Szechuan-Shensi Soviet 1934 dollar (Kann 808 - Y513 - L&M 891)

In Winter 1932 the Fourth Front Army of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, mostly composed of survivors of the Nanchang Uprising and armed peasants from the Hunan province, escaped Chiang Kai-Shek’s siege of the Hupeh/Honan/Anhwei revolutionary base and entered northern Sichuan across Mt. Bashan. By early 1933, the Red Army controlled a 15,000 square kilometers area centered around the cities of Bazhong, Guangyuan and Nanchong, populated by over one million souls.

A 92-year-old woman looks at "The Red Army enters Northern Sichuan", a 1957 painting from LIU Guoshu

A 92-year-old woman looks at “The Red Army enters Northern Sichuan”, a 1957 painting from LIU Guoshu

Eighty years later, I was sipping tea in Nanchong while listening to my friend YI Chuanbi – his pet iguana perched on his shoulder – telling me of an old man he knew who had a perfectly preserved Szechuan-Shensi Soviet dollar and (for the right price) would be amenable to sell. Chinese soviet dollars are the thing of legend: their rarity and historical significance caused them to be highly sought after by collectors very early on. A Chinese Soviet dollar in uncirculated condition was already worth 1,000 yuan in the early 1980s, when YI was selling Szechuan dragon dollars 8 yuan apiece to buy games for his video game arcade business. Since then those prices have risen 20,000%, a performance comparable to AAPL shares during the same period!

Soviet dollars are in a class apart from other Chinese coins: they are revolutionary relics, just like the stone-carved slogans that the Fourth Army left in the Szechuan province. For many older Sichuan men and women, they are a direct connection to the heady days of their youth.

Red Army stone-carved slogan: Make all of Sichuan red!

Red Army stone-carved slogan: Make all of Sichuan red!

Fourth Red Army Veterans

Fourth Red Army Veterans

The Szechuan-Shensi Soviet dollar was struck in 1934 with hand-crafted dies at the Red Army Mint built in the Wangcang county (旺苍县) of Guangyuan (广元市), and were as much an instrument of propaganda as an instrument of payment. That politically charged currency, stamped with the symbol of the hammer and sickle spreading all over China and surrounded by the famous rallying cry “proletariats of the world, unite!“, was obviously banned and very dangerous to own in the territories controlled by the KMT or the Sichuan clique. For use in enemy territory, the Red Army Mint issued counterfeit Szechuan Military Government dollars instead. These fake coins, made with great care but with the same crude techniques used to produce the Soviet dollars, are easily identified by their hand-carved security edge and the concentric grooves on their surfaces.

Szechuan Military Government 1912 silver dollar (Red Army version) (reverse)

Szechuan Military Government 1912 silver dollar (Red Army version) (reverse)

Szechuan Military Government 1912 silver dollar (Red Army version) (obverse)

Szechuan Military Government 1912 silver dollar (Red Army version) (obverse)

(the Red Army version of the Szechuan 1912 Military dollar is worth $3,000 to $5,000 USD in XF condition)
Szechuan-Shensi Soviet dollar (with concentric raised lines)

Szechuan-Shensi Soviet dollar (with concentric raised lines)

Most of these Red Szechuan Military dollars and Soviet coins were melted down into less dangerous shapes after the Fourth Army retreated in March 1935 to join the Long March and the nationalist forces regained control of the area. The few remaining coins were often kept hidden, either due to the risk they posed to their owners, or out of the old-fashioned concern that the fewer people know of your valuable possessions, the better!

This combination of high desirability and elusiveness created ideal conditions for modern counterfeiters. Until smartphones with good camera became ubiquitous in China, very few collectors had access to anything better than low resolution pictures of genuine Soviet dollars, and even fewer had the opportunity to examine one “hands-on”.

Even for collectors with deep pockets, it is therefore difficult to find a Soviet dollar both in excellent condition and with a respectable pedigree, made crucial by the large number of very high quality fake coins circulating on the market. You can now better imagine my excitation when YI Chuanbi first told me of this opportunity!

Szechuan-Shensi Soviet 1934 dollar (Kann 808 - Y-513 L&M 891) (obverse)

Szechuan-Shensi Soviet 1934 dollar (Kann 808 – Y-513 L&M 891) (obverse)

Szechuan-Shensi Soviet 1934 dollar (Kann 808 - Y-513 - L&M 891) (reverse)

Szechuan-Shensi Soviet 1934 dollar (Kann 808 – Y-513 – L&M 891) (reverse) (graded AU55 by NGC)

In the end I did not succeed in buying that old man’s Soviet dollar in 2012, but after three years I finally managed to catch another one, pictured above. This Szechuan-Shensi Soviet dollar was circulated but is exceptionally well-preserved, with softly lustrous surfaces. More importantly, it has an unimpeachable pedigree: it is the plate coin for the “Crab pincer” variety (CSSB-Y2-4-02) in 川陕革命根据地货币图录, one of the most detailed books on the money of communist China.

It is a strange feeling to look at this heavy coin in the palm of my hand and think of the courageous men and women who carefully engraved dies and minted coins eighty years ago, doing their best despite the hardships and terrible conditions, with the hope of somehow contributing to change the world. Chinese Soviet dollars are truly a class apart.

5 Responses to “Communist China: The Szechuan-Shensi Soviet Dollar”

  1. Miego says:

    Hi Dragon Dollar, I would like to know if one of my 1912 szechuan dollar is real or not. The coin appears to be AU/MS and I cannot see any problem based on my experience, but I am aware there are high-end counterfeit in the market. How do i send you pictures of my coin? Thank you.

  2. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Miego, I will be happy to check if your 1912 Szechuan dollar is genuine or not. You can send pictures on the Facebook page, or using the free appraisal form :

  3. Anton Mikofsky says:

    Have you done a story on the Queen Victoria Hong Kong coins of the 1860s? I am interested in the dollar and half dollar.

  4. Tom says:

    Hey sorry to comment on such an old post, I’ve been meaning to ask this question forever!

    I might be missing the obvious, but could you take a second, please, and explain what it is about the Soviet counterfeit production process that results in the coin being covered in those concentric rings? Also, what do you think the main motivation was for the soviets to create these forgeries in the first place? I guess I’m wondering if it was more about injuring the existing governments ability to manage their money supply, or was it as simple as the soviets/communists needing supplies and not wanting to call attention to themselves as they paid for them?



  5. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Tom, this is an interesting question. I don’t have a definitive answer, but my guess is they had to make do with crude equipment and the machine or process they used for polishing the dies left those concentric grooves on the surface. On the obverse, you can see many vertical raised lines in a much less regular pattern, which makes me think this particular die was polished by hand.
    I don’t think the motivation for manufacturing these fake coins was economic warfare, the soviets made a point of using good silver to make them. Like you wrote, it was a convenient way to get supplies without attracting unwanted attention.

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