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A Curious Medal of Mei Lanfang — The “Queen of the Peking Opera”

Born into a Beijing (Peking) family of performing artists in 1894, Mei Lan spent his early childhood honing his craft through acting, singing, and even attempting acrobatics. At the age of just 11, he made his stage debut (under the name of Mei Lanfang), eventually developing a reputation for the portrayal of women at the Peking Opera. These very skillful portrayals garnered him international acclaim, with various tours to the west as a cultural ambassador and a conduit for spreading the Peking Opera style abroad. One such trip in 1929-30 was to the United States where he was particularly welcomed in Hollywood, forming friendships with numerous leading figures in the American stage and screen. Later he served as director of the operatic theater and also taught his craft to a new generation of performers.

In our upcoming October Hong Kong auction, an interesting and extremely rare silver medal featuring Mei will be offered. During his aforementioned trip to the United States, he received not one, but two honorary doctorates—one from the University of Southern California and the other from Pomona College. It is likely one of these prestigious events for which the medal was struck. The obverse features a bust of Mei facing slightly right, with his head turned slightly left. Above are the Chinese characters 念纪士博梅, translating as "to commemorate Mei’s doctoral." Meanwhile, the reverse offers a somewhat broken English legend pertaining to the same concept: "THE COMMEMORATE OF THE DOCTOR OF MEI LAN FANG," with a flowering branch and reeds encircling it. Graded by PCGS as AU-58, this type represents great rarity, as we have been unable to locate another specimen, and this is the only one seen by PCGS. While Chinese coins and medals from the early half of the century often feature political figures, this particular medal stands apart as a cultural touchstone depicting a beloved and world-renowned thespian. It is sure to generate a great deal of enthusiasm on account of its historical and artist importance. Look for this along with the rest of our tremendous offerings in our October Hong Kong auction—coming to our website later this month!

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 sales, and are currently accepting submissions for our next CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction, the consignment deadline for which is September 8th. Following that, our next larger format auction will be our official auction of the 2021 N.Y.I.N.C. in January. 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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