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Sun Yat-sen “Memento” Coin

One of the most easily recognized silver coins from the early days of the Republic of China displays the profile of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the first president, with the English inscription “Memento Birth of Republic of China” on the reverse side.

An earlier version of the coin had been struck in 1912 to commemorate the establishment of the Republic of China but production ceased when Yuan Shikai became president in 1913.

These “one yuan” (“one dollar”) coins later resumed production and the specimen displayed here was struck in Nanjing in 1927.

Silver coin commemorating the founding of the Republic of China

Silver coin commemorating the founding of the Republic of China

What is not generally understood is the meaning of the symbols in the design of the coin.

For example, the Chinese character min (民), which means “people”, is written is a very unusual manner.  The character can be seen at about the 11 o’clock position on the coin.  If you look closely, you will see that the line that is the “right leg” actually extends upwards to just above the very top of the character.

The Chinese have the expression “to go out the head” (chu tou 出头) which means “lift one’s head” or “free oneself”.  Just as the character is written with a stroke “going out the head”, the implied meaning is that the Chinese people should free themselves from the past thousands of years of imperial rule.

Also, at both the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions, are five-petal flowers representing the plum blossom.  The plum flower is a traditional symbol of courage and hope and also refers to the “five blessings”.  While it would later become the national flower, here it symbolizes the “Five-Power Constitution” advocated by Dr. Sun Yat-sen.  The five powers or branches of government included the legislative yuan, executive yuan, judicial yuan, examination yuan and censorate (control) yuan.

Reverse side of Sun Yat-sen "Memento" Coin

Reverse side of Sun Yat-sen "Memento" Coin

The reverse side of the coin has the denomination “one yuan” (壹圓) written vertically in the middle.

Representations of grains, such as the ears of wheat, are on both sides.  Dr. Sun Yat-sen wanted the new coin to display the “five cereals” or “five grains” (wugu 五谷) to signify the importance of agriculture and the hope that the Chinese people would have enough to eat.

Below the ears of wheat are rice plants signifying a bountiful harvest.  Above the rice are three leaves.  The three leaves are meant to represent the Three People’s Principles” (Nationalism, Democracy and the People’s Livelihood) as advocated by Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

Finally, at the 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions are six-sided stars.  Previously struck Chinese coins often displayed stars of various shapes but they were usually placed on the obverse side.  On this coin, the stars were placed on the reverse side in order to distinguish it as a “new” type of coin for the newly established government.

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Li Jing June 23, 2011, 2:24 pm

    In my humble opinion, few people in the West have the insight into the intricacies of Chinese culture displayed by Mr. Ashkenazy. This detailed information regarding the (nearly) hidden symbolism displayed in this coin is greatly appreciated. Also, I would like to add that Mr. Ashkenazy’s online guide to Chinese Charms and Amulets is much appreciated by myself and I’m sure many other collectors. 10,000 Thanks!

  • ying yang July 1, 2011, 10:24 am

    Can you tell what is the market value in the US?

    • Gary Ashkenazy July 1, 2011, 1:54 pm

      I would estimate $120 – $150 but I do not really know market prices.

  • Dominik December 24, 2011, 12:43 pm

    Hi,
    I have just discovered this coin in an old collection my aunt gave me. My worry is it’s weight – 27,25g whereas it should be 26.6. Does it mean it’s fake or it’s an existing variation?
    Thanks, Dominik

    • Gary Ashkenazy December 24, 2011, 5:52 pm

      There are many varieties of this coin depending on the number of points in the star on the reverse side, misspelled English words, etc.
      According to a Chinese reference (中国近代机制币), the weights of some of these varieties are 26.8, 26.9, 26.7 and 26.9.
      Based on this catalog, none of the 1927/1928 versions of the coin weigh as much as yours.
      As you know, there are many fakes of this coin and some fakes are so good that only an expert can tell for sure.
      If you question the authenticity of the coin, you might consider having a dealer or collector experienced in old Chinese silver coins examine it, or submit it to one of the third-party coin grading services.

  • Vicki Swisher January 9, 2012, 7:14 pm

    Mr. Ashkenazy
    I have two of these coins with 50 cal ammunition rounds (not welded but attached in some way) that have a brass relief of a dragon decorating each of the sides. The heads are unscrewable with perforations in them. They remind me of salt & pepper shakers. Inside each of them is a a paper with the info about the coins and the date 1911. Any idea about the history of these? Thank you for any help you can give! Vicki

    • Gary Ashkenazy January 12, 2012, 8:26 pm

      Hi Vicki,

      They sound very interesting but I have not seen anything like this before.

      The last Chinese dynasty was overthrown in the “Revolution of 1911” (Xinhai Revolution) which would explain the note.

      Sun Yat-sen is considered the “Father of the Nation”. He was a leader of the revolution and then became the first president of the Republic of China.

      I am not really knowledgeable in this area but, as far I know, the 50 caliber round did not exist in China during this time period. Perhaps your rounds are actually a different caliber. Otherwise, I do not think they could be authentic mementos of the revolution.

      Perforations are usually an indication that the rounds are safe and no longer contain gun powder.

      Sorry I cannot be of more help but, hopefully, another blog visitor will be able to provide a better answer for you.

      Gary

    • Heidi January 22, 2012, 5:14 pm

      I have the same ones, and was wondering the same thing. If you find anything out definitely let me know!

      Heidi

  • aldo January 19, 2012, 12:01 pm

    I have one coin memento with 2 ink stamps.weigth 26.9
    1)round stamp with red ink
    2)sqare stamp with black ink
    stamps on the face of the president.

    • Gary Ashkenazy January 20, 2012, 7:40 pm

      Hi Aldo,

      The weight of your coin seems correct.

      The ink stamps are very interesting. The Chinese reference (中国近代机制币) has an image of a “Memento” coin with a small red square ink stamp just below Sun Yat-sen’s ear.

      Unfortunately, I do not have any other information on these ink stamps.

      Gary

  • jilly dunsterville January 27, 2012, 10:49 am

    I have one of the memento coins [1927?] in the centre of a silver dish decorated with flowers and two dragons. The dish is 10cm across. My father used it as an ashtray for many years!! I would be interested in any information on it. I could send you a picture if you like.
    Many thanks

    Jilly Dunsterville

    • Gary Ashkenazy January 27, 2012, 5:17 pm

      Hi Jilly,

      I would be very interested in seeing your silver dish.

      My email address can be found at the bottom of this page.

      Gary

  • jilly dunsterville January 30, 2012, 3:01 am

    Hello Gary

    I have emailed you photographs of this dish.

    Regards

    Jilly

    • Gary Ashkenazy January 31, 2012, 9:12 am

      Sun Yat-sen Memento Coin Silver Dish
      Jilly has graciously provided this image of a very nice silver dish with a Sun Yat-sen “Memento Coin” in the center which her family has owned since at least the 1940’s.

      Surrounding the coin are two dragons playing with a flaming pearl.

      Please feel free to comment if you can provide any additional information on this piece.

      Thanks Jilly!
      Gary

  • Christian Alexander March 27, 2013, 2:06 am

    Thank you for all your information on this intriguing coin. I was fortunate enough to pick one up yesterday in Seoul for about $100. Keep up the great work!

  • Jack August 5, 2013, 9:45 am

    I picked up one of these coins in Beijing yesterday and was looked online to see if I could find any details on it and found loads of chatter about these coins.

    But the one I’ve got doesn’t seem to fit any descriptions.

    It’s got the English is around Sun Yet San and on the “tails” side are two flags which are crossed with Chinese around them.

    Any ideas?

    • Jack August 5, 2013, 9:46 am

      Just found it: this is the coin but mine is silver in colour.

      http://www.coinarchives.com/w/lotviewer.php?LotID=1482432&AucID=1362&Lot=51081&Val=196d074a4506b7678ff0a1f4fc2a78d8

      Will mine be a fake? Didn’t realise they were worth faking.

      • Gary Ashkenazy August 5, 2013, 5:44 pm

        Hi Jack,

        As I mention in the article, there is an earlier version of the “Memento” coin which was minted in 1912, the first year of the Republic of China.

        These earlier “Memento” coins were struck at the mint in Nanjing and come in two denominations. There is a “one dollar” (one yuan) version and a “20 cent” version. (There is also a very rare “10 cent” version which only exists as a pattern coin.)

        You have the “20 cent” version of the coin.

        The “20 cent” coin is not particularly rare but fakes do exist.

        The Stack’s Bowers coin you reference commands a high price because of its condition.

        An authentic “20 cent” coin is 80% silver, has a diameter of 23.5 mm and weighs 5.3 grams.

        Gary

        • Jack August 5, 2013, 9:07 pm

          Thanks for the info Gary.

          Mine weighs 5.3g and it’s not magnetic, so maybe it’s real. On the other hand I only bought it for 2 yuan.

          There is some wear on the coin but it’s in pretty good condition.

          • Jack August 5, 2013, 9:15 pm

            One thing that does make me think it could be a fake is the “dots” (sorry I don’t know the correct term) going around the outside of the “MEMENTO …etc” is not complete.

            There is a small gap just to the top of one of the little flowers between “BIRTH” and “MEMENTO”. The gap could fit 2 or maybe 3 of the little “dots”.

          • Gary Ashkenazy August 6, 2013, 10:14 am

            In numismatics, the “dots” around the rim of a coin are referred to as “beads”. (If they are in the shape of a “tooth” or “spike”, they are called “denticles”.)

            The issue of the missing beads could be a warning flag.

            The price you paid for the coin may be another reason to question its authenticity.

            Unfortunately, my familiarity is with the older cast coins and not with the machine-struck coins.

          • Jack August 6, 2013, 8:25 pm

            Thanks for all your help anyway.

            I’ll wait until I’m back in the UK and maybe I’ll have it looked at.

            Cheers.

  • Anonymous March 29, 2015, 1:42 pm

    What’s the mintage figures for this coin? I really have no idea…

    • Gary Ashkenazy March 31, 2015, 4:53 pm

      I looked at a few Chinese references to see if I could find mintage figures but was not entirely successful.

      I did find a few partial statistics, however.

      According to the authoritative Great Dictionary of China Numismatics, in the first year (May, 1912 to January, 1913) the mintage was 23 million.

      In the year 1927, the mintage was 56,124,523 but this also includes an unknown number of coins struck with the portrait of Yuan Shikai (e.g. “Fatman dollars”).

      In 1928, the mintage was 73,159,621.

      “Memento” coins were also struck after 1928. The “Great Dictionary” mentioned above documents 50 varieties of the coin.

      As you can see, the mintage was quite large even though the total mintage is unknown.

      Of course, it would be difficult to determine how many of these coins still exist today.

      Gary

  • Myriam March 30, 2015, 2:19 pm

    Hi,

    I was doing some research on this same coin ( 1927 Sun Yat- Sen Memento) that my grandfather gave me. Mine has a hole on the top, in the middle of the word “memento.” My grandfather said that one of Sun Yat-Sen’s son, pierced a hole in it to wear as a medallion or medal. Do you know of any pictures or articles that would show this to be true, or any reason why someone would put a hole in the coin?

    Thanks

  • Sterling May 21, 2015, 11:40 am

    I have a 1928 Memento five pointed star graded by PCGS at MS 63. A beautiful coin

  • Geisel July 26, 2015, 5:51 am

    Dear i have found in Hong Kong 1 coin but is not silver 20 gram, 39 mm diameter material Nickel (magnetic), is this coin a fake ?

    • Gary Ashkenazy July 28, 2015, 9:30 am

      Dear Geisel,
      I will email you requesting additional information.
      Gary

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