Part of the information presented in this article was extracted from a handbook entitled "Regal Coinage of Hong Kong" published by Hong Kong Museum of History. This handbook was first prepared in 1966 by Mr. Ray Hamson, and revised in 1975.
Hong Kong became a British Crown olony in 1841, as a result of the Treaty of Nanking. The British ruled over Hong Kong for some 156 year until 1997 when the sovereignty returned to China. However, it was not until 1863 that the first coins to bear the legend "HONG KONG" were issued.
Prior to 1863, the medium of exchange in daily use was similar to that of China proper, namely, the Spanish/American eight Reales (or 'Carolus Dollar'), the Mexican Republic trade dollar, Chinese silver bars and 'sycee'.
In 1863 legislation was enacted to allow a separate Colonial coinage to be minted and issued for Hong Kong. A start was made in 1863 with the issue of three denominations. These comprised a silver ten cents, plus a one-cent and a one mil, in bronze. The small pierced mil on the other hand, never proved popular and was discontinued after 1866.
1866 saw the next and most important landmark in the history of Hong Kong's coinage with the opening in the Colony of a branch of the Royal Mint in Causeway Bay. A very auspicious start was made towards this end in 1866 when a range of five silver coins was struck, namely ten cents, twenty cents, half dollar and one dollar. These five silver coins, together with the bronze cent and mil struck in England, meant that during 1866 seven different denominations were issued simultaneously. However, it is a fact that the Hong Kong dollar bearing the effigy of Queen Victoria was not popular with the Chinese, who preferred the more familiar Mexican dollar. As a result, after only two years of operation the mint closed in 1868, and its machinery was dismantled and sold to Japan where it was installed in a mint at Osaka.
After the closure of the Hong Kong mint there followed a lapse of four years during which no coins whatsoever were produced for the Colony. From 1872 onwards the minor silver coins were once again minted and shipped out from England, whilst production of the bronze cent was resumed in 1875. The silver coins in particular were struck in such small quantities that it was not until after 1885. Therefore all the silvers coin issued between 1872 and 1883 are rated scarce to very rare today.
The next date of importance to the Hong Kong coinage was 1890 when a silver fifty-cent coin was introduced. This was issued annually until 1894 after which it was discontinued until the reign of Edward VII in 1902.
The beginning of the reign of Edward VII in 1902 saw the issue of five denominations for Hong Kong: the silver fifty, twenty, ten and five cents, and the bronze one-cent piece. Due to the fact that China's own coins were replacing those of Hong Kong, which had previously been in circulation in China, the Colony's coins began to flow back to Hong Kong in large enough quantities for everyday needs. This, together with a general increase in the world price of silver, had ultimately led to the decision to discontinue minting silver coins. It appeared that many of the silver coins dated 1905 were never released into circulation. The 1905 twenty-cent and ten-cent coins are the major rarities in Hong Kong's regal coinage.
By 1934 the price of silver had reached such a level that 1934 forced China off the silver standard. Hong Kong followed suit at the end of 1935 and adopted a separately managed currency backed by Britain's gold and sterling securities. All stocks of silver bullion were taken over by the Hong Kong Government, which issued one-dollar banknote. The Hong Kong dollar was declared the monetary unit for the first time and the value of all subsidiary coins was related to this new Dollar.
Coinciding with the beginning of the reign of George VI in 1937, the first pure nickel five and ten cent coins were issued. These two coins were to continue in the post-war years of this reign except for changes in the metal and the obverse legend. No nickel ten cent coins were struck after 1939, whilst the five cents coin although it was minted in 1941, was never issued as a result of the war with Japan. This was true of the bronze cent also struck in 1941.
During the occupation of Hong Kong from December 1941 until August 1945, Japanese paper notes were the only medium of exchange in the Colony. All available stocks of coins were con-fiscated and sent to Japan, where they were melted down for their metal. These almost certainly included the British trade dollars dated 1934 and 1935 (which were never in general circulation) and a consignment of the one-cent coins dated 1941. This would account for the rarity of these coins today, despite the large number minted.
At the end of the war there were no stocks of coins available for Hong Kong and to remedy this Government issued large quantities of paper notes ranging from one cent to one dollar in their face value. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank and the Mercantile Bank following the pre-war practice issued larger denominations.
During 1948 ten-cent coins of nickel-brass were minted, followed by a five-cent coin of the same metal in 1949. In 1951 a cupro-nickel fifty cent was introduced and in 1960, a cupro-nickel dollar. This range of coin issues served to replace all the paper notes of Government issues, which were discontinued, with the exception of the one-cent note still in circulation up to the present. However, Government was required to re-issue the ten-cent and five-cent notes in 1964 for the last time when the Royal Mint could not comply with the order for these coins to be issued for use during the Chinese New Year. As a result, the 1964 five-cent coin is very scarce today.
"Security edge" is no longer used on coins issued after 1970. It is replaced by "milled edge".
In 1975, Government accepted the recommendations of the Coinage Review Committee and decided that new coins of twenty cent, two dollar and five dollar were introduced, the size and weight of the current fifty cent (changed from cupro-nickel to nickel brass) and one dollar coins were also reduced. Besides a new coronetted portrait of Queen Elizabeth was used on the obverse design.
In May 1975, a gold coin of $1000 was issued in limited numbers by Government in both uncirculated and proof condition to commemorate the first Royal Visit in Hong Kong of Queen Elizabeth II. This is the first issue of gold coins as legal tender in the history of Hong Kong regal coinage. It is also the first time proof coins are available for sale to the public.
In 1976, the year of dragon, the Hong Kong Government started to issue a zodiac gold coin series. Each gold coin was of the face value of HK$1000 and was issued in both uncirculated and proof conditions. The series was completed by 1997.
In late 1970s, the Government decided to issue a much smaller ten-cent coin. As a result the old larger-sized ten-cent coins minted in 1980 (mintage 24 million) were never publicly released and is therefore quite scarce today. The new ten-cent was issued in 1982.
To cope with the return of the sovereignity of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, a new series of regal coinage with the pattern of Bauhinia in place of the Queen's portrait were issued in 1993. Nevertheless, the coins with the Queen's portrait are still used as the regal coinage after the transition.
To-day all pre-war coins of Hong Kong are no longer legal tender. Their only value is in their metallic content and historical background, as well as tbeir interest to the coin-collectors.
The coins of Hong Kong have been minted at various times in five different mints; the Royal Mint, London; the Hong Kong branch mint; at James Watt & Co. Soho, Birmingham; R. Heaton & Sons Ltd. (now The Mint, Birmingham Ltd.) and at the King's Norton Metal Co. Ltd. Only coins truck at the latter two mints bear mintmarks to show their source. These consist of the letters "H" and "KN" respectively. The "H" mintmark first occurs on the silver issues of 1872, and on the bronze cent of 1900 (though the latter were in fact minted at Heatons considerably earlier). That of the King's Norton Metal Co. is first seen on the nickel issues of 1939. These mintmarks can be located on the various denominations as follows:-
(1) Victoria-fiffy, twenty, ten and five cents; below the Queen's neck on the obverse.
(2) Victoria-one cent; above the hyphen of "HONG-KONG" on the reverse.
(3) Edward VII-five and one cent, and George V-one cent; below the hyphen.
(4) George VI-ten and five cents, and Elizabeth Il-fifty, ten and five cents; below or beside the values on the reverse.
(5) Elizabeth II~ollar; below "LL" of "DOLLAR" on the reverse.
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