The 1911 silver dragon dollar is perhaps one of the most popular of all the silver dragon dollars among numismatists and collectors. A product of the Central Tianjin Mint, they were struck during 1911 – a year of great political significance for China, as it was the year of the start of the Xinhai Revolution which resulted in the eventual downfall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and Imperial China. Its popularity among enthusiasts is perhaps linked to this turning point in Chinese history, but the coin itself also bears an undoubtedly attractive and intricate design. This coin type, catalogue number Y31, was the last coin to be produced under Imperial Chinese rule, and although it is not scarce, its appeal among collectors has caused its numismatic value to rise significantly over the last few years.
The reverse face features a highly detailed dragon, set amidst a fire and smoke motif. On coins in good condition, the individual scales on the dragon are remarkably identifiable. Forming a ring, the body of the dragon surrounds the inscription 壹圓, translating as, ‘one dollar’. Outside the bounds of the dragon’s body is the inscription in English, “ONE DOLLAR”. This coin is unique among Imperial Chinese coinage, in that it is the only type to bear the 壹圓 denomination. Other late Qing Dynasty coins have their denomination expressed as a weight in mace and candareens, as well as 寶元, or ‘Treasury Yuan’.
The obverse face features a central block of four characters which read vertically: 大清, referring to the Qing Dynasty; and horizontally: 幣銀 , which when read right to left translate as, ‘silver coin’. Beneath these characters is the inscription 年三統宣 which (again when read right to left) translate as, ‘Xuantong Year Three’. This refers to the year of striking of the coin – the third year of the reign of Emperor Xuantong (reigned December 1908 – February 1912).
There are three main die varieties of the 1911 silver dragon dollar. The first and earliest of the three is the so-called ‘shallow strike’ and is typified by a design which is somewhat less distinct and crisp compared to the others. It is identifiable by a close inspection of the R of dollar on the reverse face. It can be seen that the R has been formed from an altered letter P with an added appendage.
The second and by far the most popular version is the ‘clear strike’, which although less scarce than the ‘shallow strike’, its popularity means that it tends to attract higher prices in the marketplace. Details appear much crisper and more defined, and the R has been completely and correctly re-engraved on the die. An additional spike on the tail of the dragon was also added.
The final and much rarer variation, Y31.1, was struck using an altered ‘shallow strike’ die. This variation is characterised by a period, or full-stop, after the R of dollar on the reverse face. Other than this, the coin is the same as the ‘shallow strike’. It is quite common to see attempted forgeries of this coin type as its scarcity means that this die variation fetches much higher prices. It is advised that polished coins be avoided, as polishing can be used before touching up a coin face to better hide the fact that it has been tooled. Buyer beware.
There are of course, as with many dragon dollar coin types, a multitude of other variations. One outstanding and particularly rare variety is the ‘reverse dragon’, which, as the name would suggest, depicts the body of the dragon on the reverse face curling the opposite way to the standard die variations. This is an extremely rare coin type, and also features raised veins on the leaves of the obverse. One such piece in excellent condition was estimated to reach $30,000 to $50,000 at auction this year, but attracted bids in the region of $180,000 – a valuable rarity indeed.