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Our latest article "Bank Notes of the Government of Malta" was posted on 1 October, 2011.


A very unusual Chinese bank note has recently come to my attention. The note is interesting for two reasons. First, it is not supposed to exist! The note in question is listed in the most recent The Standard Catalog of World Paper Money catalog, general issues section, as China P450G with the notation “Not Issued”.

One of the last notes to be issued by the Nationalist republican government, the note is denominated in chin yuan, known as gold yuan. The chin yuan issue was introduced throughout China in August 1948 to replace the existing fa pi currency which had been inflated into the millions of yuan. Although some of the notes bear dates commencing in the year 1945, all were issued in either 1948 or 1949, being released for circulation up to the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War.

As communist troops were overrunning the mainland with Nationalist forces in full retreat, the Central Bank of China authorized certain of its branches to print and place into circulation a final series of local bank notes known as chin yuan, or “gold yuan checks”, together with kuo pi yuan, which were simply designated as “bearer checks”. These branches included Shanghai, Foochow, Changchung, Chunking Chengtu, Kunming and Mukden and Yibin in Manchuria. The notes are very scarce today for the simple fact that they did not remain in circulation for more than a few months. Several branches managed to release multiple issues before closing.

It is not surprising, therefore, that most examples found today are remnants which never saw circulation – hence the erroneous “Not Issued” notations found in catalogs. This note, in the amount of $5,000,000 gold yuan, is dated 13 April in the 34th year of the Republic of China. (1945), an anomaly explained above. That the note actually did circulate is not an issue, as attested by its well worn appearance and the many redemption stamps it bears from being turned in to the bank for payment. (See figure 1).

Figure 1. The subject note with its tally at the left, prior to redemption.

The second, and by far the more intriguing fact that makes this note extraordinary, is that it is accompanied by its “tally” in the manner of ancient Chinese money. As early as the Tang and Sung dynasties, tallies were part of the printing plates used in the manufacture of bank notes. They were made so that a permanent record would remain with the issuing authority of the note's serial number and date of issue once it had been cut from the sheet and placed into circulation. Often devices were spread over the tally and note, such as seals and brush strokes, to serve as crude anti-counterfeiting measures. Upon redemption a note would be compared by serial number with its tally. If the seals and fine brush strokes did not match up, the note was counterfeit and removed from circulation. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The bank note and tally compared side-by-side. Note the matching serial numbers and overlapping seals. When matched, this note proved to be genuine. Note also the holes in the left border of the stub showing where it had once been bound in the tally-book.

The only example of a Chinese note together with its tally that I have ever seen is in the British Museum in London. The museum's example is a Board of Revenue one tael note prepared for issue in the third year of emperor Hsien Feng's reign (1853). Never in all my years of observation have I seen an actual circulated note together with its tally. How the two were preserved together remains a mystery. Obviously someone removed the tally from its tally-book and kept it alongside the redeemed note. This was indeed fortunate, as it gives us the only real example of the practice of comparison at time of redemption of which I am aware. It should also be noted that Smith and Matravers in their catalog Chinese Banknotes mention that bearer checks reported to date should be regarded merely as samples, inasmuch as notes of additional denominations on various bank branches are almost certainly yet to be discovered. The author can confirm this, having seen several examples.


Those who read my article Foreign Banks in China, Part II may recall the mystery as to why no National City Bank of New York notes have ever appeared on the market. This, notwithstanding the fact that Eduard Kahn and Zhaojin Ji, the foremost experts in the field of foreign banking in China, had both reported them among their bank note listings.

Now, thanks to Mark Tomasko, an International Bank Note Society member with an interest in the American Bank Note Company, its engravers and artists, our mystery is solved. As stated in my article, it is a matter of record that the National City Bank of New York was the successor to the International Banking Corporation, which had its headquarters in Peking, China during the period 1909-1927. The notes of this bank were printed by ABNCo. Through research, Mr. Tomasko discovered that National City Bank of New York notes circulating in China were also printed by ABNCo.; however, this reference, which reputed to illustrate all known ABN bank notes printed for China, failed to show these notes. This same reference stated that International Banking Corporation bank notes were being printed as late as 1930, -- years after the demise of the bank. National City Bank records indicate that only International Banking Corporation notes were used by its branches in China. Therefore, we may safely conclude that after the International Banking Corporation's demise, the successor National City Bank of New York continued to use existing stocks of International Banking Corporation notes in its Chinese business transactions. This was quite possibly due to the former banks outstanding reputation and the notes ready acceptance among the Chinese people.

More on the sinking of the German auxiliary cruiser Cormoran and the treasure recovered therefrom:

While writing my article A Monetary History of the Former German Colony of Kiaochou I related the story of how the S.M.S. Cormoran was scuttled in Apra harbor, Guam by her crew at the outset of World War I to prevent her from falling into enemy hands. I then described the salvage effort undertaken by CAPT Robert Yarborough and his Guamanian diving partner during 1967 in which the ship's safe was found and a considerable number of Kiaochou coins recovered.

Recently, I was made aware of Herbert Ward's excellent book The Flight of the Cormoran, in which he tells of the ships last months and describes his own experiences while diving on the wreck. Well, it turns out that more than one diver was working the ship during the 1965-1967 period, blissfully unaware of the others presence! Divers are notoriously secretive when searching for treasure for fear of competition. The wreck was checked out by U.S. Coast Guard “hard hat” divers in 1917 shortly after her sinking. These men were not looking for treasure however, rather being interested in removing the ships guns and ordnance. After that was accomplished, the Cormoran was left in peace for fifty years until the 1960s, by which time the advent of SCUBA gear made diving by individuals at depths of eighty feet and beyond possible.

Ward's description of his diving adventures and the coins he found is worth quoting here: “ Just before ascending I made one last hopeful sweep into the mud where I had been digging, and encountered a large heavily encrusted object which felt vaguely like metal box . . . . The box clinked as I tipped it and began falling apart in my hands. Out poured English and Australian silver shillings, florins and sixpence, American silver dollars, halves, dimes, nickels, Lincoln and Indian Head pennies and two rolls of brass ship's “canteen” 1 mark coins and three brass keys.”

On another occasion Ward located another metal strong-box weighing over 200 pounds. Examination revealed it was actually a box within a box. Ward goes on to state: “I pried off the bottom plate, which had been riveted on, and out tumbled rolls and rolls of ugly black coins, in all sizes. Here and there a bit of copper and brass showed, but nothing resembling gold or paper money. The coins had been neatly packed into wooden trays, and some still had their paper wrappings on the rolls. There were one hundred thirty pounds of coins in all. About one-third of them were brass “canteen” tokens in denominations of 5 cents and 1 mark. Another third were copper-nickel coins of the former German colony in Tsingtao. The remaining coins consisted of pennies, nickels, Chinese copper ten cash coins, German pfennigs, silver marks, and Mexican silver pesos.”

More on Stamps Created from Old Money:

Those of you who are fans of the “Trivial Pursuit” section of the website may remember a question asked in Pop Quiz #8 which concerned stamps printed on the backs of discarded money. The question ran thus:

Postage stamps were once printed on the backs of discarded paper used in the manufacture of bank notes. This was done during an acute shortage of paper after World War I. What country employed this practice?”

The answer was “Latvia”. Ten postage stamps were printed on the back of old 10 mark notes of Mitau. The Mitau notes had been used by Colonel Avalov-Bermondt's Independent West Army, a group of German and Russian volunteers fighting alongside the Latvians until the Bolsheviks were defeated in 1919. After the stamps were printed, the “bank note” side was gummed just as the back side of any sheet of stamps would be.

I found this information of interest and decided to pass it on even though I had never seen an example of the stamps. Now I have found a block-of-four of these Latvian stamps. Four 1 ruble stamps are shown here alongside the lower left corner of the Mitau note from which they were printed.

A Picture of the Italian Steamer Artiglio Surfaces!

While researching the web for information on the salvage vessel Artiglio, Nicholas Maris, of Montreal, Quebec, Canada ran across my article entitled Twenty Thousand Rupees Under the Sea. Those who have read it will recall the exploits of the Artiglio and her valiant crew in salvaging an immense treasure in gold sovereigns and paper money recovered from the wreck of the Egypt sunk off the Isle of Ushant in 1922 at a depth of 400 feet. No salvage operation at that depth had ever been attempted before.

My article did contain a line drawing of Artiglio, however, Nicholas was able to provide us with an actual picture of the ship which he found on an old postcard buried among his family keepsakes. I pass it along to you here with profound thanks to Mr. Maris for calling it to our attention.