Chopmarks on 5 Mexican Silver Dollars
Circulated in China

Stephen Tai
December 18, 1999

1

2

3

4

5
  • Shown five 19th century Mexican dollars heavily chopped with various stamps, evidently had all been circulated in China for a very long time.
  • Back in 18th and earlier 19th century, Spanish Mexican silver coins, including Pillar dollars (1732-1772), and King Carolus III, IV and Ferdinand VII portraited dollars (1773-1821) were widely used in China as one of its major silver currencies, other than local silver sycees, until the declaration of independence of Mexico in 1821, those Spanish colonial coins were ceased minting. Immediately after that, the new Mexico re-launched its silver coin minting business by introducing a newly designed silver reale coin with its famous national emblem of eagle on the obverse, and a sign of "Cap and Ray" on the reverse into China and other Asian countries. Chinese people used to call it "Eagle Dollar". Before long, it took over the vacancy left by the former Spanish colonial coins, and became the most popular trade silver dollars in worldwide at that time and for decades.
  • However, Eagle Dollar, in China, still spent for more than 30 years to gain peopleís trust and recognition, and then overwhelmed the markets. It was late until 1850s, the monetary and bankerís association in Shanghai rendered their formal approval in accepting Mexican Eagle Dollar to supersede the formal Spanish colonial dollars from their transactions, exchanges and bookkeeping as base currency.
  • During the practice in the past, when accepting this new kind of Mexican silver coins, Chinese people restarted their authentication procedure as done to the Spanish coins a century ago, and even much more severely. They chopped and chiseled it to make sure the purity and the content inside. Even though a silver coin was trusted problem free, its payer would still be requested to put on his chop on the coin by the payee for being an evidence of conveyance and guaranty. Under such circumstance, many of the coins were repeatedly chopped and their legends became illegible.
  • As exemplified by the above 5 coins, those chopmarks used mostly were in Chinese language, some of them were written in so-called "combined characters" that combines two characters into one, which were deviated from the creativity of Chinese merchants, yet unknown to the intellectual. Most of them could be used as explicit or secret codes relating to their identities or the purity of tested silvers. Some of the chopmarks can be known as traditional Chinese good luck symbols, such as cash, double-cash, plum flower... and other can not be identified, for the time being.
  • No.1 and No.4 Mexican coins as shown further appear 3 interesting chops revealing information that more intriguing. On No.1, the dollar dated 1868, a chop of a symbol as shown on (Enlarged 1) having a pillar and ribbon, which was a symbol specifically used in Spanish dollars. Its being is the reason for those dollars called "Pillar Dollars" and the prevailing dollar sign "$" came from. Through this symbol which was used by Chinese as a assaying or name chop 47 years after Spanish colonial coins stop producing, it indicates that Chinese were still firmly faithful to these coins. On No.4, the coin dated 1877, two chops with Japanese letters as shown on (Enlarged 2) and (Enlarged 3), read as ME-KU and MU, with their meanings unknown, but together they identify that this coin should had been circulated in Japan or chopped by a Japanese bearer before. Since 1870s, Japan Meiji government started to cast its own dragon silver coins, many of the Eagle Dollars then circulated there were expelled and exported to China. It is very likely that No.4 stamped on with the "visa" of Japan, was one of its expelled visitors at that period of time.

    1

    2

    3

    Any additional information highly appreciated.
    Chinese Coinage Web Site