Two Important gold coin rarities highlight the Coins & Medals auction at Bonhams New York

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Two Important gold coin rarities highlight the Coins & Medals auction at Bonhams New York
1860 Clark Gruber & Co. $20 AU Details, Repaired, Whizzed NGC US$200,000-250,000.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Bonhams announces the sale of two extremely rare gold coins in its Coins & Medals auction on December 16, 2011. The first rare coin offered is the finest and only second-known example of a Chang Tso-Lin 50 Yuan gold piece (L&M-1031). It has been consigned for sale by the direct descendants of the famous Chinese leader who is portrayed on the coin. The quality of this lot is unparalleled and is arguably the finest known and essentially unique example of its kind. The coin features a facing portrait of Chang Tso-Lin dressed in his military uniform; the reverse has a phoenix and dragon pattern with the inscription ‘16TH YEAR OF THE REPUBLIC OF CHINA’ and ‘50 YUAN’ (est. $650,000-750,000).

Paul Song, Director of the Rare Coins and Banknotes Department at Bonhams, states, “This coin is a truly historic coin, one of the highest rarity that I have ever handled. The coin’s provenance descends directly within the Chang Tso-Lin family, which adds to the exclusivity and allure of coin. Furthermore, it was probably meant as a personal presentation piece that the warlord Chang Tso-Lin kept for himself. We would not be surprised to see a new record set for the Chinese coin market at this Bonhams auction. The coin will be traveling to several Bonhams offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong and possibly London, before its eventual auction at our flagship New York gallery.”

Chang Tso-Lin (1873-1928), a Chinese warlord, was responsible for unifying Manchuria and bringing it into the realm of national Chinese politics. He contended with ambitious neighbors, all the while distrusting the Russians and aligning with the Japanese.

Born a peasant in the northeastern province of Fengtien, Chang Tso-Lin never received a formal education. He joined the army and fought in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). By the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), he had organized a large force of commoners, which he led in support of Japan. Chaotic conditions overcame the Manchu dynasty during their declining years, allowing Chang to extend his military power throughout Manchuria during the early period of the Chinese Republic. He did so through deft military and political maneuvers. When the death of China's president Yüan Shih-K'ai opened the way for undisguised warlordism (1916-1928), Chang became the tuchun, or military governor, of Fengtien. With the cooperation of the Anfu Clique leader Tuan Ch'i-Jui, Chang had, by mid-1919, extended his control to the rest of Manchuria. From then, until his death, Manchuria was his private domain.

When Chang controlled Tientsin and Beijing between 1926 and 1928, the Tientsin Mint struck four silver dollars, two copper patterns for 20 Yuan and 40 Yuan gold coins - and this exceedingly rare 50 Yuan gold piece. None were adopted for general circulation and are now considered pattern issues (essays). This coin is one of only two known examples and it is the highest denomination coin in gold (or any other metal) issued by the Republic of China, and probably the single rarest Chinese coin of the Republican era.

Of the second rare coin that is offered at this auction, Paul Song states, ''The second important gold rarity is an 1860 Clark, Gruber & Co. ‘Mountain Twenty’ $20 AU Details, Repaired, Whizzed NGC. Because of the rarity of this American territorial coin, I have only seen images of it in books. In the 20 years of my experience this is the first time I have handled one."

Song notes that copper and "gilt" copper patterns of this rare issue are frequently offered in the marketplace, however any regular-issue example is very rare, no matter the condition (est. $200,000-250,000).

Prior to 1864, it was legal for private individuals to mint gold coins of their own design. Since the value of an individual coin was based upon its intrinsic value of precious metal, coins of accurate fineness and weight manufactured by private firms were usually accepted at full value. In fact, several privately-issued gold coins were more readily accepted in certain regions than were Federal currency.

The last gold mining region in the United States where it was still legal to mint pioneer gold coins, as of 1860-1862, was the Territory of Colorado. By far, the most successful private minter in the Pikes Peak region was Clark, Gruber & Co. of Leavenworth, Kan. The banking portion of the firm's operation opened for business in Denver City, Colo., on July 10, 1860, making it one of the earliest banking houses in Colorado Territory.

This spectacular “Mountain Twenty” coin features a large double eagle, which is slightly larger and heavier than the standard $20 U.S. gold coin of the same era. The face features a highly inaccurate depiction of Pike's Peak, surrounded by the phrase ‘PIKES PEAK GOLD’ and the denomination ‘TWENTY D.’ listed below. ‘DENVER’ is placed just under the mountain. Since the dyes were probably prepared in New York, the dye maker likely had never been to Colorado or seen the majestic mountain, hence why the design appears to be more of a volcano than a mountain. The reverse displays a centrally located eagle with outstretched wings. CLARK GRUBER & CO. surrounds it and the date 1860 rests below. Today, it is thought there are fewer than twenty genuine coins that exist.

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