Chinese Coins: None of the Four

Posted on 11/12/2019

The Père David deer is one of China’s rare animals featured on coins.

"Today, like yesterday, a strong wind blew all day across Mongolia from the East. To get out of these arid mountains, with little vegetation and few animals, we rose early. The only mammal I saw here was a ground squirrel.”

It was 1866. Four years of teaching in Beijing were already behind Père (Father) Armand David, a 40-year-old French priest and amateur natural history scientist. Like many foreigners in China at this time, he came to spread his faith. Unlike most, though, he had a second mission: to seek out new species for western science. The travel was not easy on him. For instance, when the Père and his companions finally found water and a site to camp, it was among the tents of Mongolian nomads. The camp dogs barked all night. The exhausted priest wrote that he slept miserably.

Still, his curiosity about China’s wildlife had already led to one great success. The year before, in 1865, Père David spotted an unusual-looking deer. It was not in the wild, but at the Nanyuang Royal Hunting Garden in Nan Haizi. The Chinese called it “Sibuxiang,” or “none of the four.” That’s like the answer to, “What do you get if you cross a horse, a cow and a donkey with a deer?”

This deer was endowed with small ears, a mane on its neck and large, bovine-like hooves that “clicked” as it walked. In summer, males sported large antlers and a reddish tan coat that faded to gray by winter. The summer antlers fell off by November but were sometimes replaced by smaller winter antlers. No one could remember where the peculiar deer came from originally, but the emperor’s garden was their last earthly refuge. Altogether a strange discovery. Their scientific name recognizes the alert priest, Elaphurus davidianus. Most people now know them as the Père David Deer and we are lucky to know these handsome beasts at all.

By 1895, however, the emperor could no longer protect them as a flood broke through one of the sanctuary’s walls. Any deer that escaped through the breach were hunted and killed by starving local peasants. That same year, the Russian Empire, German Empire and French Third Republic signed the Triple Intervention. Thousands of soldiers invaded China and seized land in both the north and south. In the upheaval, the remains of the deer herd were slaughtered.

That would have been the end of the species, except…back in 1866, after Père David announced his find, someone smuggled a handful of the emperor’s special deer out of China to Europe. There they were put on display and in England bred to form a herd. After more than a century almost two dozen Père David deer were returned to China in 1985. They were released in the same park their ancestors inhabited. More followed. By 2005, 2,000 Père David deer roamed China’s nature preserves.

The 1994 Rare & Endangered Animals Protection 27 gram silver coin
from China that features the Père David Deer.

Another 15,000 Père David deer, or at least their image, can be found on 27-gram silver coins released by China in 1994. These 10 Yuan beauties are part of a larger series called “Rare & Endangered Animals Protection (珍稀動物).”

Eighteen precious metal coins minted between 1989 and 1998 comprise the full set: for 1988, a 100 Yuan 8 gm. gold Golden Monkey, a 10 Yuan 27 gm. Crested Ibis and a 10 Yuan 27 gm. White Flag Dolphin; for 1989, a 100 Yuan 8 gm. gold Chinese Tiger, a 10 Yuan 27 gm. silver Red-Crowned Crane and a 10 Yuan 27 gm. Sika Deer; for 1992, a 100 Yuan 8 gm. gold Takin mountain sheep, a 10 Yuan 27 gm. silver White Stork and a 10 Yuan 27 gm. silver Snow Leopard; for 1993, a 50 Yuan 5 oz. silver Brown Bear; and for 1994 a 100 Yuan 8 gm. gold Giant Panda Cub, a 10 Yuan 27 gm. silver Bactrian Camel and a 10 Yuan 27 gm. silver Père David Deer; for 1997, a 500 Yuan 5 oz. gold Chinese White Dolphin, a 100 Yuan half oz. gold Chinese White Dolphin, a 10 Yuan 1 oz. Chinese White Dolphin and a 10 Yuan 1 oz. Swan; and for 1998, a 10 Yuan 27 gm. silver Clouded Leopard.

Several scarce items are in this little group, especially the 1993 Brown Bear, the 1994 Panda and the 1997 5 oz. gold Chinese White Dolphin. Many collectors like to include the 1994 cub coin in their panda coin collections, although it is not truly a part of the Panda Series. That's made clear by the Five-Star emblem of the People’s Republic of China on its obverse instead of the Temple of Heaven that graces regular panda coins.

So, are those all of the People’s Republic of China’s rare animal coins? Nope. From 1993 to 1999, there also were 10 5 Yuan copper circulating coins minted on this theme. The 10 coins often are sold as a set. Mintages of the business strikes were in the millions but most receive low grades for condition. An NGC MS 67 or MS 68 may cost a substantial amount. Proof examples with much lower mintages also exist.

Many panda coin collectors are familiar with the 1993 copper Giant Panda that is the first in this series. It was followed by coins that feature Golden Monkeys, White Fin Dolphins, South China Tigers, Crested Ibis, Red-Crowned Cranes, Brown Pheasants, Chinese Alligators, Chinese Sturgeon and Golden-Spotted Phoenix Butterflies.

Père David has a triply-honored place on this list. He introduced three of the animals to the West: the Golden Monkey, the Crested Ibis and the Giant Panda. How that happened is a tale for another month.

But what of Mongolia? Father David spent seven months there. Did he find any animals that were new to the Western World? He found one, but it is not exactly on the endangered species list. In fact, you can find it in most pet stores and many homes — the lovable little gerbil. He called it a "yellow rat” and shipped some to Paris. No Chinese coins have been made for this little foreigner, but it has lots of fans.

P.S. The Crested Ibis makes another appearance on the soon-to-be-released 2019 silver 10 Yuan Beijing International Coin Exposition commemorative coin.

Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

Articles List

Add Coin to NGC Registry

Add a coin to track your collection and participate in the free NGC Registry! Learn more >

Join NGC

Already a member? Sign In