Most of you likely have or have seen a 1908 Chihli dollar. It is one of the most commonly seen Chinese silver coins due to its relatively high mintage, it is also one of the most affordable, and it is therefore many a collector’s “first dollar”.

The famous dragon with its wide, crocodilian grin and delicate scales has more to offer to the devoted collector than it appears: while the Y73.2 type that everyone knows is abundant, the varieties currently filed by default under the Y73.4 catalog number are both excitingly rare and hard to find in good condition. There is also scant literature about them in English.

Advanced collectors will already know about the “crosslet 4″ or “fancy 3″ varieties that sometimes appear in auctions, but these labels currently conflate merely scarce varieties with extremely rare ones. For example, the coin below, labelled as “Fancy 3″ is actually called 北洋肥3 in China (“Pudgy 3″ in English):

Chihli 1908 dollar Y73.4 "Fancy 3" - actually a rare "Pudgy 3"

Chihli 1908 dollar Y73.4 “Fancy 3″ – actually a rare “Pudgy 3″ (photo: 劉夢雲)

This very rare variety in AU condition is worth ¥60,000 yuan Renminbi, almost $10,000 USD. This is an order of magnitude more than common “Fancy 3″ varieties, like this coin sold at Baldwin’s Hong Kong auction 48 in 2010:

A common type of "Fancy 3"

A common type of “Fancy 3″ (photo: Baldwin’s Auctions)

Even holders labeled as Y73.2 can be full of surprises. Consider this coin from my collection, which I bought in an NGC holder with the grade AU55. An oblivious collector might dismiss it as banal, while it is actually the best known specimen of the extremely rare 丑3 variety (literaly “ugly 3″ in Chinese) and is worth north of ¥80,000 yuan Renminbi ($13,000 USD).

Chihli 1908 (34th year of Kuang Hsu) Homely 3 variety

Chihli 1908 (34th year of Kuang Hsu) Homely 3 variety (photo: 劉夢雲)

This variety is the rarest of the whole 34th year of Kuang Hsu series, with only a dozen of coins found across China. It is the missing link between the early “Fancy 3″/”Cross 4″ Y73.4 varieties, which use a typeface similar to the 33th year of Kuang Hsu, and the classic Y73.2 typeface. As awareness of this historically significant variety grew amongst Chinese collectors, an even rarer subtype was discovered last year:

Chihli 1908 Homely 3/flat head

Chihli 1908 Homely 3/flat head (photo: Coinsky)

Only a few coins with this flatter 3 have been discovered, all in VF conditions. So, dear readers, keep your eyes peeled and do not look down upon common types. Like in the story of the Ugly Duckling, appearances are often misleading: the Homely 3 which had been handled as a banal Y73.2 Chihli dollar has already risen to the rank of numismatic star.

Homely 3/flat head

Homely 3/flat head (photo: Coinsky)

13 Responses to “The Ugly Duckling of Peiyang”

  1. Jeffrey says:

    I believe I hold one of these flared 3 Chihli. What are they worth?

  2. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Jeffrey, the price of these coins varies according to their condition. If your coin is well preserved, it can be quite valuable. You can send me pictures of your coin using the appraisal form here:
    I will give you my opinion about its condition and price.

  3. Blair Goates says:

    Dear Dragon Dollar:

    I have been waiting for a new article from you for some time. Thank you for the recent addition! I hope you are compelled to present future articles soon.

  4. Dragon Dollar says:

    Thanks a lot for your kind words! I have been kept busy by several projects last year, but I have accumulated a lot of article material and I now have the time to update my blog again. My next article is likely to be on Szechuan dragon dollars, I’m currently translating a great Chinese book on the subject and the Szechuan dollar varieties are really a fascinating subject.

  5. Arthur says:

    Dear Dragon Dollar, is there a book or catalogue about Dragon Dollars and Dragon Taels that you could recommend? I own roughly 70 different Dragon Dollars, amongst them this 34th Year of Kuang Hsu with a type of three not pictured here (although I think it’s this type: “early “Fancy 3″/”Cross 4″ Y73.4 varieties, which use a typeface similar to the 33th year of Kuang Hsu.”. Because I also own 33RD Year… Tael and the 3′s are indeed quite similar. I’m trying to find information about many other coins that I own too: Vietnamese 1832 Dragon Dollar, Tai-Wan Province 7 Mace and 2 Candareens, Kwang-Si, Teng-Tien, etc, and many Dragon Dollars with Chinese symbols only. I know you are very busy (we’ve been in touch before), so instead of bothering you with dozens of coins, I’m hoping to do my own research first. Thanks again for helping me, and good luck once more with your beautiful website! All the best, Arthur

  6. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Arthur, 鲁雷’s 北洋龙洋图鉴 is an excellent book about Chihli dollars (Peiyang Arsenal). You may be able to find the particular variety you own in this catalogue.
    As a more generalist catalogue, you may like the classic L&M Catalogue of Gold & Silver Chinese coins.
    Anyway, don’t hesitate to send me pictures of your coins using the free appraisal form:

  7. Jx says:

    Where can I email you for appraisal? Your link doesn’t work for me.

  8. Please see my facebook post where I have put scans up yesterday……..thanks DD

  9. Cynthia says:

    Hello, I was just rummaging through some old coins and came across one with a dragon very similar to the one you talk about here.. unfortunately the rest of the coin is damaged. Is it still worth anything could you take a peek for me?

  10. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Cynthia, it is of course worth investigating. Don’t hesitate to send pictures of your coin through the free appraisal form:
    That way I will be able to confirm the precise type and condition of your coin.

  11. Hakimgiler says:

    I want sell coin…..contac me

  12. André Raison says:

    Good Morning,

    I have one of those coins and I do not know how to classify it. How can I do to have a currency valuation? Thank you very much.

  13. Joseph says:

    I got one of this coin, but dont know if its legit so i tried to use magnet but its not magnetic…

Leave a Reply