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China, Szechuan struck pattern cash 1897

Started by bgriff99, October 01, 2015, 07:59:19 AM

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Struck at Bridgeport, Connecticut as die trials by a company selling minting equipment to be used at Chengtu, Szechuan.   Extras were kept by the engineer's family, and later sold to coin dealers.   Dies were engraved supposedly by the Philadelphia mint.    They didn't get the first letter, -ch-, right.   The coins read more or less as "yuwan" not "chuwan", and therefore as Board of Works.   

During transit in China, a flood caught all the equipment stored on shore, which rusted the dies.   They had to be reordered.   Only silver ended up being struck in 1898: 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, and dollars.    The mint operated for a few months, then closed until 1901.   The usual story implies the cash dies were unscathed but not used due to the misspelling.   That begs the question of why they weren't also reordered, or touched up which should have been fairly easy.   The coin weighs 3.15g, slightly over the 0.8 mace standard.   Szechuan was still casting cash profitably in 1898, but not for long, as the 8 fen kind are not common.

In 1903 copper and brass struck coins of 5, 10 and 20 cash began to be made at Chengtu.   The 5 cash copper was smaller than the one cash pattern.  The pieces fit together indicating the struck cash type of 1898 didn't get made for cost reasons.    The Beijing authorities in their zeal to cut costs simply had ordered numerous provinces to begin striking cash, but allowed no costs for making flans.   That on top of maintaining unrealistically high weight standards until 1906 drove squarehole cash out of production everywhere except Kwangtung and Sinkiang.

This piece is from the Dan Ching collection, auctioned and otherwise sold in 1991.


An impressive piece. You are right to call it a pattern, as you show that it had become an anachronism even before it could be circulated.

If I remember correctly, the story of the mint equipment is that not enough money was available for its transportation to Chengtu. The machines were unloaded and abandoned somewhere halfway on a river bank and were happily rusting away when at last found by the American mint engineers. They had it transported the final stretch and fashioned something that worked out of what remained. No mention of the dies in the story.

Your theory of the implications of high cost makes a lot more sense to me than the usual tale of how the Chinese suddenly saw the light of modernity, swore off cast coins and clamoured for struck coins.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.