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Spink Currency Auction – Opium, Merchants and the Order of the Dragon


Spink China proudly presents the April Numismatic Collector’s Series sale with a fresh and varied selection of Banknotes, Coins, Medals and Bonds and Share Certificates. In such an uncertain and changing economic landscape it is perhaps appropriate we take a step back in Hong Kong’s history to the mid-nineteenth century, a time of great flux and an ever-shifting marketplace…

When Hong Kong became a British colony, merchants from other parts of the British Empire converged there to take advantage of the trade between China, India and the rest of the British Empire. Opium grown in British Raj accounted for a significant part of the trade. To this end, the merchants founded the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in March 1865 with a branch opening in Shanghai one month later. The bank’s original location was Wardley House and its construction was based on the best feng shui in Hong Kong. The bank soon issued banknotes locally in Hong Kong and Shanghai and expanded to Yokohama in 1866 and Thailand in 1888.

The very first notes were issued in Hong Kong in 1865 and were printed by Ashby and Co. These are all exceptionally rare and are only seen in specimen form. The earliest available (and remotely affordable) is the $1 note issued in 1872. It is a coincidence that the Pick plate note bearing the serial number 1160 was sold through Spinks many years ago! The design of the banknotes remained more or less the same from 1865 to 1905 in what the local Hong Kong Chinese called the ‘cheque’ format, probably because of its slightly monotonous design and lack of pictorial vignettes.

The new series in 1905 was a new beginning for Hong Kong banknotes as they were the first banknotes to carry pictorial vignettes. The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China followed in 1911 and The Mercantile Bank of India in 1912.

The various notes in the 1905 – 1925 series were given affectionate nicknames which are still used today; the ‘Water Carrier’ ($5), ‘Sandy Beach’ ($10), ‘Pineapple Head’ ($50), ‘Tea House’ ($100) and ’Water Buffalo’ ($500). Spink is in the very honoured and fortunate position of selling all of these before both in specimen and issued forms.

In this auction we are proud to offer a specimen of the ‘Tea House’ $100 dated 1923 (Lot 1036). This type is rare in any form and an issued sample dated 1912 was sold in our January 2014 auction for HKD$564,000 (ca. £53,000). Its appeal is further enhanced by its great condition, ‘PMG 64 Choice Uncirculated’. The bidding starts at HKD$75,000.

spinkcss2168A pleasing offering of Chinese coins opens the sale with a particularly splendid 1911 20 cents graded NGC MS65 (Lot 68) complete with striking obverse design of a dragon chasing fireball and the 1898 ‘wide moustache’ Fengtien Province 50 cents graded PCGS AU58 (Lot 80).

Preceding our fine banknote section are two marvelous orders that open our largest ever selection of medals. Firstly Lot 262, The Order of the Double Dragon (1896-1911): founded by the Guangxu Emperor in the Qing dynasty it was the first Western-style Chinese order, established in large part to engage with the West in the wake of the Second Opium War. Lot 263 features a very rare Order of the Black Dragon also founded in the Qing dynasty.

We conclude with aplomb – drumroll please – for the Standard Chartered charity auction. Lot 1199, a superb Chartered Bank number 2 set of the 1979 issue featuring the $10, $50, $100, $500 and $1000 will be sold in aid of Seeing Is Believing, a collaboration between Standard Chartered and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) to help tackle avoidable blindness.

For more information, please contact Kelvin Cheung at +852 3952 3030 or [email protected]

SPINK CHINA | 4/F Hua Fu Commercial Building | 111 Queen’s Road West | Hong Kong

About Spink

Spink is the world’s leading auctioneer of stamps, coins, banknotes, medals, bonds & shares, autographs, books and wine. Since its foundation in 1666, the Spink name has become synonymous with tradition, experience and integrity. Holder of royal warrants and numerous records for prices achieved at auction, Spink offers an unparalleled range of services to collectors worldwide. Headquartered in London, with offices in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and Switzerland, Spink holds over 70 auctions a year. Catalogues can be accessed through the Spink website (www.spink.com) or via the Spink App for iPhone and iPad.

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