Korea Empire, Kuang Mu, 1897-1907, Gold 20 Won, Year 10 (1906) MS64 NGC
28.8 mm, 16.49 grams, Fr.1, KM-1131. Struck at the Osaka Mint in Japan, the obverse features a dragon curled within a beaded circle clutching the Pearl of Celestial Wisdom, the surrounding legend states the national name Dae Han, Regnal date, and denomination in the Korean phonetic alphabet. On the reverse, the vertically placed denomination is under a Korean plum flower crest within a rose and plum wreath.
The regnal name Kwang Mu, "Military Illustriousness," was assumed by King Kojong, in 1897 replacing the ephemeral name Kun Yang used in 1896-1897. The Emperor is remembered today with considerable affection for his lifelong struggle to preserve Korea's independence. His aggressive neighbors including China, Russia and Japan were locked with Korea in a complicated conflict. By 1905, Japan predominated, and the last Korean coins were similar in size and alloy to contemporary Japanese denominations, however, the Won coins show the dragon firmly grasping the Celestial Pearl in Japanese fashion, while Chinese dragons more modestly pursue the sacred symbol. The largest denomination gold coins of 20, 10 and 5 Won appeared just as Korea's independence was breathing its last breath. These were the only gold issues struck by Korea prior to annexation by Japan. The vast majority of each denomination was retained, in Korean banks as backing for gold notes, and nearly all of these reserve specimens were melted after Korea was annexed to Japan in 1910. A very tiny number escaped, thanks to determined numismatists such as H.A. Ramsden of the pioneer Japanese numismatic firm of Jun Kobayagawa, who rescued a handful of 5 Won pieces. Reportedly 2,506 examples of the 20 Won were struck in 1906, but the number now extant is minuscule with only a few pieces known in any grade.
The present piece, graded MS64 NGC, appears to rank among the highest of all surviving examples, richly lustrous with fully struck surfaces and devices. A light amount of natural golden-peach patina ensures originality. For pedigree purposes, a smattering of small contact marks are noted in the reverse field within the wreath.
Auction history finds two Extremely Fine examples offered in recent years; one in 1982 at the Mortimer Hammel Sale which brought $25,000; the other in the Stack's 1996 December Sale which realized $34,000. This specimen traces its lineage to the Lipno Collection (Henry Christensen), November 1961, lot 421; Louis Eliasberg Collection (ANR) April 2005, lot 2315; (Stack's) March 2006, lot 986; Vermuele, Ward, and Mexico Maxico Sale (Stack's) January 2010, lot 1575 where it sold for $155,250.
US$ 150,000 - 180,000
£120,000 - 140,000