1903 Chihli silver dollars are somewhat rarer than their 1908 counterparts, mainly due to mintage. The name Chihli, or Zhili, comes from the name of a former province of northern China which included the capital, Beijing. However, the province, home to several mints, was dissolved in 1928. The characters translate literally as “directly ruled”, indicating that the area was under the direct jurisdiction of the Emperor himself, rather than under a provincial governor. The 1903 Chihli dollar has a mintage of about 22,018,000, and coins in MS60 condition have approximate values of $1150, depending on variety.
The 1903 Chihli silver dollar features a dragon on the reverse face, above which is inscribed in English, “29th YEAR OF KUANG HSU.” This refers to 1903 – the 29th year of the reign of Emperor Kuang Hsu, or Guangxu (reigned 1875-1908), who ascended the throne at just four years old, being Emperor in name only until 1887 when he came of age. His reign was dominated by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled as regent until 1887, and still held much of the power at court throughout Guangxu’s rule.
At the bottom of the reverse face is the inscription – again in English – that reads, “PEI YANG.”. Peiyang refers to the Peiyang (or Beiyang) Arsenal in Tianjin, which was also contained within Zhili Province. There are varieties that have both the period (or full-stop) after the “G” of “YANG”, as well as those that don’t. At the moment, coins of this type with the period are the only varieties officially recognised by grading services, and as such, seem to fetch much higher prices than coins in a similar condition without the period.
Like other silver dollars from the late Empire and early Republic, there are many different varieties. In the case of the 1903 Chihli dollars, the most interesting types concern typographical variations for the date and inscriptions.
One particularly noteworthy variety is referred to as 艺术字, or ‘artistic characters’ coin, typified by a very stylised font used to inscribe the “29” (see the picture, below).
Other interesting variations include the four different types of the 金 radical of the 錢 character at the bottom of the obverse face. The inscription along the bottom of the coin face translates as, “7 mace, 2 candareen” and refers to the weight of the coin, equal to about 25 grams. 錢 translates as “mace”, and the four variations of the left-hand radical concern the stylised strokes in the bottom half of it. Picture 1 displays the most common, and is found on 9 out of 10 of the 1903 Chihli dollars out there. The other three variations are significantly rarer, with picture 4 showing the rarest of all, characterised by the incredibly steep edge on the strokes of the left of the radical. Picture 2, the next rarest, shows an upturned left stroke; and picture 3 shows the most common of the rarer types, where the left stroke has been rotated (like picture 4), and is shaped more like a “u” rather than a “c” (as is the case for pictures 1 and 2).
These are just some of the intriguing variations to be found on the 1903 Chihli silver dollars, and it is thought that the significance of these variations often go unrecognised outside China, so there may be plenty of scope for acquiring a rare variety for a bargain price!
More information on this and other silver dragon dollars can be found at http://www.dragondollar.com/coins/ .