1928 (Year 17) Auto Dollar
L&M-609; K-757; Y-428
Guizhou Province in southern China is a rocky, mountainous and rugged region, and even with today’s technology and modern infrastructure, getting around can still be fairly challenging! Rewind the clock back to the 1920s during the Warlords Period in the history of the Republic of China, and the transportation problem in Guizhou becomes a nightmare. Beijing had lost effective control of many peripheral provinces which were ruled by a number of rival warlords and factions. Between 1927 and 1929 Guizhou, formerly known as Kweichow, was ruled by a certain warlord by the name of Zhou Xicheng, who in his spare time was a bit of an automobile fanatic. He reportedly had his car (which appears in the image to be a Packard touring car) imported from the USA, taken to pieces, and then carried on foot through this rugged terrain to be reassembled. At this stage this was the only car in the province – a province that had no roads.
This was not a problem for Zhou Xicheng, who ordered the construction of the Guizhou’s first road capable of taking a car. An embellished version of the story to highlight the waste and corruption of a warlord’s rule has it that the road had no actual destination, and was merely a way for Zhou Xicheng to enjoy his favourite pastime – and probably the scenery. However, having said that, Zhou Xicheng has been remembered by history for investing heavily in education and infrastructure, so may not have been as exploitative as the story would at first indicate.
In order to celebrate the monumental achievement of the construction of the first highway in the province, Zhou Xicheng understandably wanted to have a commemorative coin struck. The legend goes that he naturally wanted to have his image on the coin, as well as the car – a symbol representative of such an achievement. His advisors, apparently a rather superstitious group, warned him that if he had a coin struck with his head on it he would die early. After agonising over this at length, Zhou Xicheng finally conceded and his image was not included on the coin. The image of the iconic car, however, was to remain.
The story continues, that on the first celebratory drive on his new highway, Zhou Xicheng left his armed escort behind and sped ahead in his car, only to be ambushed by the forces of a rival warlord, who gunned him down at the side of the road as he fled his car, in a mafia-style killing.
Specifications and Curious Features
The 1928 (year 17) Auto Dollar is a round silver coin measuring 39 mm in diameter and weighing 25.8 g. It is the first coin in history to feature a car.
The obverse face features a central block of four characters: “貴州銀幣” (Guizhou silver coin), with the inscription above: “年七十國民華中”, which when read right to left translates as Republic of China Year 17. Below is denomination: “圓壹” (right to left: One Yuan). In the very centre of the coin is a floral design, also often seen on coins struck in the neighbouring province of Sichuan.
648,000 pieces of the 1928 Auto Dollar were struck, although where exactly is somewhat of a mystery as there was no mint in Guizhou until 1939. Due to the inclusion of the central floral design on the obverse face, it is likely that the coins were minted either in the adjacent province of Sichuan, in Chengdu, or using stolen equipment from nearby Chongqing – also then part of Sichuan. This would account for the appearance of the same flower on the 1928 Auto Dollar, as well as on many coins struck in Sichuan.
Struck around the edge of the reverse face are the inscriptions: “造府政省州贵 ” (right to left: struck by the Guizhou provincial government), and “分二錢七” (right to left: 7 mace and 2 candereens). The centre of the reverse features Zhou Xicheng’s car above a grassy motif. Curiously, if the coin is rotated through 90 degrees clockwise, so that that front of the car is facing up, the so-called ‘mark of Xicheng’ can be seen in the blades of grass beneath the car. This mark is the name of Zhou Xicheng in characters and was his way of personalising the coin, while avoiding having his image directly on it – which according to his advisors would have resulted in his early death. It does, however, require quite a bit of wilful imagination and squinting to see the rather stylised characters.
Value and Rarity
This is a rather rare coin variety – mainly due to its short production run – and pieces of this type in good condition are particularly hard to come by. The 1928 Auto Dollar is a very collectible coin today – indeed, it became a collector’s item almost as soon as it had been struck. The intrigue and mystery of the legend surrounding both the coin and its creator no doubt contribute to the enduring popularity of this piece.
A grade of AU58 is considered very good for this coin type, and one such piece graded by the PCGS is a featured lot in the Stack’s Bowers April 2015 Hong Kong auction. It has an estimate of $45,000 – $60,000 USD. Similarly, a coin with an identical grade sold at a Heritage auction in April 2011 for $74,750 USD, including the buyer’s premium of 15%. So it can be seen that these pieces have great potential at auction, especially in good condition.