1929 was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Republic of China, with the announcement on December 29th 1928 that all flags of the Beiyang Government were to be replaced by the flag of the Nationalist Party, thereby symbolically reunifying China under one rule and bringing the Warlord Era (1916 – 1928) to an end.
Selecting a Design
At this critical political juncture new silver dollars were commissioned by the central government. The design was to feature Sun Yat-Sen (one of the founding fathers of the Republic of China who had recently died in 1925) on the obverse, with an image of a Chinese sailing junk on the reverse. Hence the ‘Junk Dollar’. In 1929 mints from the UK, USA, Austria, Italy, and Japan were asked to propose designs for the new Chinese silver dollars. These foreign proposal designs are easily identified in comparison with the Junk Dollars that actually went into circulation: the circulation coins have the junks sailing to the right; the foreign proposals to the left. The foreign proposals, never actually in circulation, are very rare but do occasionally appear for sale. They are understandably very valuable. One such example is coming up for auction at the end of March 2015, graded PCGS SP-63, and is estimated to fetch between $50,000 and $75,000.
In 1932 the silver Junk Dollar was officially announced as the currency of the Republic of China by the Ministry of Finance. The reverse face featured a Chinese junk, sailing to the right, with three birds flying above the mast tops. Appearing to the right of the junk’s prow is a rising sun. The 1932 (year 21) issues had a mintage of 2,260,000.
Unfortunately for this short-lived design, with the national symbol of Japan being the rising sun, and people being only too quick to spot this, the design was changed to one that might be perceived as less pro-Japanese for the sake of social and political unity throughout China. Japan was a particular political hot potato at the time, and the KMT Nationalist Government would no doubt have been seeking to avoid any unnecessary civil unrest. The birds and – more importantly – the rising sun were ditched from the reverse face, with Junk Dollars dating from 1933 and 1934 having the plainer and less politically controversial design. Mintages for the 1933 (year 22) and 1934 (year 23) coins were vastly expanded compared to the 1932 ‘birds over’ design, with mintages of 46,400,000 and 128,740,000 respectively.
Scrapping the Silver Standard, and Bringing it Back… Briefly
The commodities price for silver had risen considerably during the 1920s and 30s, resulting in an exodus of silver coins from China, making it almost impossible for the Chinese government to maintain the silver standard and support the national currency, leading to its near collapse. To counteract this, both the circulation of silver dollars and silver ownership by Chinese citizens was banned in 1935, and paper currency was introduced to replace it. The wanton and uncontrolled printing of paper money during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945) led to rampant inflation. In 1949, shortly before the Communist Party of China (CCP) took over, with confidence in the value of paper money and other provincial currency forms at rock bottom, the silver standard was once again adopted by the KMT government. That year the KMT commissioned the USA to strike an additional 30,000,000 Junk Dollars, but using the 1934 (year 23) dies. When the CCP established the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949 all silver dollars were recalled.
K-622 (1932 – Birds Over) Specifications
The ‘birds over’ coin features a left-facing bust of Sun Yat-Sen on the obverse face, with the inscription above, reading right to left: “中華民國二十一年” (21st Year of the Republic of China). The reverse face shows a two-sailed Chinese junk, sailing to the right. Three birds appear above the ship, and a rising sun to the right. The denomination, right to left: “壹圓” (One Yuan), is struck either side of the image. This round coin is struck in silver with a fineness of 0.880, and weighs 26.7 g. With a much lower mintage (2,260,000) in comparison to the other Junk Dollar varieties, the ‘birds over’ coin is significantly rarer and more valuable – exponentially so, in good condition.
K-623 (1933) & K-624 (1934) Specifications
The 1933 and 1934 pieces feature the same design and inscription on the reverse face as the 1932 coin, but without the birds and the rising sun. The obverse image is also the same as the 1932 strike, although the inscription varies according to the year, with: “中華民國二十二年” (year 22) for the 1933 issue; and “中華民國二十三年” (year 23) for the 1934 issue. The 1933 and 1934 coin types are also round silver pieces with a fineness of 0.880. They typically weigh 26.7 g, are 39 mm in diameter and 3 mm thick. Mintages, as mentioned above, for the 1933 and 1934 issues are 46,400,000 and 128,740,000 respectively.
For a brief value comparison of Junk Dollars in outstanding condition, all the following will be appearing in the Stack’s Bowers & Ponterio Hong Kong Auction in April 2015. Their estimates are below:
1932 Junk Dollar (MS 64), estimate $4000-6000
1933 Junk Dollar (MS 64), estimate $1000-15000
1934 Junk Dollar (MS 64), estimate $250-350
The values tend to drop off very quickly as the condition of examples becomes worse, but values seen for coins in better condition than these increase proportionally just as quickly.