Fantasy Pieces Aren’t True Fakes

The fantasy is not a true fake, as it does not replicate a known genuine issue. Eduard Kann, in Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Coins: Gold, Silver, Nickel & Aluminum, classifies this piece as Kann 892. Fantasy coins of Chinese vintage feature “decorative imagery, supplemented by whimsical inscriptions” and were designed and struck privately by people working “underground,” according to Kann. “Their number is legion,” he wrote. “In the course of decades these privately manufactured round metal discs have found their way into the United States, having been brought in by tourists, soldiers and sailors who had passed through Chinese ports.”

PCGS Around the World – Shanghai – A Pair of Fantasy Coins

Opinions differ as to the collectibility of the myriad fantasy pieces, but Kann and other resources catalog them to alert collectors to their existence. Grading services and auction houses similarly offer their services to honor the market for these pieces while noting their status as fantasies.
But as Kann wrote, ”The compiler of this catalog will not assume any liability for having presented his bona fide views, leaving it to the individual collector to agree -or disagree-with him.”

The area of Chinese numismatics is broad and complex. For a long period of time, some issues were shunned as non-numismatic and labeled as fantasy and forgery issues. This, in part, had to do with the writings of Eduard Kann in his book The Catalog of Chinese Coinage, which was the standard reference for Chinese coins first published in 1954. Kann had seen first-hand some of these pieces made and sold to collectors, tourists, and overseas deployed forces as “coins,” and these pieces surface again being promoted as coins when no such piece existed, or such issue was a forgery. Yet, feeling the need to include them in his catalog to show people the forgery and fantasy would work against his desires to impede the collecting and promoting of such pieces.

Now, after more than 60 years since these pieces were illustrated by Kann, they have an avid and active collector market and are themselves being counterfeited due to their growing market prices. In 2019 at the PCGS Asia office in Shanghai, a set of two fantasy coins were submitted for certification. The pieces tell an interesting story and show the how the market for such pieces has blossomed.

China in the 1930s and 1940s was home to foreigners who were stationed there, many of whom would look to bring home souvenirs, gifts, or add to their collecting interests like coins and stamps. Having Chinese coins with diverse designs could help merchants with their sales. This was especially true if these pieces were large crown-size silver items. Finding real Chinese coins that fit this need was costlier than manufacturing such pieces. Filling this need, the producers could choose designs with many Chinese symbols and themes and manufacture uncirculated examples to sell as premium metallic products to such consumers. From these, hundreds of different “fantasy” and “forgery” issues were produced and sold as numismatic and tourist products in China.

Perhaps 80 years after these fantasy issues were produced, they have become quite popular among collectors of Chinese coins, both for their designs and scarcity. In the 2020 November Chengxuan Auction, a set of these medals realized the price of 132,250 RMB, or about $20,900 USD. The set was then submitted to the PCGS office in Shanghai for certification, where both pieces graded MS63.

From pieces made from a variety of reasons from tourist trade to deception, the collectability of the fantasy issues from China continues to grow each year in popularity, rising on the tide of the popular Chinese numismatic market. For their value and popularity, the issues still lack an in-depth study and lack a complete reference. When looked at individually like these two medals, the story and potential intrigue can be imaged. If the research study is done correctly and widely published, the collector base for these fantasy coins may exceed some of the actual coins.

Article By Jay Turner for PCGS


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