The Origin of the Yuan Shih-kai Dollar

Expelling foreign silver coins from China, the Yuan Shih-kai Dollar was a turning point for Chinese coins.

During the late Qing Dynasty, foreign currency inside the nation caused havoc. The imperial government of the Qing had lost both control and autonomy over the circulating coinage in China, with more than 100 different domestic and foreign currencies in use within the country. This system of exchange caused issues with both fixed exchange and taxation, leaving the general public exasperated. In 1914, the National Currency Regulations were put into effect to produce a new currency on the silver standard. To solidify his political status, President Yuan Shih-kai took this opportunity to place his portrait on the new currency.

For the design of Yuan Shih-kai, the Italian engraver L. Giorgi used photographs of the president that featured a not-quite 3/4 perspective. After struck patterns of the coin were produced, Giorgi made the trip to Beijing to meet Yuan Shih-kai in person. After meeting the president, Giorgi found that his work was not accurate, causing him to redesign his portrait to a profile of the much larger man he had met. This design gave birth to the circulation-issue Yuan Shih-kai Dollar that would propagate in China until 1951.

The National Currency Regulations set the standard for an 89% silver coin with the yuan or dollar to weigh 26.86 grams. The new coin was to feature President Yuan Shih-kai with the year of issue on the obverse and a face value of “ONE YUAN” declared on the reverse. The circulation issues of the coin were produced starting in 1914 with Year 3 and were produced for three more years: 1919 (Year 8), 1920 (Year 9), and 1921 (Year 10). While these coins have set dates, they were produced until 1951.

The Origin of the Yuan Shih-kai Dollar

Today, the Yuan Shih-kai Dollar is the first choice for many collectors in China. With large mintages, the coins trade for a more stable price in contrast to other vintage Chinese silver coins. There are also numerous varieties available that allow collectors to have sets ranging from as few as four coins to potentially hundreds of examples. Of the four different dates, Year 8 or 1919 is the scarcest and most desirable. Certified coins that feature L. Giorgi’s signature can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.

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PCGS - Professional Coin Grading Service

中国, 中國, 袁世凱
 

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