The Shanghai Tael
Hong Kong 1867 “Shanghai” Tael Without Rays, PCGS PR65. Courtesy of PCGS.

By PCGS ……
 

There are coins that in their time were failures but today are highly prized legendary coins. This is the case with the coin known as the Shanghai tael. This never-adopted design and denomination is a highlight of any auction and a prize piece for any collection.

The Shanghai tael coins have a long history of misconception as to their purpose and origin, with some believing the coins to be issued by the Shanghai Municipal Council for circulation in Shanghai. This has been found to be untrue, with the coins’ origin coming from Hong Kong. This error comes from the English legend on the reverse “ONE TAEL SHANGHAI”. While the coin also says “HONG KONG” below, the larger lettering of “SHANGHAI” has driven the wrong attribution. The inscription “SHANGHAI” was intended for denomination as a weight standard equal to that of a Caoping One Tael, a weight standard that was 36.7 grams of marginally less-pure silver.

When Governor William Robinson took office in Hong Kong in 1859, one of his goals was to improve the trade between Hong Kong and China. With the common circulation coinage of the time being the Cap and Ray 8 Reales from Mexico, the establishment of a mint in Hong Kong could produce coinage to compete or replace that of foreign governments.

In 1864, the Ordinance on the Establishment of the Mint and the purchase of machinery from J. Watt & Co. in Birmingham made that a reality, and the Hong Kong Mint was opened on May 7, 1866. Much to the dismay of the new governor Sir Richard Macdonell and the British government of Hong Kong, the coins were not well received by the public, who trusted and favored the silver from Mexico and elsewhere more than that of the local Hong Kong Mint. In an attempt to make a more-acceptable coin for circulation in China, the mint produced patterns featuring a dragon, the symbol of the Chinese emperor, and made it to a weight standard often used in Shanghai, the tael. This tael coinage was rejected by the Qing government and effectively killed both the Shanghai tael and the Hong Kong Mint, which was closed and sold to Japan in 1868.

The Shanghai Tael
Hong Kong 1867 “Shanghai” Tael with Rays, PCGS PR65. Image: PCGS.

Two different designs for the Hong Kong Shanghai tael coins were produced, both dated 1867. The main difference between the two designs is one has rays on the dragon side and one does not. The version of the no-rays coin was produced only as a pattern coin, but the design with rays was mass produced. However, most were melted before being released for circulation. Both coins today are extremely rare and highly desirable. They are both considered among the great treasures of Chinese silver coinage.

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PCGS - Professional Coin Grading Service

中国, 中國, 上海, 兩, 两
 

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