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Just a coin: Hong Kong 1959

2012/02/19

When I was a little girl, neighbors and friends of the family used to bring me coins from their travels which I kept in a small wooden box. For no special reason, I still have the box. Over the years, my treasure grew from my own travels, and those of my friends, and in this occasional series I would like to share it with you.

The first coin is a 10 cent coin from Hong Kong minted in 1959. The picture shows the reverse with the name of Hong Kong in both English and Chinese, the year of minting and the value. The other side has a portrait of the British Queen Elizabeth The Second.

In 1959, Hong Kong was a British Crown Colony.

The city, which one hundred years earlier had been inhabited by about 32,000 people, had a population of 2.3 million. Floods of refugees from war and civil war in China provided the labour force for Hong Kong’s strongly growing industry.

Compared to the more than 2000 years of Chinese coins, Hong Kong’s currency history is a short one. The city had long had no local currency. When it became a British trading port in 1841, there were only foreign coins such as Indian rupees, Spanish or Mexican silver dollars (ocho reales) and the Chinese cash or wén. In 1863, the silver dollar became the official legal tender for Hong Kong and in 1966 a special Hong Kong version was issued.

The first coins were minted at the Royal Mint in London. In 1866, a local mint was established but closed down again after two years with the machinery sold to Japan to mint yen in Osaka. After that episode, all in all five different mints minted Hong Kong coins at various times. Our ten-cent coin has no mintmark. This means it might have been minted either in the Royal Mint in London, in the Hong Kong branch mint or at James Watt & Co. Soho, Birmingham.

Hong Kong coins are issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) on behalf of the Government of Hong Kong. Ten-cent coins like the one in the picture were issued since 1948, first showing the portrait of  George VI and later that of his daughter Elizabeth II. Since 1993, there is a new series, and under a coin replacement programme around 585 million coins featuring Queen Elizabeth II have been withdrawn from circulation. But they are still legal tender.

In its short history Hong Kong has seen several currency regimes. A crisis in the silver market forced it to abandon the silver standard in 1935 and it pegged its currency to the pound sterling instead. When the British government decided to float its currency in 1972, the Hong Kong dollar was linked to the US dollar until end of 1974 when it was allowed to float freely. Since 1983, it is linked again to the US dollar in a most rigid form under a currency board: Hong Kong dollars can only be issued in exchange to US dollars against which the rate is fixed – with the consequence that Hong Kong’s foreign exchange reserves are among the highest worldwide.

How did a foreigner in Hong Kong in 1959 perceive the city? The following links give the impression of a buzzing crowded place, which faster than others had overcome the woes of war, a city in a process of rapid industrialization on its way to become one of the four Asian Tigers beside Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. They also show a society in transition where the old and new coexisted under difficult conditions. The idea of the city a visitor from the west had may also have been influenced by a famous US movie which came out the same year, Ferry to Hong Kong, featuring Curd Jürgens and Orson Welles.

These are the links:

Video  A brief visit to Hong Kong in 1960 香港  by MichaelRogge

Video HongKong 1950 to 1960 by MrHklive

Ferry to Hong Kong (movie, USA 1959)

and here is a view on Hong Kong the foreigner might have had from the plane at his or her arrival before landing at the newly built Kai Tak Airport.

From → Just a coin

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