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Modern Chinese Coins: On The Wild Side

Chinese Coins

Many Chinese coins and medals celebrate the country’s wildlife, including the 2000 Hoopoe bird coins


Would you like to go take photos of birds?

It is Mr. Qin, a friend in the coin business, calling. Despite a long day out in the Shenyang sun, my “Yes” is immediate. Mr. Qin is not only an expert on Chinese coins, he is also an expert photographer of birds. It is the first time he has invited me to join him. Forty-five minutes later a taxi drops me off near Wulihe Park.

Wulihe Park hugs nine miles of the Hun River shoreline in Shenyang, China. The wide river drifts lazily by as people fish among patches of reeds, joggers huff and puff through a 10K course and children scamper up and down the wide lawns. Where the Sanhao Bridge rises above the park, a large section of farmland is set aside for open space. Mr. Qin meets me there. We immediately set off along a dirt path and soon spy a big, tumbledown tree in the field up ahead.

The tree is not what grabs my attention. Rather, it is the crowd 50 yards away from it. This throng is split into two groups, but both are focused on a single point: a narrow gash in the side of the tree trunk. Inside this hollow live seven young Hoopoe birds. Every few minutes an adult bird glides in, hovers for a moment as it shoves an insect down an open young beak and flits off to gather more food. In those moments a sort of fluttering sound fills the field, but it isn’t from the birds. It is the whirr from dozens of motorized shutters; tche, tche, tche, tche, tche.

Most people are dressed in camouflage outfits (bright colors scare the birds, they inform the newcomer in a powder blue shirt). Others must have rushed over from their jobs and are still dressed for the office. It is May and tender young shoots poke up from the ground, so everyone clusters along narrow paths to avoid trampling the farmer’s crop.

The mood is cheerful. I am warmly welcomed and someone immediately offers me a seat. Nearly everybody is equipped with a sturdy tripod that supports a camera with a lens the size of a small cannon (or is that a Canon?) attached to it. Like all wildlife photographers, they may need to wait for hours to capture a memorable image.

Hoopoes are native to China as well as many other areas of Asia, Europe and Africa. They are notable for the distinctive crown of feathers on their head. Their wings are decorated with handsome black and white stripes. Hoopoes are useful, as well as beautiful, for they devour many pesky insects.

In 2000, China issued a pair of coins with a Hoopoe bird as the subject. There is a 25 Yuan 1/4 oz. gold with a mintage of 8,800 and a 10 Yuan 1 oz. silver with 10,000 minted. Both coins are colorized. The bird sits on a branch among blossoms set against a blank mirrored field. For collectors the silver version is not easy to find in NGC Proof 69; only 20 out of 71 graded coins achieved this grade, a low percentage compared to many other issues.

These coins are not well-known. It intrigues me that more people in Shenyang have come to photograph a family of Hoopoe birds than the number of graded silver Hoopoe coins.

The 2000 Hoopoe bird coins are only a couple of the many Chinese coins and medals that celebrate the country’s wildlife. A recent medal is the product of an unusual collaboration between two of the country’s mints: Chengdu and Shenyang. One face of this 80 mm diameter brass medal features a Panda. Appropriately, this was designed at the Chengdu Mint in Sichuan Province, the home turf of Pandas. On the other face is a Siberian Tiger, designed by well-known Shenyang Mint artist Liao Bo. Shenyang, in northern China, is part of the range that this animal once roamed. The mintage is 800.

China’s numismatic products offer many chances to explore its natural beauty, as well as its cultural traditions. The rewards can be great and opportunity calls.

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Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

Peter Anthony
Peter Anthony
Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

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