Numiartis returns to the Haiyuantang Zodiac Fountain with a second coin, this time featuring the tiger

When this series debuted last year, we likened it to an Asian Queen’s Beasts in concept, and with the addition of this second design, we stand by that more than ever. Just as the Queen’s Beasts sat outside Hampton Court Palace, the twelve bronze heads that inspired this series, adorned a water fountain outside the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. Despite the Chinese influence, they were designed by Italian Jesuit painter, Giuseppe Castiglione.

Seven of the twelve heads have been returned to China, after having been looted during the Second Opium War in 1860, What Numiartis are doing is to anthropomorphise the heads, placing the lunar animals on robed human figures, and inserting into one hand a sphere of a mineral/metal. On the first coin, that was a piece of bronze, and this time, it’s red agate.

The second coin features the tiger head, reproducing the original bronze head closely, and doing so with lashings of high-relief, and an attractive black proof finish. The images we have this year are vastly better than those we have of the debut coin, and do a great job of showing off the relief, and the high-quality of the strike. The common obverse is back, and depicts the original location of the heads before they were taken in 1860. This is a late 2022 issue, so the effigy is still that of Queen Elizabeth II.

A neat and quite unique take on the lunar animals, utilising historical artifacts with a twist. The coins come boxed with a Certificate of Authenticity, and have a mintage of 500 pieces. The bulk of the first issue went to China, where the original bronzes are well regarded, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this was again the case. They should ship before the holidays.


The Twelve Old Summer Palace bronze heads are a collection of bronze fountainheads in the shape of the Chinese zodiac animals that were part of a water clock fountain in front of the Haiyantang building of the Xiyang Lou (Western style mansions) area of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. Supposedly designed by Giuseppe Castiglione for the Qianlong Emperor, the statues would spout out water from their mouths to tell the time.

The bronze-cast heads of the stone statues were among the treasures looted during the destruction of the Old Summer Palace by British and French expeditionary forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War. Since then, they have been among the most visible examples of attempts to repatriate Chinese art and cultural artifacts. About the scandal with two of these heads, see 2009 auction of Old Summer Palace bronze heads.

An entire museum in Beijing run by the Poly Corp., which is operated by a state-owned military enterprise, is filled with repatriated artworks, including several other bronze animal heads that along with the two held by Saint Laurent were part of the set of 12 representing the signs of the Chinese zodiac. The museum bought the tiger, monkey and ox through auction houses in Hong Kong in 2000, while the pig’s head was recovered in New York by Hong Kong casino magnate Stanley Ho, who in turn donated it to the museum.

COMPOSITION 93.3 grams of 0.999 silver
FINISH Black proof and antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief, Blue Agate insert
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article “Old Summer Palace bronze heads“, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0