By Todd McKenna, Numismatist and Stacks Bowers Auction Services Associate
This pattern, designed by the Austrian engraver for the Vienna mint Richard Placht, was undertaken during the construction of the mausoleum for the late Dr. Sun Yat-sen . The structure itself is located at the foot of the second peak of Mount Zijin (Purple Mountain) just to the east of Nanjing. This site was chosen by Sun Yat-sen himself in order to establish not only a symbol of Chinese nationalism akin to the tombs being renovated and adorned in Europe and America, but also as a tie to China’s grand past.
To this end, also interred on Purple Mountain is Zhu Yuanzhang who expelled the Mongols from China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, with its capital in Nanjing, a similar theme to the recent revolution which had deposed the Manchu ruled Qing Dynasty. Thus the mausoleum was to be a tribute to the ideals of Chinese nationalism and resistance to foreign control within China in addition to being the resting place of a national hero.
The mausoleum took three years to complete and so the design of this coin was created without a completed structure for reference. The reverse shows some architectural disparities with the actual location, chiefly the absence of the 392 steps leading up to the mausoleum, here being replaced by a less grand set of only three steps .
Along with these stylistic differences the portrait of Dr. Sun Yat-sen did not meet with approval among Chinese officials as it did not bear a close enough likeness to the late President. According to Eduard Kann, a Chinese mint official expressed their feeling that the face, “Could claim a better likeness to General Hindenberg than to Sun Yat-sen”.
A trial mintage of only 480 pieces was struck by the Nanking mint and, after being met with disapproval, these pieces were disseminated as gifts and tokens from mint officials, likely around the time of the mausoleum’s completion in 1929. Though elegant in its design we can now see how mint officials could be disapproving of this coin, meant to foretell of the grandeur which was to be a monument to the father of Chinese nationalism, but ultimately was less than inspiring.
In Stacks-Bowers Galleries April Hong Kong Auction, Lot #20264