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Champion Hong Kong Auction to Feature Tibet’s First Gold Coin

Tibet’s first gold coin has a very unique trait: it weighs 6.53g. While this legendary gold coin shares the same weight as the Chinese Kuping 1 Mace, it is not a common weight for Tibet. An absolute rarity, only six silver examples from the same dies have been found and, as of today, there are no known Tibetan gold coins struck to the same standard. For this reason, many believe it was struck for presentation purposes.

On August 23 this extremely rare gold coin, rated AU with an estimated price range US $30,000 – 60,000, will be one the Champion Auction 11 headliners at the Hyatt Regency Hotel Ballroom I, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.

It is well known that during the 17-18 centuries, no coins were struck in Tibet, but Nepalese coins circulated widely in the urban areas. On several occasions, the Tibetan authorities, rather than strike silver coins of their own, sent bullion to Nepal and received Nepalese coins in exchange. The exchange was made on a weight for weight basis, but as the Nepalese coins were only between 50% and 67% fine, the Nepalese were able to make significant profit.

In about 1750AD, the situation changed when Prithvi Narayan, the king of Gorkha, started to besiege the Kathmandu Valley. He closed the pages, and stopped any trading between the Newar kingdoms of the Valley and the outside world, including Tibet. As a result, the supply of coins in Tibet stagnated, but the demand did not stop increasing. Seeking to stem a potential economic crisis, the Tibetan authorities, for the first time, started striking their own coins.

Chinese reports from the time claim that the Demo Regent issued the first Tibetan struck coins in 1763 or 1764, and again in 1785 AD when the Dailai Lama issued coins, before a more regular coinage began in 1791 AD. It had been widely held that all Tibetan coins from this period were silver, in varying degrees of fineness. However, we now have tangible proof of a rare gold coin struck from uncommon dies.

The diameter of the gold coin is measured at 28mm with the previously noted weight of 6.53g, A. Lissanevitsch Collection. The obverse legend, “Sri Mangalam”, means auspicious, lucky or fortunate in Sanskrit and may have a similar significance to the Eight Lucky Signs (Asta Mangalam in Sanskrit) which appear on so many later Tibetan coin. The legends were designed four compartments arranged in a cross. The reverse legend, “dGa-ldan phyod-las rnam-par rgyal-ba” is Sanskrit for completely victorious in all directions, designed with eight petals around a wheel. The dGa-ldan palace, located in the Drepung monastery near Lhasa, was the traditional residence of the Dalai Lama. The mention of “dGa-ldan” leads many to believe that this coin was struck by the 8th Dalai Lama around 1785.

This first gold coin was struck with the same dies as one of the rarest Tibetan silver coins of the time, also called silver tankas. There are only six examples of the silver ‘Sri Mangalam’ tankas that struck from two obverse dies and four reverse dies. While these silver tankas are extremely rare today, they were most likely produced in significant numbers at the time. Compared to the Nepalese coins that still circulated in Tibet, the silver tankas had a very high silver content, which resulted in most specimens being melted. Of the six tankas, Coin No. 4 has the word ‘rnam’ on the reverse, written with the nasal diacritical anusvara rather than the letter ‘ma’. It is very unusual to see a Tibetan word rather than the more common Sanskrit. This error in calligraphy may have resulted in the No. 4 die being rejected and destroyed before it could wear out through natural use.

What is particularly interesting about this earliest Tibetan gold coin is that is weighs 6.53g, compared with the silver coins, which all weigh about 5.3g. No other coin of Tibet was struck to this standard, and it is not a well-known weight standard of the region. However, this is the weight referred to by a few authors as a Tibetan Miscal, which is variously stated to be 50% more than the normal Miscal, or one and a sixth ‘Mahendra-malli’. In fact, as can be seen from the weights of the actual coin, the ratio is not exactly 7/6. However, we must consider that in Tibet, since most silver bullion was imported from China in the form of silver ingots, the most common weight standard for silver was the Chinese Treasury Ounce, or Kuping Tael, called a Srang in Tibet, which was theoretically equal to 6 2/3 ‘Mahendra-malli’. Hence, using the theoretical ‘Mahendra-malli’ as the base, and taking the Kuping Tael to be approximately 37.3g,the Tibetan gold Miscal should weigh 6.53g, the exact weight of this gold coin.

While almost all coins struck in Tibet during the next century were silver, a gold  Sino-Tibetan coin struck in the 58th year of the Qian Long Emperor has been found in Lhasa. Reports list the coin as part of the Norbu Lingka Palace collection. Unfortunately,  we are unable to secure a good photograph of this piece or to take its weight.

Champion Auction is delighted to invite intrigued numismatists to Champion Auction 11 to see proof of a one-of-a-kind, extremely rare Tibetan coin struck in gold.

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