased a Pei Yang Arsenal 24th year Dragon Coin on Ebay for $4.50. It’s shipping from China. Not sure if it’s authentic until I see it. Hopefully it’s genuine in which case I made a profit depending upon condition. Either, way I’m only out a small amount of money. From the picture it looks like it is in decent condition.

  4. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello John, when you receive the coin please use the Appraisal Form to confirm it is genuine. Chinese sellers are usually very knowledgeable with regard to the value of what they are selling, so I am not very optimistic.

    The Appraisal form is here: http://www.dragondollar.com/coins/coin-appraisal-what-is-your-chinese-coin-worth/

    If this coin ends up genuine, you made a killer deal!

  5. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Loren,
    Sorry for the late reply. You can send pictures of your coins through the Appraisal Form, I will tell you my opinion about their authenticity and value. The Appraisal Form is here: http://www.dragondollar.com/coins/coin-appraisal-what-is-your-chinese-coin-worth/
    You can also simply post the pictures on my Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DragonDollar

  6. JimEdge says:

    Dear Dragon Dollar,

    I am experiencing problem sending you the pictures. Even when using the appraisal form I get- “domain cannot be assessed” or a later try “attachment not allowed” or similar wording. Perhaps you are a computer expert also!

    If you would send your email address to the above perhaps that would be best.

    Your kind response has kindled my interest. I will continue digging through my basket of coins .

    Thanks and best regards,

  7. Susie says:

    Dear Dragon Dollar
    I recently bought two hand-beaten small copper bowls, (just because they were pretty!), from a local charity shop. I paid £9 for the bowls and when I got them home and researched them, they have what appears to be dragon coins set into the base of them with the wording saying “twenty third year of Kwang Hsu. Pei Yan Arsenal”. They are absolutely beautiful but very worn on the outer surface, where the bowls have been polished. Having studied a much of the detail about these coins, I have concluded that they are genuine – but have so much damaged caused to them when they were set into the bowls, that I doubt that they any longer have any value. They are very pretty and I am still pleased with my purchase – but wonder what your view is on coins that have been set. I’ve bought some superb finds from this particular charity shop over the years. It’s in a very affluent area of the country and they have sold solitare rings at a snip and Archibald Knox designed pewter without knowing that was what it was – so I can believe that the coins are likely genuine. Thanks for any input on this.

  8. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Susie, even damaged this kind of 1897 Peiyang Arsenal dollar are rare. Don’t hesitate to send pictures of your find using the Appraisal Form: http://www.dragondollar.com/coins/coin-appraisal-what-is-your-chinese-coin-worth/
    I will verify if the coins are genuine, and if they are not too damaged, how much they are still worth on the collection market.
    Congratulation for your find!

  9. serge says:

    Je possède monté en forme de porte-clés un ensemble de pièces chinoises provenant de grand-père (expédition chine 1901).
    Un pei yang arsenal twenty fourth de cette période fait partie la collection, la moustache du dragon est différente -tombante-

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