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A “Birds over Junk” Dollar as an American Sailor’s Memento

Serving as the first year in the three-year series of Sun Yat-sen Dollars, the famous “birds over junk” appellation emanates from the three birds seen flying above a junk boat on the reverse. With by far the lowest mintage of the three dates, this initial offering has grown immensely in popularity over the past few years, with high grade examples especially generating great enthusiasm. Though our upcoming fall Hong Kong auction contains a number of these “birds over junk” Dollars across various grade points, it is likely the lowest-graded example that possesses the most interesting story.

Having seen what must undoubtedly be a great deal of time spent as a pocket piece and thus tremendous wear, it is no surprise that lot 52361 in session F of our Hong Kong auction received a net grade of just “Good Details” from PCGS, with the details mentioned merely as “Graffiti.” A glance at this lowly-graded piece, however, rather quickly conveys the fact that this was not the typical graffiti, but instead is a poignant engraving that marked an American sailor at a specific time and place—and a fairly pivotal one at that. With the obverse originally bearing Sun Yat-sen’s effigy worn well off, the blank canvas now plays host to two stylized dragons that would be quite common to imperial coinage of the decades prior in China, with a fiery pearl placed between them at the top. In between, a bilingual legend in seven lines encapsulates the moment in time: “CHIFU [sic] // CHINA // U.S.S.B.H. // P.E.  // ATKINSON // MAY 8 1937 // 皮義艾” “U.S.S. B.H.” refers to the USS “Black Hawk” (AD-9), a destroyer of the United States Navy that was first commissioned for service in 1918. After the First World War, this destroyer was refitted and assigned to the Asiatic Fleet in 1922. During her assignments, the “Black Hawk” moored in Chefoo (modern Yantai, sometimes Romanized as Chifu, as is the case here) on May 8, 1937, in order to perform refitting duties. The engraving by a sailor named “Atkinson” ties the piece to this exact location and time and is an incredible historical testament to the movements of the ship in the immediate run-up to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The “Black Hawk” remained in Chefoo until July 2, when she set course for Chinwangtao. During her time in Chinwangtao, the Marco Polo Incident of July 7 occurred, sparking the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a conflict that would be subsumed into the World War II. The “Black Hawk” returned to Chefoo thereafter, and later saw service during the Second World War, being decommissioned in 1946.

Though not nearly as high grade or as resoundingly brilliant as other “birds over junk” Dollars in our colossal Hong Kong auction, the present piece makes up for that aspect by being a true touchstone to history—a specimen of unique material culture that spans both sides of the Pacific, and one that should attract excitement and enthusiasm for the unparalleled glimpse into the past that it offers.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our Official Auction of the January 2023 NYINC and our Spring Hong Kong auction. Additionally, we are accepting submissions for our Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auctions, the next of which will be held in November, and the next for which we are accepting consignments will be held in February 2023. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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