Hubei One Tael in Silver with Large Characters – NC Collection
By Che-lu Tseng (USA), for the Journal of East Asian Numismatics ……
Chang Chih-tung (張之洞, Zhāng Zhīdòng), a reform-minded official in the late Qing Empire, made important contributions to modern Chinese machine-struck silver coins. In 1887, as Viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi, Chang submitted a report to the Imperial Qing government to strike silver coins and establish the Guangdong Numismatic Office. In 1888, he was transferred to Huguang–which contained the future provinces of Hubei and Hunan–and five years later Chang Chih-tung petitioned the government to strike silver coins and set up the Hubei Silver Bureau.
At that time, most of the silver coins came in a weight of 7 mace and 2 candareens, which was based on the standard of Mexican silver dollars. On August 1904, he again petitioned the Qing government to strike a one tael silver coin in Hubei province. During this time, influential general Yuan Shih-kai (袁世凱, Yuán Shìkǎi) and Chang Chih-tung were both in favor of adopting the “tael” as the primary unit of currency, but there was debate as to whether the currency unit should be denominated as a “tael” or as a “dollar”.
A Debate Between the “Tael” and the “Dollar”
Even though it went counter to mainstream thought, it was the viewpoint of both Yuan Shih-kai and Chang Chih-tung that the currency unit should be the “tael”. They argued that the “tael” had been used as a traditional unit of currency in China for a long time, so it should not be abandoned.
The mainstream view, then, was that the currency unit should be the “dollar”. This idea was advanced by businessmen, foreign merchants, some officers within the Ministry of Revenue, and everyday civilians. As a unit of measurement, they believed that the “dollar”, as opposed to the “tael” or “mace” and “candareens”, was more convenient for calculating. For trade and exchanging currencies with other countries, they also believed that we should not follow the usual method of calculation. Silver coins were used by merchants to facilitate trade and by civilians to buy daily necessities – with the whole intent being to make the coins more convenient to use. The Shanghai Chamber of Commerce submitted a written statement to the Ministry of Finance that the “tael” was used as a unit of weight, while the “dollar” was used as a unit of currency. It was unreasonable to mix these two different measurements together, the Chamber of Commerce belived. If so, it would lead to many problems in people’s daily lives.
Hubei One Tael Copper Pattern with Small Characters – NC Collection
As a matter of fact, both propositions sound reasonable. But only the one that can make people’s lives easier becomes the general trend. In 1909, Tai Tse (the officer of the Ministry of Finance) said, “The opinion that the currency unit should be the ‘tael’ advocated by Chang Chih-tung and Yuan Shih-kai was a dogmatic view. It’s hard to carry out, for it has many drawbacks. I suggest that the currency unit should be the ‘dollar’.”
The Date of the Hubei One Tael Silver Coin
According to Chang Chia-niang’s book, The History of the Chinese Money System, although there was a debate between the “tael” and the “dollar”, Chang Chih-tung proposed that the Hubei Silver Bureau could try out the one tael silver coin and observe the response of civilians and merchants around the world. If it worked, then he would petition Tai Tse to implement it. Otherwise these coins would be recycled by the Bureau.
By referring to the surviving examples of Hubei one tael silver coins, and taking the above analysis into account, it can be speculated that dies were made in 1904 and coins with large characters and consisting of 90.0% silver were made in 1905 (on January 19, 1907, Chang Chih-tung cabled Yuan Shih-kai, stating that the coins consisted of 98.0% silver). After that, the Ministry of Finance issued a document to restrike coins of the denomination one tael and six candareens (these used small Chinese characters and other materials). But ultimately, on July 9, 1907, Tai Tse petitioned to strike coins of 7 mace and 2 candareens.
Large Characters vs. Small Characters
There are two versions of the Hubei one tael silver coin: one with “Ta Qing Yin Bi” (Qing silver) in large characters, and one with the legend in small characters. In the typical auction catalog, the large characters variety is more valuable than the small characters. Based on dealers’ experience, the mass of a coin with large characters is less than one seventh that of one with small characters. The large characters variety is also very rare – but why? And why is it lighter? If you are curious, then check out the reference books for the answer.
We know that Chang Chih-tung and Yuan Shih-kai both favored the “tael” as the currency unit. For promoting and implementing the unit, they sent telegrams to each other to discuss the topic. We can obtain some information from these telegrams.
For instance, on May 26, 1907, Yuan Shih-kai sent a telegram to Chang Chih-tung to discuss the merits and demerits of silver coins. Some content is as follows:
“I consider that a Chinese coin consisting of 98.0% silver and weighs one tael should be struck. If the coin consists of 90.0% silver, we could win big profits at present but would suffer heavy losses in the future.”
Believing one telegram on the topic was inadequate, on June 1, 1907, Yuan Shih-kai again sent a telegram to Chang Chih-tung, in which he said:
“One tael silver coins were struck in the areas of Hunan and Hubei. If it can’t be carried out in one place by accident, nor across the country, it’s not the fault of the new currency. So we are supposed to strike coins that consist of 98.0% silver and weighs one tael.”
On January 19 of 1907, Chang Chih-tung replied:
“In the report submitted in 1905, the coins consist of 90.0% silver, though we didn’t talk about the purity of silver. Through our consultation, this time we decided to strike the coin consisting of 98.0% silver. The coins of standard purity are the best. We accept good advice, and dare not rigidly adhere to any irrational system.”
On June 20, 1907, Chang Chih-tung sent a second telegram to Yuan Shih-kai. In it, he said:
“It’s not true that one tael coins minted by the Hubei Silver Bureau were recalled and destroyed because they couldn’t be circulated in the market. With a circulation of more than 700,000, these coins were accepted by the government repository, as well as by many merchants. Also, these Kuang Hsu one tael coins could be adopted to pay taxes at Hankow. The transaction certificate is attached. In accordance with the document issued by the Ministry of Finance, we are supposed to restrike one tael and six candareens coins and recall the old ones. However, there are more than 100,000 pieces scattered among the people. In this way, the move to destroy these one tael coins was conducted on the basis of the official document rather than the Hubei officer’s willingness. The day that Minister Chen came to Hubei Province, he didn’t talk about this with me. His attendant told staff at the Hubei Silver Bureau that since the Ministry of Finance set the new size specifications, we have to recall old ones and wait for the issuing of new coin dies. There is no one tael coin that couldn’t be circulated.”
By reference to the remains of the one tael coin, we know that the coin with small characters weighs more than the one with large characters. According to the above telegrams, we should conclude that the coin with large characters struck in 1905 consists of 90.0% silver. Afterwards, the Ministry of Finance issued a document to restrike one tael and six candareens coins with small characters that consist of 98.0% silver and weigh one tael and six candareens (37.53g). The coins with large characters were recalled and destroyed; ones with small characters were restruck. So the coins with small characters have larger amounts of silver with higher purity and more weight than coins with large characters. This is in accord with the details of the remains.
On July, 1907, the Ministry of Finance substituted the “dollar” for the “tael” as the currency unit. This is the Qing silver one dollar coin that ended the debate between “tael” and “dollar”, and the 7 mace and 2 candareens coins were struck.
Random Talk on the Funeral Affairs of Chang Chih-tung
In ancient times, Chinese emperors took their funeral affairs very seriously, as did officials in the central and local governments. Before their deaths, they often asked the Chinese astrologer to choose an auspicious day and a land of treasure for the funeral. But in fact, the results of this preparation often proved counterproductive. Their graves were either excavated and robbed, or destroyed. The grave of Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, for example, was blown up.
Chang Chih-tung’s grave was dug by members of the Red Guard in 1966, which was a chilling sight to witness. It was well known that Chang Chih-tung was related to the casting of silver coins his whole life–plus, it is said that Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi awarded him a lot of money–so the Red Guards in question may have believed that there were many treasures in his grave. Details about this matter were recorded in the World Journal, a Chinese language newspaper published in North America.
中国, 中國, 陈琳, 張之洞, 张之洞, 袁世凱
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