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Inverted anchor cross. A cross with slightly widened ends, with two anchor flukes coming out of the top and curving left and right, also with slightly widened ends.

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Denomination, star left and right Script: Hangul Lettering: ⋆1⋆ 전 Translation: 1 Chon

1959 North Korea 1 Chon (Capitalist visitor)

A tourist coin from a hermit kingdom

National Coat of Arms, date below

Script: Hangul


Translation: Democratic People's Republic of Korea

North Korea

At the end of the Second World War, Korea – which had formerly been occupied by the Japanese – was divided along the 38th parallel. This was an internal border between North and South Korea based on a circle of latitude.

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), supported by the Soviet Union, invaded the south on the 25 June 1950, which was supported by the United States. The three-year war ended on 27 July 1953, after the signing of an armistice agreeing that the country would remain divided.

The North and South today are still divided by the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) at the 38th Parallel. With little contact with the outside world, and that contact very controlled by the North Korean authorities, North Korea is often known as a “Hermit Kingdom“.


The obverse of the coin features the North Korean National Emblem: “In the background, Mt. Paekdu can be seen. This sacred mountain of revolution is the place of birth of Chairman Kim Jong Il. Together with the 5 pointed red star that beams over the hydro-electric dam, it represents the revolutionary spirit and history of the Korean people and their prosperous future. The hydro-electric dam together with the ears of rice that surround it represent the strength of the country’s industry and agriculture. The red ribbon on which the words “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (조선 민주주의 인민 공화국) are written represent the homogeneity of the Korean people, the development of the country and its bright future.”

Note that on the coin, the text in the ribbon underneath is not easily readable and that same text is around the top of the coin. At the bottom is the year. All of these coins bear the same year, 1959. It is likely that the year was frozen even on coins minted in later years.


Denomination, star left and right Script: Hangul Lettering: ⋆1⋆ 전 Translation: 1 Chon

The reverse of the coin features the denomination, 1, above the currency, “전”, “Chon”. The North Korean Won (₩) is a decimal currency. 1 Won = 100 Chon.

Of particular note on this coin is the star either side of the value. Not just for decoration, the stars denote who can use this coin. North Korea issued four versions of these Chon coins (in 1, 5 and 10 Chon values):

  • No stars: Currency which is only for use by citizens of North Korea.
  • One star to the left of the value: Currency which is only for use by visitors to North Korea from Socialist countries. Examples of socialist countries include China, the U.S.S.R. (Russia, as it was when this coin was issued), or Cuba. In fact, Cuba was one of few other countries to implement a tired “visitor coinage” system such as this.
  • Two stars (this coin): Currency which is ONLY for use by visitors to North Korea from Capitalist countries. Examples of capitalist countries include the United States, Australia and Canada
  • Coins with “견 본” either side of the number: “Sample” or “Specimen”. These were sets made for numismatic collectors outside the DPRK. Economies such as North Korea sometimes create “souvenirs” such as non-circulating currency, purely to sell overseas to bring in money. Numista lists 637 coins from North Korea. However, filter that to circulating (standard or commemorative) coins, and there are only 22 North Korean coins listed.
Reverse of North Korea 1 Chon Capitalist visitor (with two stars) next to 5 Chon Socialist visitor (with one star)

(The 1 Chon Capitalist visitor, next to a 5 Chon Socialist visitor (one star) coin)

The reason for having multiple types of coins like this is simple. Goods may be purchased for one price by locals, at a slightly higher rate by tourists from “friendly” (socialist) countries, and at a higher rate again by capitalist tourists.

While taking currency out of North Korea is not permitted, souvenir currency sets can be purchased. The recommendation from YoungPioneerTours is to purchase these sets within North Korea to assure authenticity. Coins purchased elsewhere, such as the Chinese border city of Dandong may be fake copies.

North Korean currency is considered a “Soft” currency. That is, it is not easily convertible to a “Hard” currency such as the Euro, or US Dollar. There is a local black market in currency. The black market street value of the Won is a lot less than the “official” rate:

  • ₩100,000 won in USD official exchange rate = $467
  • ₩100,000 won in USD black market rate = $12.91

The foreign currency Won was nullified in 2002 with all foreign visitors now using foreign currency.

The third and current incarnation of the DPRK won was brought about as a result of a 2009 revaluation of the currency. This revaluation was to prove extremely controversial and contentious.

The North Koreans were informed they had only seven days in which to exchange a maximum of ₩100,000 (at the time was valued at $40USD), which was further raised to ₩150,000 in hard cash and ₩300,000 within bank accounts.

Old notes were no longer legal tender on November 30th 2009 and onward. The new North Korean won notes didn’t start circulation until December 7th 2009.

In 2014 the highest denomination Korean won note, the ₩5000 (valued at 65 US cents) was redesigned to remove the face of Kim Il Sung and replace it with his native birth house in Manggyongdae and the International Friendship Exhibition located at Mt. Myohyang.

Denomination, star left and right Script: Hangul Lettering: ⋆1⋆ 전 Translation: 1 Chon





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