Heritage to Offer Set of Iconic Opium Taels of Yunnan

The December 18 – 19 Hong Kong World Coins & Ancient Coins Signature Auction from Heritage features a stunning set of patterns for the iconic “Opium” taels of Yunnan.

This PCGS-graded three-piece set consists of:

  1. 1/2 Tael (1/2 Bya) – SP61, Lec-321 (2 examples known)
  2. Uniface 1/2 Tael (1/2 Bya) – SP64, Lec-321a (Unique)
  3. Tael (Bya) – SP62, Lec-323 (2 examples known)

This is a fantastically rare set of essais that helped shape one of the most iconic issues of French-Chinese opium trade. Reflecting deeply the impact of foreign colonial interests across the geography of southeast Asia in the aftermath of the Opium Wars, these particular designs were commissioned by the French customs authorities (Doanes et Régies) in 1943 in an effort to maintain a monopoly on the trade in French Indo-China.

Having discovered that the rural populations of the mountains in Yunnan would only accept payments in silver coins, the newly created Opium Purchasing Bureau contacted René Mercier to produce designs for 1/2 Tael and 1 Tael pieces, with the adopted pattern featuring the Chinese character Fu (“wealth’) in Art Déco style on the obverse, and Chinese and Burmese text on the reverse, reading “Genuine Silver, 1 (or 1/2) Tael”.

Stemming from the engraver’s own collection, the selections on offer here represent a unique opportunity for students and collectors of this fascinating era in Chinese and colonial European history — with Lecompte confirming that 1-2 pieces are known per pattern. In the case of Lec-321 the other is in the D. Cariou collection, the other of Lec-323 also coming from Mercier’s holdings and now residing in a private collection.
 

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