1923 Dragon and Phoenix Dollar
Creating a National Emblem
With the collapse and ousting of the Qing dynasty in 1912, China was in a state of political upheaval. Dynastic China had come to an end, and the newly founded Republic of China was looking to establish itself as the new governing body. In this restructuring and establishment of the new state, as is very common, new coinage was to be struck. However, the dragon – a common sight on imperial currency – was now no longer acceptable as a symbol on Chinese currency due to its imperial connotations, and with dynastic China out of favour in the eyes of the majority of Chinese people at the time, a new emblem was deemed necessary.
The famous writer and political activist Lu Xun, along with Qian Daosun and Xu Shoushang – all three of them holding positions in the Ministry of Education – were assigned the duty of creating a new national emblem. They presented their new emblem, the Twelve Symbols, to the government in August 1912. The proposal was accepted and adopted by the Republic of China in February 1913, although the new emblem was not widely publicised. The Twelve Symbols served as the national emblem of China from 1913 – 1928, when a single-party state was adopted following the takeover by the Guomindang, or KMT, who adopted the Blue Sky with a White Sun flag as the national emblem.
Some coins that were struck in the 1913 – 1928 period feature the Twelve Symbols national emblem on their obverse, notably in 1923, 1926, and 1927. The symbols, based on the auspicious and ancient Twelve Ornaments, were first mentioned several thousand years ago around 2200 BCE. The Twelve Symbols combines these twelve totems of ancient China with western heraldic tradition. The symbols are as follows: the sun, moon, stars, mountain, dragon, phoenix, grail, seaweed, fire, rice, axe, and the fu symbol.
1923 Dragon and Phoenix Dollar
One such pattern was struck in both gold and silver: the 1923 (year 12) Dragon and Phoenix Dollar. Actually a trial strike pattern that was subsequently abandoned, it was initially thought that these coins were struck as presentation pieces to commemorate the wedding of Pu Yi (also known as the Xuantong Emperor, the last emperor of China), which took place on 30th November 1922, 10 years after his abdication. However, evidence has suggested this to be incorrect, and these coins were in fact trial strikes for a new currency system.
The need for a new currency came about at the end of Yuan Shikai’s rule, who had attempted to reestablish himself as Emperor of China – a position which he held for a mere 83 days. It was now necessary to replace the Yuan Shikai Dollar (the “Fat Man Dollar”), which had been in common circulation but had now fallen out of favour due to its connection with Yuan Shikai and his attempt at recreating imperial China. In 1923 the government ordered the striking of dollars at the Tianjin Mint featuring the Twelve Symbols emblem on their obverse. However, as the original mintage plan required the coins to be struck at one central mint, the potential profit loss for provincial mints was too great, and they resisted intensely. It was also pointed out at the time that the Twelve Symbols still had imperial connotations, and the pattern was abandoned as it was deemed too impractical and inappropriate to implement.
Another national emblem created at this tumultuous time in Chinese political history was the Wreath of Grain, introduced by President Sun Yat-Sen in 1912 and was symbolic of a good harvest. This wreath is seen on many coins of the Chinese Republic, including the 1923 Dragon and Phoenix Dollar, up until 1933 when the Junk Dollar was introduced. Incidentally, a similar wreath, inspired by this initial Wreath of Grain, is featured on many coins of the PRC today.
The obverse of the 1923 Dragon and Phoenix Dollar, as stated above, features the national emblem of the Twelve Symbols, as well as the inscription in Chinese characters, reading right to left: “中華民國十二年造” (Created in the 12th Year of the Republic of China). The reverse face features the Wreath of Grain, inside which are the denomination in Chinese characters: “壹圓” (One Dollar).
These coins, being trial strikes and not entering common circulation, are extremely rare and very valuable pieces. Very few were struck, and consequently prices seen at auction for pieces in good condition are incredibly high. For example, a gold pattern strike of the 1923 Dragon and Phoenix Dollar graded NGC MS63 sold at auction in August 2014 for $111,625. A silver pattern version in similar condition, graded at PCGS MS62, sold in January 2013 for $18,800 (both prices include the buyer’s premium of 17.5%). The value potential of these Dragon and Phoenix Dollars as a long-term investment is also very great: in 2007 an NGC MS62 silver piece sold for $4,025 at auction; the same pattern in the same condition sold in 2010 for $8,050, representing a doubling of value every three years – not an insignificant return on a numismatic investment!