World Exclusive! Numiartis debuts ‘Ox’ the first in its numismatic homage to the Haiyantang Zodiac Fountain

Numiartis are kicking off 2022 with the first coin in a series that could best be described as an Asian Queen’s Beasts in concept. Sitting outside the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, sat twelve bronze heads, each representing a figure from the Chinese Zodiac. Said to have been designed by Italian Jesuit painter, Giuseppe Castiglione in the mid-18th century, they were looted in 1860 during the Second Opium War, and dispersed around the world. Many have now returned to China, although five are still unaccounted for.

While the originals were of just the heads of the various zodiac animals, coin artist Beata Kulesza Damaziak has taken those heads and depicted them attached to an anthropomorphic body. Done in an Asian style, formal and holding objects, it’s topped by what is actually a close depiction of the original bronze ox-head, now on display in Beijing’s Poly Art Museum. Focal point duties are well handled by a polished bronze half-sphere held in the Ox’s left hand. The background field is replete with floral orchid-like flourishes.

The obverse is one we believe will be common to the series, and features an image taken from a contemporary drawing of the water clock fountain and the facade of the building it stood in front of, which we’ve used above in our featured image. As a Niue issue, it has the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II sitting in the artwork.

This is a three-ounce, high-relief, 0.999 silver coin, finished in a mix of black proof and antiquing. It will come boxed with a Certificate of Authenticity, of course, and has a mintage capped at 500 pieces. We’re told that 350 of these are pre-accounted for, probably in China where the subject artifacts are very well known, so just 150 of them will be available for the European market. The second coin is currently being designed, and we’ll cover that when it appears. Available to order shortly, from both Intercoins-Berlin, and from a limited number of stockists worldwide.


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 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 93.3 grams
FINISH Black proof and antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief, Bronze 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