An Extremely Rare 1/4 Tael From Hong Xiuquan’s “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace” And A 50 Tael “Yuan Bao” Sycee Ingot of Kublai Khan

Stack’s Bowers Ponterio is pleased to present two important highlights from our April 1-4 Hong Kong auction.

The first is from the outstanding Newton Bressett Collection, described in last week’s world coin feature, and is an extremely rare 1/4 Tael from Hong Xiuquan’s “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace.” The coin is undated, but from the era of Hong’s revolution of 1850 to 1864. Each of these coins was individually hand inscribed, a labor-intensive technique, which may have led to the extremely limited production. At this time we can trace only five examples (including the piece offered here) of the 1/4 Tael and approximately a dozen examples of the related 1/2 Tael.

The complete catalog description is as follows:

CHINA. T’ai Ping Rebellion “Tian Guo Sheng Bao” (Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Sacred Treasure). Silver 1/4 Tael. ND (ca. 1850-64). 27.55 mm; 9.12 gms. Wenchao-pg.#804-5 & #1401-3 (rarity four stars); Mailliet-pg.269#1; KM-2 (listed as 5 known); cf.Schjoth-1608. EXTREMELY RARE, very interesting, and historically very important.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the use of opium spread far and wide throughout China. Several rebellions occurred because of this. The Tai Ping rebellion, which killed over 20 million people, fought against opium for a Communist-Christian form of government. From 1851 to 1864 the country suffered from the revolution led by Hong Xiuquan. Somewhat of a visionary, Xiuquan had been influenced by a dream. He felt that he was called to rid China of idolatry and corruption. He became obsessed with the idea that he was a brother of Jesus Christ and fated to rule all of China.

Hong’s “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace” T’ai P’ing T’ien Kuo, issued a number of cast bronze cash coins. All are scarce now, but were plentiful at the time and saw wide circulation. When the rebel capital Nanking was captured by the Imperial troops in 1864, the slaughter was beyond belief. The general in charge of the operation reported that not one of the rebels surrendered, and everyone had to be killed. Over 100,000 were murdered in that city alone, some parts of the country were so badly depopulated that the effects were still felt at the turn of the century.

During the brief glory days of the Tai Ping Kingdom, they issued not only bronze cash coins, but also a unique form of silver and perhaps even some gold coinage. The silver pieces weighed one-half and one-quarter tael. Each coin was individually hand inscribed with the characters “T’ien Kua” (Heavenly Kingdom) on the obverse, and “Sheng Pao” (Sacred Currency) on the reverse. There is no explanation as to why this labor-intensive hand engraving technique was used. Production must have been very limited, and perhaps the coins were used only for special purposes. The few remaining pieces known today verify that they were never common. To the best of our knowledge these pieces were first published in Brussels Belgium by Mailliet in the reference “Atlas des Monnaies Obsidionales et de Necessite”, 1868.

A survey of private collections and museums reveals that only a very small number of pieces are known to exist. The following is a list of the surviving pieces of which we are aware.

1) Smithsonian Institution. Ex: Glover collection, acquired in 1897.

2) Howard Simmons (British coin dealer). Sold in 1984.

3) Dr. Che-lu Tseng Collection. Ex: Bruce Smith 1984.

4) David Loh Collection. Ex: Scott Semans June 1991 Auction lot# 757 “The Daniel K.E. Ching collection”.

5) The General M.S. Newton/Kenneth Bressett Collection (example offered here).

We are also aware of the existence of approximately a dozen examples of the 1/2 Tael. Most notable are the pieces housed in the Smithsonian Institution, Ex: Glover collection acquired in 1897; The British Museum example acquired in 1903; and the American Numismatic Society specimens purchased in 1928.

Est. $10,000.00-$20,000.00
Ex: Newton / Bressett Collection.

Stack’s Bowers Ponterio is also pleased to present in our April 1-4 Hong Kong auction a 50 Tael “Yuan Bao” Sycee Ingot of Kublai Khan, the fifth Great Khan and grandson of Ghengis Khan, who ruled from 1260 to 1294. This particular ingot dates from Year 14 or 1277. Experts suggest that about 10 of these 50 Tael ingots exist, seven of which are in museums.

The complete catalog description is as follows:

China Yuan Dynasty Zhi Yuan. 50 Tael “Yuan Bao” Ingot, Year 14 (1277). 1894 gms. Kublai Khan (the fifth Great Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan) (1260-94). BMC-unlisted; Chen-14; NI Bulletin-Vol.45 Nos. 7/8, pg. 125/9(this sycee pictured); Pictorial Yuanbao-unlisted. Dated the 14th year of the Zhiyuan era (1277), inscribed Yangzhou (Jiangsu) Salt market (tax), casting official: Liu Sheng, silver official: Wang Ying, silversmith: Hou Junyong, weight: 50 lang, purity level ten, Treasury official Meng Gui, silversmith She Yuan, Mai Ye, silver treasury three, with denomination at upper left and ruler’s name and date at lower center. Inscription in grass and orthodox style scripts, inscribed “Yuan Bao” [Treasury of the Yuan (Dynasty)] cast into reverse. From 1260 to 1264 Kublai Khan used the era name “Zhongtong”. Beginning in 1264 he took the reign title (era name) Zhiyuan. It would not be until seven years later, in 1271, that he would name the country Yuan. This ingot is marked Zhiyuan which places it in the Yuan Dynasty and with this title, places the year 14 as (1277). This type of sycee was recorded by Marco Polo in his travels through China. Experts suggest that approximately ten of these Yuan Bao 50 Tael ingots are known to exist, seven of which are accounted for in museums.

EXTREMELY RARE and historically very important.
Est. $50,000-$70,000
Ex: Ponterio & Associates, Inc. A division of Bowers and Merena auction #154 June 2010, lot #8278 where it sold for $64,900.00.

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