Korea (1906) 20 won

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photo courtesy Stack's
Korea 1906 20 won rev Stacks 110-1593.jpg
This specimen was lot 1575 in Stack's "Vermuele, Ward & Mexico Maxico" sale (New York, January 2010), where it sold for $155,250. The catalog description[1] noted,
"KOREA. Empire. Kuang Mu, 1897-1907. 20 Won, Year 10 (1906). Osaka. Dragon in dotted circle clutches Pearl of Celestial Wisdom, legend gives national name Dae Han, Regnal date, denomination in the Korean phonetic alphabet. Rv. Vertical denomination under Korean Plum Flower Crest in Rose of Sharon and Plum wreath. The regnal name Kwang Mu, 'Military Illustriousness,' was assumed by King Kojong, in 1897 replacing the ephemeral name Kun Yang of 1896-1897. Remembered today with considerable affection for his lifelong struggle to preserve Korea's independence, the Emperor navigated a tortuous course between a succession of aggressive neighbors including China, Russia and Japan. By 1905, Japan predominated, and the last Korean coins were similar in size and alloy to contemporary Japanese denominations and were also struck at that country's Osaka Mint. The Won coins show the dragon firmly grasping the Celestial Pearl in Japanese fashion, while Chinese dragons more modestly pursue the sacred symbol. Gold coins of 20, 10 and 5 Won appeared just as Korea's independence was extinguished. The vast majority of each denomination was retained as backing for gold notes, and nearly all reserve specimens were remelted after Korea was annexed to Japan in 1910. A very tiny number escaped, thanks to determined numismatists such as H.A. Ramsden of the pioneer Japanese numismatic firm of Jun Kobayagawa, who rescued a handful of 5 Won pieces. Reportedly 2,506 of the 20 Won were struck in 1906, but the number now in existence is minuscule. Our 1982 Mortimer Hammel Sale offered an Extremely Fine example that brought $25,000; another EF in our December 1996 sale realized $34,000. The present piece must rank among the highest of all surviving examples, wear-free and richly lustrous. MS-64 (NGC). Ex Stack's March 2006 Sale, Lot 986; previously ex Louis E. Eliasberg Collection (ANR, April 2005, Lot 2315); Lipno Collection (Henry Christensen, November 1961, Lot 421)."
Korea, long a protectorate of the Chinese empire, was attempting to organize herself as a fully independent nation when she fell victim to the power struggle between Russia and Japan. Japanese influence, predominant after the Sino-Japanese war of 1895, was challenged by Russian expansionism in the late 1890's. This culminated in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and Russian defeat. Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and colonized her until 1945.

Recorded mintage: 2,506.

Specification: 16.67 g, .900 gold, .482 troy oz AGW, Reeded Edge, this specimen 28.8 mm diameter, 16.49 grams.

Catalog reference: Alan D. Craig, Coins of Korea #53, J-V AD1, Fr.1, KM 1131.


  • Friedberg, Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg, Gold Coins of the World, From Ancient Times to the Present, 7th ed., Clifton, NJ: Coin and Currency Institute, 2003.
  • [1]Kraljevich, John, and Frank Van Valen, The Vermuele, Ward & Mexico Maxico Collections, New York: Stack's, 2009.
  • Cuhaj, George S., and Thomas Michael, Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000, 42nd ed., Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2014.

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