In MEDIAEVAL times, during the days of the German Minnesingers and French Troubadours, it was not uncommon for many European cities, especially those of Central Europe, to issue their own coinages. Many of these issues were due to the feudal lords who held sway in such cities. Here in far Cathay, in the very City of Shanghai, we have an anomaly in that such coins, made many years ago, were created under the dictates of presumed necessity. I say presumed, because, whether this necessity was real, apparent or imaginary, has not been revealed to posterity by the meagre notes of earlier observers. Speaking broadly, Shanghai coins should be classified into three categories; one which may be termed the "Native Issues;" one the "Foreign Issues," although conversely, the latter was not strictly an issue, since the coins were prepared and exist only in proof state and were not put into circulation, whereas the former were in actual use in payment to troops, even if ever so little; and the third the "Token Issues."


The "native issues" came into existence towards the close of 1856, and it is to be regretted that Wylie, writing at so close a date as the middle of 1857,1 gave but little attention to them. I may be pardoned for quoting him in full eighty years later, considering that he is apparently the only foreign authority who can be reliably consulted. However, he refers only to the coin here denoted as Type A, as, indeed, does Lockhart in describing the Glover collection,2 and also in his lecture3 read in Hankow on December 3, 1921, whilst every writer who took part in the controversy published by the North-China Daily News during October, 1919, refers to the same coin only. All that Wylie says in describing the coin is that "it is a coin of a tael weight, produced in Shanghai under the direction of the Intendant of Circuit, about the end of the year 1856. It was struck from a steel die, and tolerably well executed; but it had scarcely made its appearance, when spurious imitations of baser metal were put in joint circulation with it, so that confidence in the new coin was speedily at an end, and it is now only to be found as a numismatic specimen." This same coin was the subject of various controversies at different times. One of the correspondents already alluded to states under the non de plume of "Curio No. II" that "although the Superintendent of Customs is mentioned it would not appear that the coin was officially recognized by the Government," implying thereby that the Government recognized the coin in actual practice, but not officially. In the same correspondence, Mr. J. Klubien simply declares that "Tsaoping4 one tael coins were minted and circulated during the year 1856." In reviewing "The Currency of the Farther East" in the North-China Daily News issue of August 25, 1895, "H.B.M." states regarding this same coin that "the silver coins portrayed are not of government coinage," whatever Mr. H.B. Morse may have meant thereby. These coins were certainly not minted by the Central or Provincial Mints, since these did not produce minted by the Central or the Provincial Mints, since these did not produce minted coins in those days, but they were certainly produced under the aegis of an inspector appointed by a mandate of the Government.

This article may be construed by some readers as savoring of a strain in defense of the coin, and I may even be accused of bias, but, when we reflect that its age is to-day worthy of respect; that the method of striking it at (for China) such an early period; that it was produced only with crude native implements; that foreign influence is so totally absent in its design; and that finally, when the coin, under such adverse conditions, was produced solely by Chinese ingenuity in such as eminently perfect state, and that it was in actual circulation for about six months, I feel that I cannot be charged with prejudicial tendencies.

The coin alluded to by earlier authorities was not the only one that was made in the sixth year of Hsien Feng(1856), and, although all the varieties were produced under the auspices and inspection of one, Chow Yuen Yue(朱源裕), who was sometimes given the rank or title of Intendant of Circuit, Intendant of Mint, and even Intendant of Finance, the coins were, nevertheless, not all issued by one Hong, nor made by the same engraver. I have searched in vain among native annals for details and records bearing on these coins. No trace appears to have been preserved of the number issued, nor the reason for their appearance (we only know the fact that they were mostly employed for payment of the military), nor is it even known in what precise localities in Shanghai the authorized issuing Hongs were located, although it is generally admitted that they were situated within the now destroyed city walls of Shanghai City. Indeed, time seems to have erased all traces that to-day would be considered so precious. We have only the coins, of which, even so, very few are in existence, owing to the constant activities in the last thirty years of those sycee casting houses known as Yin Lu(銀爐). 

The coins were issued by three Hongs, and the preparation of the dies was also done by three engravers,5 although no proof exists that each issuing Hong had its exclusive engraver. Quite the contrary, for it will be observed that two Hongs, Ching Cheng Chee(經正記)and Yu Shen Sheng(郁森盛), employed the same engraver, Fung Nien(豐年), whilst the Hong Yu Shen Sheng(郁森盛)had recourse to the two engravers, Fung Nien(豐年)and Wong Shou(王壽). As to the number of dies employed, it may be said, with some degree of assurance, that not more than one was made for each of the one Tael varieties, the differences in engraving marking the forgeries mentioned by Wylie.

There is also a forgery that was made in 1925 by a coin dabbler working in a firm not many miles from the Bund Garden of Shanghai, a forgery created solely as a pitfall for unwary numismatics. This forgery piece is shown in our plate as Type D. Its thickness is very erratic, and I have seen some pieces of 3 millimeters, others 4 1/2 and even 5 millimetres thick. It has no reeding at all, which fact alone immediately reveals its shady character and entitles it to receive the taboo it so richly deserves. The diameter is 41 mm. The weight of one specimen was 518 grains and the other 532 1/2 grains. The fineness was not ascertained, but its "ring" indicated the presence of much alloy. Its reeding is shown as designated Z B in our illustration. It is artificially bronzed and presents a very poor imitation of natural oxidation.

The native script on the good coins are on a plain field without any milling. The rims are grained with a mosaic pattern as indicated by Type Z A in our plate, the whole giving the coins a true touch of dignity in its serene simplicity. It is certainly typically Oriental. Type A denotes the coin which has heretofore always been referred to by writers, and the piece here illustrated is the actual one which adorned the collection of the late S.W. Bushell6 for many years. The inscription on the obverse reads Hsien Feng Liu Nien Sang Hai Hsien Hao Shang Wong Yung Sheng Chao Wen Yin Bing, meaning "Cake (of) standard silver (from the) business firm (of) Hsien Feng." On the reverse we find Chow Yuen Yue Chien/Ching Tsao Ping Shih/Chung Yi Liang Yin/Tsang Wan Ch'uan Tsoh, which translates into "Made (by) Wan Ch'uan, silversmith; supervised (by) Chow Yuen Yue. Exact weight one Tsao-p'ing tael." Its weight is 563.30 grains, but I have scaled some pieces as high as 566.24 grains troy, and, on weighing them all together, obtained an average of 564.85 grains. Reeding shown in Type Z A in our plate. There is a good illustration of this piece in cast formation by means of the galvanic battery and impressed on silver paper in "The Current Gold and Silver Coins of all Countries,"7 wherein the weight of the piece is given as 565 grains troy with the remarkable fineness of 990 milliemes, thus making it a 15 5/8 "betterness" than the British standard purity of silver coins. 8

Type B shows an unpublished coin. The obverse inscription reads Hsien Feng Liu Nien/Sang Hai Hsien Hao/Shang Yu Shen Sheng/Chao Wen Yin Bing, meaning "Cake (of) standard silver (from the) business firm (of) Yu Shen Sheng (in the) Shanghai district (in the) sixth year (of) Hsien Feng." On the reverse we have Chow Yuen Chien/Ching Tsao Ping Shih/Chung Yi Liang Yin/Tsang Fung Nien Tsoh, interpreted as "Made (by)Fung Nien, silversmith; supervised (by) Chow Yuen Yue. Exact weight one Tsao-p'ing tael." The change in characters denotes a different issuing Hong as well as a different engraver. Reeding Z A.

Type C also represents a hitherto unrecorded coin. The obverse inscription reads Hsien Feng Liu Nien/ Sang Hai Hsien Hao/ Shang Ching Chung Chee/ Chao Wen Yin Bing, or "Cake (of) standard silver (from the)business firm (of) Ching Chung Chee (in the) Shanghai district (in the) sixth year (of) Hsien Feng." On the reverse we read Chow Yuen Yue Chien/Ching Tsao Ping Shih/Chung Yi Liang Yin/ Tsang Fung Nien Tsoh, rendered as: Made (by) Fung Nien, silversmith; supervised (by) Chow Yuen Yue. Exact weight one Tsao-p'ing tael." The alterations in the scripts here too indicate that the piece was produced under the responsibility of another issuing Hong (Ching Chung Chee), although in this instance the silversmith was the same one who prepared the dies of Type B (Fung Nien). Reeding Z A.

In Type E we have a coin of a denomination the existence of which had not been even suspected. The value is Five Mace and several varieties show this denomination. This Type E coin is the corresponding piece of Type A, and, avoiding the monotonous repetitions of the inscriptions, it may be pointed out that, although the sentences are the same as for that one Tael piece, the phrase "exact weight one tael Tsao-p'ing"is, in the present instance, changed into "exact weight five mace Tsao-p'ing." Reeding Z A.
In Type F we find that this piece was issued by the Hong which issued Type B (Yu Shen Sheng), but it was engraved by Wong Shou(王壽), whose work was concentrated upon five mace pieces exclusively, as no tael pieces bearing his name as engraver are known to have existed. The Reeding is Z A. 

Type G is identical with type F, but the calligraphy is finer and in a different hand, whilst Type H, although also identical in script with Type F, has thicker strokes in the characters, and the reeding is not composed of the mosaic pattern, but has the diagonal lines of reeding Z D. Furthermore, the "ring" of the piece to the trained ear reveals a fairly large percentage of alloy, probably copper. Due to these reasons, I am inclined to the belief that this piece is one of the "spurious imitations of baser metal" mentioned by Wylie, but which, by some caprice of circumstances, has survived until our times.

In Type J an interesting piece is shown. It was issued by the Hong which produced the tael piece of Type C (Ching Chung Chee), but the engraver was the artisan who cut the dies of type A (Wan Ch'uan).

We obtain, then, the following particulars of Shanghai silver coins of native origin, struck from steel dies during 1856.

As the theoretical Shanghai tael or "Shanghai convention currency" contains 565.65 grains of silver of a fineness of 944 (native method), we must unhesitatingly pay a tribute of commendation to the honest endeavours of the originators of the above coins. A fairly consistent difference of only about one grain, is, in coin minting, a reduction below the average.


The "Foreign Issues" began their production towards 1867, just about ten years after the "Native Issues" had been throttled out of public esteem.

It is generally wrongly rumoured that the coins were minted at the instance of the Shanghai Municipal Council by the Hongkong Mint, which occupied one of the buildings now used by Jardine, Matheson & Co.'s Sugar Refinery. Be this as it may, the coins never went into circulation, and only proof pieces of various designs now remain. Ros10 states that three different patterns of the tael denomination were made, but Atkins11 only describes the single piece shown here as Type M. Captain H.E. Laver writing to me says, "Caldecott in his illustrated catalogue12 gives two taels, but I believe another was also struck closely resembling these." The two varieties denoted Types M and N correspond to the two pieces in the collection of the American Numismatic Society in New York. These two coins are identical but for the difference in Type N of rays protruding beyond the garter into the exergue. As a matter of fact a third pattern was never made; only the two here described were engraved. I have been unable to ascertain who prepared the designs, but it does seem that the reptile is a poor transcript of the native version of its semblance, 13 possessing, as it were, a decided "European" physiognomy, with a head entirely out of proportion to its body. Indeed, foreign influence in general is quite marked in the execution of both the obverses and reverses. The escutcheon indisputably consists of the British Royal Arms, including the motto "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense."

During my search14 for particulars a caprice of fate casually placed me in contact with a gentleman who was employed by the Hongkong Mint when those pieces were made; but this was many years ago, when the matter of these coins was simply an incident in the working of the mint, and when work of much greater importance was being done on coins for the Colony of Hongkong. These facts coupled with the advanced years of this gentleman (he was then, in 1922, 79 years of age) meant that only a fair memory of the events of the time in question could be relied upon. Living a retired life on a pension from the British Government, he did not, quite comprehensibly, wish that his name should be made public, and I must respect this wish, whilst assuring the reader that I am well satisfied of his bona fides. He sates that only two designs were ordered, one without the rays (Type M) and the other with rays (Type N) around the garter encircling the dragon. There was also a two-mace piece here shown as Type P. The design without the rays and the two-mace piece were not approved, but the tael piece with the rays was, and an order to proceed with the minting of this piece was given to the mint by the then Colonial Secretary of Hongkong, Mr. William Thomas Mercer. However, a little while later the Colonial Secretary issued a fresh order to the mint cancelling the original order, in which the mint was instructed, not only to cease producing any more pieces, but furthermore to destroy all those that had been minted, the reason advanced therefor being that the Peking Government had strongly objected to the coins on account of the appearance of the British Coat of Arms on them. The dies were engraved by a British expert who had recently arrived in Hongkong from England, but my informant regretted that it was so many years ago that he could not recollect the name of this engraver. Nor could be remember how many pieces had been made. The engraver was not the designer. The designs were supplied by the Colonial Secretary when the original order to make proof pieces was issued to the mint, which only took its orders from the Colonial Secretary. These were all the details my obliging informant could impart.

Regarding the destruction of the proofs that had been rejected, this was effected by putting them under the press and partly obliterating the pattern. Type L shows such a piece, and, as the two faces were pressed down, so the edges expanded, resulting in a larger piece measuring 40 1/2 millimetres in diameter and 3 millimetres in thickness, as against 39 and 4 millimetres, respectively, in the originals. The weight, of course, was not affected. The destruction of the pieces with the rays that had been minted in a fair quantity consisted, probably, of a wholesale casting into the melting pot. No piece that the Peking Government had objected to the British Royal Arms on the coins led me to conduct my investigations in Peking, but, during my visit there in 1929, it was with real regrets that the Secretary of His Britannic Majesty's Legation informed me that at the time when the Kuomingtang's northward drive in 1927 convulsed China, their archives, in which, indeed, the precious facts concerning these coins were preserved, but all been shipped to the Foreign Office in London. The gracious permission granted me in 1934 by Sir John Simon, Foreign Secretary of State, to penetrate into these archives in the Public Record Office of Chancery Lane,15 reveal that the coins were prepared at the instance of the Imperial Chinese Government in Peking. The Official Notification and the Correspondence that were available are now appended in full.

(To be continued.)
Reprinted from The China Journal
vol. XXVII, No. 2, August, 1937, pp. 64-78

1  Coins of the Ta-ts'ing, or Present Dynasty of China.
2  The Currency of the Farther East.
3  Modern Chinese Coinage. Ros. A lecture read before the Union Church Literary Guild.
4  Describing what the Tsaoping Tael is, Morse in "The Trade and Administration of China,"page 173, says that "it may be stated with some degree of confidence to weigh 565.65 grains, subject always to the possibility of oscillation in the standard."
5  I say three Hongs, basing my statement on the names so far revealed from the coins, but in China where surprises in numismatics are constant, it lies within the bounds of possibility that more Hongs may have also caused an issue. The same remarks may be applied to the engravers, but with greater probability.
6  The late Dr.Stephen W.Bushell, C.M.G was a renowned authority on Chinese ceramic art and numismatics. His articles on the latter, "Coins of the Present Dynasty of China", read before the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society on the June 7, 1880, and published in the new series, No. XV, of the Society's Journal, and "Additional Coins of the Present Dynasty", published in Vol.XXXII of the Society's Journal, besides numerous occasional contributions to the China Review, are standard monographs much consulted by collectors of our times.
7  By Leopold C. Martin and Charles Trubner, London, 1863.
8  The British standard purity of silver coins is 11 oz.2 dwts. Or 37/40 fine, the equivalent of 925 milliemes.
9  I regret that I cannot give the weight of the coin of Type F. The illustration is from a good rubbing.
10  Ros. Op. Cit.
11  The Coins and Tokens of the Possession and Colonies of the British Empire, p.227, London, 1889.
12  Catalogue of the Collection of Coins and Tokens of the British Possessions and Colonies, formed by J.B. Caldecott, Esq. Sotheby, Wikinson & Hodge, London, June, 1912.
13  The Sung master Muh-chi says, The dragon has the head of the camel, the horns of a deer, the eyes of a demon, the ears of an ox, the body of a serpent, the scales of a carp and the claws of an eagle.
14  My endeavours to obtain information--official or otherwise--have been complete. Archives of the Report of Council Meetings, Notifications, Reports of Landrenters Meetings and other files of the Shanghai Municipal Council for the years 1865 to 1868 were, by courtesy of the Ex-Commissioner General of the Council, Mr.N.O.Liddell, examined during 1922 without any results; but, be it remarked, unfortunately the Report of Council Meetings for 1867, as well as the correspondence files and copy-books used during the "sixties"were already out of existence at the time. Nor were my researches more fruitful among the archives of His Britannic Majesty's Consulate General of Shanghai. It was, however, possible that, had any records exited, they may have been destroyed, since in his letter of March 8, 1922, Sir Everard Fraser, K.C.M.G., says "The Consulate building was burnt down in December 1870 and only very scanty records remain for the years prior to that date." Hongkong, that most important city where the coins were minted, was also sterile, as, in his letter dated May 11, 1922, the Colonial Secretary wrote "The records in this office were destroyed some years ago, and it is doubtful whether any information can be obtained."
15  I feel it a duty publicly to acknowledge my sincere thanks to Miss Elsa Beresford, an ex-Shanghai resident, for her persevering devotion in obtaining for me the desired information. These records were investigated and copied by Miss Beresford during November and December, 1936, which entailed about a dozen visits to the Public Record Office and the examination of over fifty files.