Financial History 144 Winter 2023 | Page 31

Carolus III 8 Reales coin dated 1789 , with multiple Chinese chopmarks .
An extremely rare 1822 Mexican republican silver 8 Reales with chopmarks .
Rare British trade dollar , dated 1898 , with chopmarks . This series ( 1895 – 1935 ) was a great success in China .
From the Colin Gullberg Collection . Source : Colin James Gullberg , Chopmarked Coins : A History — The Silver Coins Used in China 1600 – 1935 .
damaging their physical integrity . Virtually all were discounted and eventually melted into sycee . Very few chopped republican coins exist today .
A New Standard Coin Emerges
The 8 Reales Mexican silver dollar ( commonly called Eagle dollar ) began production in 1823 and was produced at 13 different mints over the years until the series ended in 1897 . For most of those years it had the same design . The obverse featured a golden eagle perched upon a prickly pear cactus , eating a rattlesnake , while the reverse presented a Liberty cap with rays of sunlight streaming from it .
The Eagle dollar is the most common of all coins in the China trade to be found with chopmarks , due to its longevity , substantial mintages and huge number exported to China . The Chinese called it ying-yang ( Eagle dollar ) or ying-yin ( Eagle silver ). Over the years , with its consistent silver content , size and appearance , it became accepted and trusted in China . In essence , by 1857 it had replaced the Carolus throughout the Celestial Empire .
The great success of the Mexican dollar in 1857 was due , in part , to Westerners arranging for massive amounts of them to serve as silver reserves in newly established banks in Shanghai . That same year saw Chinese imports of silver specie begin to dramatically spike to levels not seen since the days of the Carolus dollars . Among these imports , from 1877 to 1897 , a whopping 79 % of the Mexican dollar mintages arrived in China .
American Attempts at Trade Coinage
The United States endeavored to have its domestic circulating coinage serve in the China trade . To that end , the vast majority of Liberty Seated silver dollars , struck from 1840 – 1873 , were shipped to the Celestial Empire . Virtually all were chopped , discounted and melted into sycee . Silver merchants also shipped great quantities of Liberty Seated half dollars to China from 1839 to 1873 , including the majority of those struck at the San Francisco Mint ( 1855 – 1873 ). That was because silver merchants in San Francisco were frustrated that the city mint only produced silver dollars in 1859 ( 20,000 ) and 1872 ( 9,000 ). The half dollars met the same fate as the silver dollars .
Turmoil in Mexico
The 1860s saw political upheavals in Mexico . After the War of the Reform ( 1858 – 1860 ), a civil war , the Second Franco-Mexican War ( 1861 – 1867 ) saw France invade
Mexico and establish the Second Mexican Empire ( 1862 – 1867 ) with the Austrian Maximilian I installed as emperor .
The Mexican republic was restored in 1867 after the execution of Maximilian . After the republic was re-established , Mexico imposed a 12 % excise tax on every silver coin that was exported . From 1869 to 1873 , Mexico replaced the Eagle dollar with a newly designed coin : the Balance Scale peso . Chinese shroffs and merchants rejected the new coin with its strange design and peso denomination . However , beginning in 1874 , the Eagle dollar coins were restored .
The Hong Kong Dollar
Since Hong Kong was Britain ’ s most important trading port in China , it made sense that a standardized , uniform coin would increase trade in the region . British officials knew that the Mexican Eagle dollar was the only legal tender payment in Hong Kong and that it circulated widely throughout China . Despite that knowledge , pushed by English business interests in Asia , the British attempted to produce a coin to challenge it . To that end , the Hong Kong Mint opened its doors in 1866 , producing both Hong Kong dollars and half dollars .
Unsurprisingly , the Chinese discounted the new Hong Kong dollar against the Mexican dollar , which had the reliability ,
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