NGC-certified Chinese “Auto Dollar” Realizes $192,000 in January Sale

Posted on 2/7/2022

The impressive result was more than four times the coin’s pre-auction estimate.

A China Year 17 (1928) Kweichow Auto Dollar certified by Numismatic Guaranty Company™ (NGC®) realized $192,000 in a Stephen Album Rare Coins sale that closed January 22, 2022. The incredible result was far beyond the coin’s pre-auction estimate of $30,000 to $40,000, demonstrating the strength of NGC-certified vintage Chinese coins at auction.

The history of Chinese currency, which dates back more than 2,500 years, has produced an endless array of collectible coins, with standout examples arising from a variety of historical eras. While exotic animals, mythical beasts and renowned government officials are depicted on many of the most coveted coins, one that is considered among the most iconic dates from the early 20th century and features an unlikely subject: a car.

China Year 17 (1928) Kweichow Auto Dollar graded NGC AU 53. Realized: $192,000
Click images to enlarge.

The China Year 17 (1928) Kweichow Auto Dollar gets its name from the image of an automobile that appears on the face of the coin. The car, which is shown on a road with a field of grass before it, was owned by Zhou Xicheng, the governor of Kweichow Province in China. Known to the coin collecting world simply as the “Auto Dollar,” it is highly prized by collectors for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is the first coin in history to feature an automobile.

The example in the Stephen Album Rare Coins sale was graded AU 53 by NGC’s experts in vintage Chinese numismatics. NGC grades most vintage Chinese coins and nearly all modern Chinese coins, drawing upon the expertise that NGC has gained in certifying more than 3 million Chinese coins.

The Auto Dollar hails China’s progress toward modernization

The iconic Auto Dollar was minted to commemorate the completion of Kweichow Provincial Highway, the province’s first road. It was issued at the direction of Governor Zhou, who is sometimes referred to as Warlord Zhou and who controlled Kweichow Province from 1927 to 1929.

The reason for constructing the highway is debated by historians. Some say the road was built to assist in an international famine relief operation. Records show that Oliver J. Todd, an engineer from the United States and member of the China International Famine Relief Committee, visited Kweichow in 1926 to assist with the highway project.

Others believe that the road project, which was started before Oliver Todd’s visit, was prompted by Governor Zhou for more personal reasons. At the time, the governor owned the only car in Kweichow. Prior to the completion of the highway, there were no roads on which the car could be driven. Whatever the impetus for the road, its completion was celebrated with the minting of the Auto Dollar.

The choice to feature a modern symbol like a car was highly unusual in an era in which most coins featured ruling officials, such as King George V on British coinage or iconic national symbols such as the eagle on US coinage. The coin’s design has been interpreted as a statement on China’s desire to be seen as a nation moving toward modernity.

The reverse side of the Auto Dollar is marked with the words “Chinese Republic 17th Year” and a flower that has been identified as either a chrysanthemum, which symbolized long life, or a hibiscus, which symbolized fame and riches. It is believed that 648,000 of the coins were minted.

Auto Dollar ranks high on counterfeit list

As is the case with many valuable and collectable coins, counterfeit Auto Dollars have been produced. In fact, the most-popular variety of Auto Dollar (L&M-609) ranks ninth on a list compiled by NGC of the top 25 most commonly counterfeited Chinese coins.

Authentic versions of the coin will typically appear inferior in quality to counterfeit versions, exhibiting die flaws, striking deficiencies and inferior metal quality. A common sign of a counterfeit Auto Dollar is a coin that appears to be made “too well.”

Collectors can find more information on identifying counterfeits here, including explanations of common counterfeiting practices and lists of the most commonly counterfeited US, Chinese and world coins. The lists include images of the coins as well as commentary prepared by NGC coin grading experts.

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