In one of these internet message boards I frequent, a fellow Chinese coins collector produced pictures of a coin he had just bought from a dealer in Bangkok. I immediately identified a 英文大字珍珠龙: a nice variety of one of the most beautiful Chinese coins, the Kiang Nan dragon whose scales are ornate with pearls. This coin (often called “dragon with circlet-like scales” in English) was minted briefly in Nanjing at the beginning of the year 1898, before being replaced with a simpler design. There is several die varieties known, all very scarce.
Chinese characters on this particular variety are written with thicker strokes than usual, and the English legend is bolder as well. This concerned the new owner of this coin; did the unusual shape of the characters meant it was a forgery? I knew the design of the characters was normal, but finding a genuine 珍珠龙 (dragon with circlet-like scales) is a rare occurence, so the pictures still deserved a careful inspection.
The low resolution of the pictures didn’t allow me to get a good impression of the surface and relief of the coin. It looked like it had been dipped, but the details were convincing enough. The weight seemed a bit light (26.5 grams), but nothing egregious either. The picture of the edge was too blurry to be useful. At that point, I would have said it was a genuine, albeit badly cleaned coin. Nonetheless, something smelled fishy about it; something didn’t felt quite right, but for now I was unable to pinpoint it.
The next morning, higher resolution pictures were posted. Right upon looking at the edge, I knew the coin was fake. The reeding didn’t have the soft, rounded shape common to all the Kiang Nan silver dollars.
Now confident about the true nature of this coin, I had to announce the sad news to its owner: the case of the Bangkok pearls was closed. One day later, the Chinese coin collector posted a follow up. He had got confirmation from another coin dealer that the coin was indeed a forgery, and was able to return it for a refund. This case had a happy ending; not all do…