The “Lao Kiang Nan” (老江南) silver coin is one of the most sought after chinese dragon dollars. The Heaton Mint at Birmingham was commissioned in 1897 to produce a series of five silver denominations for the Nanking Mint. Upon completion, a small number of proof strikes along with sets of dies were shipped to the mint in Nanking. After their arrival the mint began production using the original Heaton Mint design, the only modification being the addition of a security edge.
The first set minted by the Nanking mint for circulation, and the scarcest, has a reeded edge. The english legend has some distinctive differences: the weak crossbars of the “A” in “KIANG NAN” make them look like inverted “V”. Also, the calligraphy of the character 省 on the reverse was modified (the top of the 目 part of the character is open).
Subsequent strikes used an ornamented edge; this type is called 人字齿 or 人字边 by Chinese collectors, due to the pattern. The Lao Kiang Nan with an ornamented edge are far more common, and less expensive. You can see below a comparison of the edges of three ornamented edge Lao Kiang Nan, and one reeded edge:
Amongst the ornamented edge strikes, there is few known die differences. Even “common” Lao Kiang Nan coins are still quite scarce!
The ornamented edge Lao Kiang Nan is closer to the original design from the Heaton mint: the english lettering is identical, but the Chinese calligraphy used is the same than on the reeded edge. This is the most commonly found type of Lao Kiang Nan.
An early type of ornamented edge Lao Kiang Nan is much scarcer, with a reverse identical to the original Heaton design. It is called 人字齿目省 in China.
It is difficult nowadays to find uncirculated, even XF grade Lao Kiang Nan silver coins. Beautiful genuine coins are hoarded by collectors, so the market is saturated by fake or low grade coins. Outside of auction houses, finding a good looking reeded edge Lao Kiang Nan can be quite a challenge. The value of Qing era Chinese silver coins has soared in the recent years, and as one of the most coveted dragon dollar, the Lao Kiang Nan is no exception: an XF-45, uncleaned, reeded edge Lao Kiang Nan can be easily sold for 5000€.
I recently found a beautiful, slightly toned Yuan Shi Kai republican dollar while hunting for rare chinese coins. Looking more closely, one can see the signature of the engraver L. Giorgi on the coin. Specimen with signatures are very rare, and such a coin is easily worth between $4000 and $8000 USD.
Here is the coin:
It looks great, but I soon started to have doubts about its authenticity when I got it out of its protective case: the reeded edge felt a bit too rough and shallow. Knowing that this pattern coin is very rare, I also knew the odds I found a forgery were pretty high. I therefore looked closely at the portrait and a picture of a real coin sold in a reputable auction to find if there was some visible differences.
Here is a genuine Yuan Shi Kai commemorative dollar (Kann 642a), can you spot the difference?
If you look closely at the signature of the engraver “L. Giorgi” on both coins, you will find that it is very well imitated, but slightly off on the fake coin. On the real one, the signature is over the 5th bead on the edge, while on the fake, it is over the 4th bead. See below:
Aside of this detail, the forgery was very convincing. The portrait did not show any significant difference. After a bit more research, I also found that the engraver’s signature on a contemporary Yuan Shi Kai pattern coin, the so-called 飞龙, is actually over the 4th bead. Could this coin be a mule, or a die variation?
After finding this out, I went to the Madian coin market to seek the advice of a professional coin dealer. At the first sight, he thought the coin was real. When I wanted to sell it, he went to show it to a colleague and then came back, saying it was fake. Interestingly enough, it was not the signature position that raised a red flag to them, but the relief of the coin. The real one is totally flat around the Yuan Shi Kai portrait, while on mine both sides of the portrait are not exactly of the same depth. This can only be seen by slowly inclining the coin in front of a light source.