By Liu Yi
Commemorative coins are known to have "patterns", and commemorative medals also have their own patterns. In terms of bloodline, coin patterns are kind of official, like commemorative coins designated as the fiat currency of the country. The status of medal patterns is similar to that of commemorative medals. In this post, I will explore medal patterns from Shenyang Mint with fellow medal collectors. Some of the information below was provided by the Shenyang Mint staff, other just hearsay, and so please do not hold me to it. I have collected copper medals for many years, seeing many old medals. Those medals below in pictures have all passed through my hands. I am voicing my opinions only. Don't applaud me if I am right, and don't blame me when I am wrong!
"Medal patterns from machine test runs": Many fellow medal collectors may not know "medal patterns from machine test runs". As a large state-run mint, Shenyang Mint often has to update their equipment. Sometimes, when new equipment is delivered, especially after a new striking machine is installed, some dies of commemorative medals may be used to test the performance of the machine. On most occasions, lunar medal dies are fetched from the die room, and the materials for the machine test run are selected from the materials for coin making, such as nickel stripes, brass stripes or aluminum stripes. Medals produced from this process never had standard names. I just call them "medal patterns from machine test runs" in this post.
The two Tiger lunar medals in the pictures above are such "medal patterns from machine test runs". Both of them were made from nickel. The big tiger (with characters 猛志常在on the reverse, which means Constant Heroic Aspirations) has a diameter of 30 mm. The small tiger (with the Tower of Six Harmonies on the reverse) has a diameter of 24 mm. Judging from the market availability, the two nickel Year of the Tiger "medal patterns from machine test runs" had a mintage of under 100. I also found on the market a small Year of the Snake commemorative medal made from aluminum, which had the same size as the first issue of the Year of the Snake silver medal. It belongs to this category of "medal patterns from machine test runs". Up till now, only these three types of "medal patterns from machine test runs" have been discovered.
"Medal patterns from trial production": To test new technologies, such as polygon and bi-metal technologies, Shenyang Mint sometimes strikes weird medals, such as a polygon Year of the Dog commemorative medal (available on the web in the past), and the bi-metal medal as shown below, which has the Temple of the Heaven on both sides. I call it "medal from trial production" for now. The number of this medal is smaller than that of the nickel tiger medals.
In the thirty some years of medal production by Shenyang Mint, some special medals turned up which can also be categorized as "medal patterns". Although they were not made from some particular material or special technology, these medals are different from those from normal production, and leaked out through special channels. They are extremely rare. As desirability arises from rarity, we can also call them "medal patterns" for now. Take the commemorative medal of the CCTV below for example. Its diameter is larger than the normally produced medals, with no reeding.
It looks like a medal before reeding was cut. I am not sure how it made itself available on the market.
The copper medal above of Yandi and Huangdi is different from the official release, which is gold plated. This copper medal was taken off the production line before it was plated with gold. It is extremely rare. I have seen only two specimens.
In the picture above, the Ma Dingxiang big bronze medal on the right obviously has very weak strike around Xianfeng Yuanbao, and the medal has no series number on the rim. Its thickness is about 2/3 of the officially released medal. It should be one of the few "medal patterns" before massive production. This is the only specimen ever seen.
The picture above shows a Taierzhuang big bronze medal. According to "Chinese Big Copper Medals", the official release is gold-plated. I once saw brass medals on the web, which looked like official releases, too. But the bronze medals were individually packed in plastic capsules, without the outer wooden box. It is extremely rare, and should be patterns from test strikes.
In the picture above the Golden Years medal without a one jiao coin mounted on it was a gift from a friend at Shenyang Mint. It was one of the patterns that skipped the last process, and was stored in the drawer of his desk. It can also be categorized as patterns, although barely.
To sum up, I touched upon medal patterns from machine test runs and test production as well as other types of medal patterns. They all have the following characteristics: 1. They are different from the officially released medals from Shenyang Mint, either in material, or size, or technology; 2. They are extremely rare; 3. None had formal packaging. At the moment, no fakes of such medal patterns have been found yet, and so we can have a peaceful mind for now. The three characteristics above make these medals highly valuable because of their tiny mintage.
After all this talk, some readers may still have an unsolved puzzle in their mind: How did these medals leak out? From what I learned so far, there were these possibilities: many of such "medal patterns" were given by the leaders of Shenyang Mint to friends, on informal occasions, most probably in private. That explains the missing formal packaging of these medals. Some of the patterns were mixed up with official releases and sold at a discount through Shenyang Mint's distribution network. Some were even sold to scrap metal collectors and then made to the collectors' market.
This is as much as I know for now. I discussed the topic with one or two fellow medal collectors before. I am posting my findings to the public now so that fellow medal collectors can join the discussion.