By Jeremy Bostwick – Senior Numismatist & Cataloger, Stack’s Bowers ……
A German Medal and the Chinese Connection to World War I
Though western Europe and the United States were all initially allied in their approach to opening up China during the mid-late 19th century, civil unrest toward the emerging colonizers led to Germany seeking and securing a 99-year lease on the area surrounding what is now known as Jiaozhou Bay in 1898. This takeover, known then as the Kiautschou Bay concession, gave Germany prime position for her navy in the Pacific, a more formal colonial foothold in China, and fortifications to defend against any future aggression.
Other western powers, however, viewed this as an unparalleled growth of influence in the emerging market and began to seek footholds of their own.
As tensions rose in Europe during the lead up to the outbreak of World War I, it was inevitable that the Great War would find its way to the Far East. The United Kingdom, in an alliance with the Japanese Empire, issued an ultimatum to the German Empire, calling upon the latter to vacate their holdings around Kiautschou Bay as well as her capital city, Tsingtao.
When this ultimatum passed without adherence, the allied forces engaged in increasing hostilities toward German interests, eventually leading to a siege of the port. Despite their efforts to repel the allies, German and Austro-Hungarian forces conceded, seeking terms and an exit from the region on November 7.
Under Japanese control for the next eight years, the territory would eventually return to China in 1922.
Our upcoming fall Hong Kong auction, to be presented October 5-8, 2020, is set to offer over 3,000 lots of interesting coins, medals, and pieces of paper currency mostly pertaining to Asia. Further highlights will be forthcoming later this month and into September, but here we focus on a German medal on the topic of this engagement between the allied forces of the United Kingdom and Japan and Germany.
Engraved by Hummel at Lauer’s private mint in Nuremberg, it presents a rather idealized image of the German defense at Tsingtao on the obverse, with a nude male soldier standing defiantly over his fallen comrades. In his hands are a sword and German colonial banner, and to the left is the phrase “stand up and fulfill one’s duty to the best that one can.”
The reverse simply presents the phrase “German heroes – immortal glory” within an oak wreath. This scarce and interesting piece of medallic art offers a glimpse into the crossroads of German colonialism, World War I, and an emerging China. It is also the first glimpse into what will be yet another exceptional Hong Kong auction presented by Stack’s Bowers & Ponterio.
To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.
A Curious Medal of Mei Lanfang — The “Queen of the Peking Opera”
Born into a Beijing family of performing artists in 1894, Mei Lan spent his early childhood honing his craft through acting, singing, and even attempting acrobatics.
At the age of just 11, he made his stage debut (under the name of Mei Lanfang), eventually developing a reputation for the portrayal of women at the Peking Opera. These very skillful portrayals garnered him international acclaim, with various tours to the west as a cultural ambassador and a conduit for spreading the Peking Opera style abroad. One such trip in 1929-30 was to the United States where he was particularly welcomed in Hollywood, forming friendships with numerous leading figures in the American stage and screen. Later he served as director of the operatic theater and also taught his craft to a new generation of performers.
In our upcoming October Hong Kong auction, an interesting and extremely rare silver medal featuring Mei will be offered. During his aforementioned trip to the United States, he received not one, but two honorary doctorates–one from the University of Southern California and the other from Pomona College. It is likely one of these prestigious events for which the medal was struck.
The obverse features a bust of Mei facing slightly right, with his head turned slightly left. Above are the Chinese characters 念纪士博梅, translating as “to commemorate Mei’s doctoral”. Meanwhile, the reverse offers a somewhat broken English legend pertaining to the same concept: “THE COMMEMORATE OF THE DOCTOR OF MEI LAN FANG,” with a flowering branch and reeds encircling it.
Graded by PCGS as AU-58, this type represents great rarity, as we have been unable to locate another specimen, and this is the only one seen by PCGS. While Chinese coins and medals from the early half of the century often feature political figures, this particular medal stands apart as a cultural touchstone depicting a beloved and world-renowned thespian. It is sure to generate a great deal of enthusiasm on account of its historical and artistic importance. Look for this along with the rest of our tremendous offerings in our October Hong Kong auction–coming to our website later this month.
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We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our sales, and are currently accepting submissions for our next CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction, the consignment deadline of which is September 8. Following that, our next larger format auction will be our official auction of the 2021 N.Y.I.N.C. in January. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.