Trash or Treasure: Rare medal more than a century old

Jodi Noding
The Detroit News
This is a 23-karat Chinese gold medallion owned by Barbara Malburg.

“You are my last hope,” Barbara Malburg wrote in an email to the column asking for help and advice with a family heirloom more than a century old.  “I have tried to do this myself by using the internet but have had no success.”

Her email went on to explain. “My grandparents lived in China in Tsingtao when Germany had a colony there from the late 1800s to the beginning of WWI. My grandfather, O.K. Wille, was the concertmaster for the Imperial Royal Germany Navy. His orchestra gave performances in China. He was given a solid gold 23 karat Medal of Award for “service or contribution to the Chinese people by a foreigner.” It is imprinted with the symbol of Yuan Shikai (first president of the Republic of China) and various other symbols. The writing on the medal is ancient and at least 2,000 years old.”

Appraiser Brian Thomczek examined the medal during a recent session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy.

“I had it appraised for the gold value but I have always wondered if it had any historic value,” she told the appraiser. She said that at the time the gold value was worth about $900. “That was about 10 years ago,” she added, saying that the piece has been in storage since.

Thomczek said that the history of the piece was fascinating. “It’s a great story,” he told her, adding that he had done some research on awards in order to give her an accurate appraisal.

“Most medals and awards are of limited value, unfortunately,” he said, adding that most go for around $200 to $300. Hers, however, was on a different level due to the materials used. “This is of better quality than many,” he explained. “The gold value alone could go up to about $1,500 depending on the day.”

Barbara Malburg poses with her 23-karat Chinese gold medallion. The piece was given to her grandfather, Otto Karl Willie, in 1901.


He said, however, that the market was still limited. “It does have some historical value, but the market for it isn’t large,” he explained. “Your best bet would be to pursue either a coin dealer who may have some connections or someone who is a specialist in Chinese items,” he said, adding that the Chinese market is still hot and that people are buying things in the United States to take back to China.

Malburg said she would consider it and that she has other Chinese items to sell. Thomczek recommended she contact either I.M. Chait in San Francisco – “they deal with a lot of these types of things,” he said – or Red Pagoda in Chicago, which “specializes in Asian art and artifacts.”

“Obviously the history is very important,” Thomczek said, adding that the president was on the Chinese dollar until approximately 1920 and was responsible for the Boxer Rebellion. “Any way you look at it, this is a very interesting piece,” he told her. “It’s not something you see every day.”

Appraisal sessions coming up: Have a treasure you want to know more about? We have another free appraisal session scheduled for 10 a.m. April 22 at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. Spaces are limited. If you’d like to be considered, send a photo of your item, how you received it and what you know about it, to trashortreas@ If your item is chosen we will be in touch with more information.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item: Chinese medal

Owned by: Barbara Malburg

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $200 and up.