Bonhams sells the most expensive Chinese coin at auction in Hong Kong

Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
24 Nov 2012
Hong Kong, Admiralty

Bonhams is pleased to announce that it has sold the most expensive Chinese coin at auction on 24 November in Hong Kong for HK$4,100,000 (US$529,032) during the sale of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art held as part of Bonhams 2012 Hong Kong Autumn Auctions from November 21-24, 2012.

This rare coin is the finest and only second-known example of a Chang Tso-Lin (Zhang Zuolin) 50 Yuan gold piece, dated 1927 (L&M-1031). It was consigned for sale by a direct descendant of the famous Chinese leader who is portrayed on the coin. The quality of this lot is unparalleled and is the finer of the two known extant examples. The coin features a facing portrait of Zhang Zuolin dressed in his military uniform; the reverse has a phoenix and dragon pattern with the inscription '16TH YEAR OF THE REPUBLIC OF CHINA' and '50 YUAN'.
The only other known example was sold in Hong Kong for US$500,000 in 2008.

Bidding for this rare coin was fiercely contested, with private collectors competing on the phone and in person, driving up the final price to its historic high of HK$4,100,000.

Paul Song, Director of the Rare Coins and Banknotes Department at Bonhams, states, "This is a truly historic coin, one of the highest rarity that I have ever handled over 24 years. The coin's provenance is impeccable as it descends directly within the Zhang Zuolin family, which adds to the exclusivity and allure of coin. Furthermore, it was clearly meant as a personal presentation piece that the warlord Zhang Zuolin kept for himself, which explains its descent through the family for four generations to the present Zhang family member. Bonhams is delighted to have achieved such an historic price for a Chinese coin at public auction. The international marketing effort, coupled with an extensive travelling exhibition throughout Asia, generated unparalleled excitement and interest in this ultra-rarity. We at Bonhams are privileged to have been entrusted with the sale of this national treasure of Chinese Art and Culture."

Zhang Zuolin (1873-1928), a Chinese warlord, was responsible for unifying Manchuria and bringing it into the realm of national Chinese politics. He contended with ambitious neighbours, all the while distrusting the Russians and aligning with the Japanese.

Born a peasant in the northeastern province of Fengtien, Zhang Zuolin never received a formal education. He joined the army and fought in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). By the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), he had organised a large force of commoners, which he led in support of Japan. Chaotic conditions overcame the Manchu dynasty during their declining years, allowing Zhang to extend his military power throughout Manchuria during the early period of the Chinese Republic. He did so through deft military and political manoeuvres. When the death of China's president Yüan Shih-K'ai opened the way for undisguised warlordism (1916-1928), Chang became the tuchun, or military governor, of Fengtien. With the cooperation of the Anfu Clique leader Tuan Ch'i-Jui, Chang had, by mid-1919, extended his control to the rest of Manchuria. From then, until his death, Manchuria was his private domain.

When Zhang controlled Tientsin and Beijing between 1926 and 1928, the Tientsin Mint struck four silver dollars, two copper patterns for 20 Yuan and 40 Yuan gold coins - and this exceedingly rare 50 Yuan gold piece. None were adopted for general circulation and are now considered pattern issues (essays). This coin is one of only two known examples and it is the highest denomination coin in gold (or any other metal) issued by the Republic of China, and probably the single rarest Chinese coin of the Republican era.

For more information please contact
Mabel Au-Yeung
+852 9038 8939


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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