The Intriguing Tale Of The 1941 Hong Kong Cent
Posted on 10/8/2015
As is often the case in numismatics, the mintage figure alone does not necessarily make a coin rare or common. What truly matters is the number of coins that actually survived to this day. A classic example of this is the 1895 Morgan Dollar. While mint records indicate that 12,000 Mint State coins were struck, only Proofs (of which 880 were reportedly minted) are known today. Clearly, those Mint State coins were melted at some point after they were struck, leading that particular date to be the key in the Morgan Dollar series.
NGC recently graded a coin that is the epitome of this phenomenon. The 1941 Hong Kong Cent is a coin that, at a glance, appears to be common. Britain struck 5,000,000 of these coins in 1941, right in the heat of World War II. With such a high mintage why does this coin have a list price in the World Coin Price Guide of $5,000 in XF 40 when a 1942 Threepence from Great Britain, with a mintage of almost a million coins less, is valued at only $20? The answer, as explained above, is a low survival rate. Whereas the British pieces went directly into circulation and many were saved, the Hong Kong pieces had to first be transported to Hong Kong, which was no small feat in the middle of the war.
According to the World Coin Price Guide, the 5 million 1941 Hong Kong Cents were split into three lots. One was retained by Britain and ultimately melted to supply copper for the war effort. The second batch actually made it to Hong Kong, but it met the same fate of the first after the colony surrendered to Japan in December of 1941. In fact, Pridmore1 states that all coins available in the entire colony were collected and melted by the Japanese to help support their military. The third and final shipment ended up at the bottom of the ocean after the British ship it was on was sunk, likely by a German U-Boat. If any of these three groups of 1941 Hong Kong cents had survived, the coin would likely be relatively common today. However, the perfect combination of events has led this coin to become one of the most expensive and rarest dates of British Territory Hong Kong Cents.
There are thought to be less than one hundred 1941 Hong Kong Cents that survived the war. NGC has only numerically graded 6; 1 in AU 58 BN, 2 (including the one pictured) in MS 61 BN, 2 in MS 62 BN, and 1 in MS 64 BN. Most of the survivors seem to come from Japanese sources, so it’s likely that some were distributed after they escaped the Japanese culling of coinage from late 1941-1945.
Pridmore, F. (1965). The Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations, to the End of the Reign of George VI 1952, Part 2, Asian Territories. London: Spink & Son.