Collecting Rare Pre-1950 Chinese Currency by Dr. Richard S. Appel – UniqueRareCoins.com ……
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After the Qing dynasty was overthrown in the 1911-12 Chinese Revolution, the Bank of China (BOC) was formed. It took the role of the first central bank of the newly named Republic of China and replaced the dynasty’s primary bank. As such, it acquired most of the earlier bank’s 30+ domestic branches and issued banknotes from 1912 until 1942. Importantly for collectors and investors, BOC notes are widely collected worldwide and offer not only great diversity and historical importance but a number of presently underappreciated and undervalued rarities.
Their first notes were overprinted on banknotes issued by its predecessor, the Ta Ch’ing Government Bank. These are extremely rare and coveted and were the first of what was to become an impressive assortment of fascinating varieties that exist across not only BOC notes, but numerous other important Chinese banks of the era.
Later, in 1949, the bloody Communist overthrow of the Republic of China rendered all earlier banknotes worthless. The loss, misery, and despair their holders endured compelled countless citizens to discard, burn or otherwise destroy millions upon millions of their previously valuable currency holdings. This created some very scarce notes and some instant rarities among those that survived.
From time immemorial the Chinese People repeatedly suffered from the financial mismanagement of their various rulers. The Chinese are credited with producing the world’s first paper currency around the seventh century CE, and time and again they have experienced their money becoming worthless. In fact, for 400 years starting in the mid-15th century, Chinese citizens rejected their government’s paper money in favor of precious metals, barter, or other tangible objects they perceived as offering lasting value.
It is no wonder when the Communists declared all earlier Republic of China banknotes worthless that the people wantonly destroyed them. From the rubble that remained emerged a group of interesting, desirable, and very rare notes that cannot possibly satisfy the demands and desires of current and future collectors. In fact, some notes are so rare that previously unknown examples are occasionally being discovered and enter and excite the marketplace. Further, many notes are virtually unknown uncirculated. This can cause great difficulty for those seeking exceptional banknotes to collect.
The Emergence of the Bank of China
After the Bank of China replaced the Ta Ch’ing Government Bank and assumed its operations, it became the de facto central bank of China. Domestically it gradually lost importance after 1927, when the Central Bank of China alone claimed the role. The two banks had shared the central bank function for several prior years. However, from early in its history the BOC expanded on the Ta Ch’ing bank’s international reach and eventually had branches throughout the world.
Today it not only remains China’s largest international and oldest continuously operating bank but also one of their most notable domestic banks. Of great interest to collectors and investors is all but a few Bank of China notes possess English inscriptions. They share this similarity with most other Republic banknotes. This feature greatly enhances their desirability and makes them widely accepted and increasingly collected worldwide by English-speaking people.
Some BOC notes may represent over 20 different issuing banks. This allows a collector much flexibility. You can collect one specimen of each type or, for those who desire a greater challenge, one example from every issuing agency. Given that some of the issuers are exceeding rare, this can be a daunting task. However, if achieved you will possess a fantastic collection with many exceptionally rare, valuable, and highly coveted banknotes.
Chinese currency of the 1912-49 era is often collected according to the province or city where they were issued. Due to its status and continuous operations, the Bank of China is one of the most collected of all. However, there are a wide variety of major (or otherwise important) domestic or foreign issuing banks that one can choose to collect. Some banks issued notes over many years while others issued a few, or only one. Similarly, the banknotes of some issuers are quite rare while others are far more common. All of this lends itself to the curiosity of the ardent history aficionado.
In my first article on the subject, I explained why early Communist issues (1948-60) are currently more collected by the Chinese and sell for many multiples of Republic of China notes of similar rarity. I believe this disparity is destined to become far more limited as people recognize the significance and rarity of the earlier banknotes. They will be forced to increase what they are willing to pay in their quest to complete their collections. Fortunately, I believe that, for today’s collectors and investors, this creates a window of opportunity where many rare and otherwise historically important notes are relatively inexpensive.
As difficult as it can be to complete a Bank of China collection, those desiring a more daunting task can choose any number of provinces, areas, or cities to collect. Or, if you want the ultimate challenge and have the time and resources, you can attempt to collect the entire 1912-1949 universe of over 5,000 Chinese currency emissions including the important printers, managing signatures, overprints, etc. And that doesn’t even include the numerous private bank issues. This has never been achieved, and likely never will!
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About Dr. Richard Appel
Dr. Richard S. Appel has been a numismatic expert for 50 years. He offers his personal services as a rare coin broker or rare coin consultant to both beginner and experienced consumers alike. Please visit, or contact him at his website www.uniquerarecoins.com. He can also be reached by phone at (800) 782-2646. For a modest fee he will treat every purchase or sale of your coins as if they were his own, and will negotiate the best possible prices on your behalf.
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