Other Articles in this Series on Korean Coins
South Korea's hwan coinage (1959-1975)
South Korea's First Gold and Silver Commemorative Coins (1970)
The 30th Anniversary of Liberation 100 Won Commemorative coin (1975)
The Fifth Republic Commemorative Coins (1981)
Circulation Coins of the Republic of Korea
South Korean Pattern Coins (1965-1966)
Bank of Korea Mint Sets

South Korean Coin Database

South Korea's 42nd World Shooting Championships Commemorative Coins

The 42nd World Shooting Championships Commemorative Coins (1978)
- 제42회 세계 사격선수권대회 기념주화

The story behind the manufacture and release of these two South Korean commemorative coins is a roller coaster ride of tight deadlines and inadequacies at the Mint; all thrown in with a meddling big-shot friend of the president of the country.  And if it had not been for a last-minute policy exception, the whole thing might not have happened at all.  Such instability surrounding South Korea’s commemorative coin production was apparently the modal state of affairs in the late 1970s.  Leading up to the 1978 release of these coins, the Korean Mint was still quite new to advanced coin manufacturing processes involving the production of high quality proof coins, and had particular problems in both engraving and in the creation of the critical pieces of tool steel for the manufacture of the master dies.  Despite the problems, the coins were released on schedule, and the silver coin of this series became an overnight sensation, making them some of the most popular commemorative coins ever issued in South Korea.

Initial planning

The germ of the idea for this commemorative issue, South Korea’s second locally-produced commemorative issue, came about during the minting of the country’s first domestically-made commemorative coin: The 30th Anniversary of Liberation commemorative 100 Won coin, produced in 1975.  Currency planners envisioned the new coin to commemorate the upcoming 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Korea, on August 15, 1978.  When it was first proposed to Finance Minister Cho Doo-soon in January 1976, the government’s overall response was positive, and the Bank of Korea and the South Korean Mint, Komsco, wasted no time getting started on the initial production research for this new commemorative coin.

It was at the beginning stages of this “Foundation Anniversary” coin project that the Ministry of Finance asked the Bank to make additional preparations for the minting of a commemorative coin for the upcoming 42nd World Shooting Championships, an international sporting event that was scheduled to take place in Seoul in September 1978. At the time, the Shooting Championships was the biggest sporting event ever to be hosted in the country.

As a result, the Mint was tasked with the parallel development of two commemorative coin projects, with release dates planned for the summer of 1978.  The workload involved in producing two, unique commemorative issues was cause for some trepidation for the Komsco team, since their only previous experience in minting commemoratives was during the summer of 1975 for the single coin commemorating the 30th Anniversary of Liberation.  And that project only succeeded after an intense, fully-supported effort to make the very first coins produced from Korean-made master dies.

On January 19, 1977, the Finance Minister officially requested that the Bank of Korea issue a legal-tender commemorative coin for the upcoming shooting event, and ordered the Governor of the Bank to produce a study detailing relevant specifics necessary for the manufacture and release of these coins, as well as suggestions for the coins’ composition, size, and number of pieces to be minted.
Trial designs for South Korean Government Foundation Anniversary coins

                         Government Foundation Anniversary Coin Designs

The Bank of Korea had prepared to issue coins to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Korea in 1978 (right), and evidence suggests that they had previously contemplated such a commemorative issue for the 20th anniversary, in 1968 (top left).   In his 2006 book, "Korean Commemorative Coins," former Komsco designer Jo Byeong-soo included a photo of some preliminary idea sketches that he identifies as 100 Hwan coin trial designs dating from the 1950s (page 201).  Close inspection of these coin-design drawings reveals their dates to be "1968," and the designs have "정부수립 20 주년" (20th Anniversary of Government Foundation) in their legends.   Although Mr. Jo and his publisher had erroneously identified these sketches, the image proves that the Bank had contemplated a "Foundation Anniversary" commemorative issue prior to the 30th anniversary in 1978.   Unlike the 1968-dated designs, the 30th anniversary designs from 1978 were contemplated as actual coins.  As it turned out, the Korean government took a pass on minting these coins in favor of coins commemorating the 42nd World Shooting Championships taking place the same year in Seoul.  They believed that the benefits of minting coins for the shooting competition outweighed a Foundation Anniversary commemoration due to the international exposure the shooting event would garner for South Korea.  A Government Foundation Anniversary commemorative coin was eventually issued in 1998 for the 50th anniversary (bottom left).

A few days later, on January 25th, the Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the 42nd World Shooting Championships, Pak Jong-gyu, issued his own formal proposal requesting that the Bank of Korea issue commemorative coins for the event.  In his proposal, Pak reasoned that such coins would be appropriate commemorative items for the participants and officials, as well as for the spectators and tourists visiting Korea that year.  He also suggested that issuing coins for this international shooting event would help increase South Korea’s worldwide exposure.

The text of his proposal also revealed that the government had granted to Pak’s organizing committee a good deal of control over the planning and sale of the Shooting Championships commemorative coins.  The Komsco team would find out later that this meant that Pak himself would be allowed to intrude into their work.  Pak’s proposal also noted that his committee had government authorization to secure batches of the coins for sale at venues of their choosing, as well as the ability to attach a premium to the sale price of these coins to help fund the hosting of the shooting event itself.  Chairman Pak even gave suggestions on the metal composition of the coins, requesting that the coins be struck in either gold, silver, or nickel.

The Bank of Korea quickly responded with a statement declaring that issuing gold coins would not be possible.  Although the Bank did not elaborate on this point, it was most likely due to the country’s central banking laws concerning the minting of precious-metal coins.  South Korea also had very strict limits on the import of gold into the country.  This was a barrier the government had encountered during the planning for South Korea’s very first commemorative coins in the early 1970s, and the result was that the gold coins of that commemorative issue had to be minted and sold outside of Korea.  The Bank’s statement also included a stipulation that the new commemorative coins be distributed as fairly and evenly to as many people as possible so that hoarding could be avoided.  It also confirmed that priority would indeed be given to supplying a considerable amount of the Shooting Championships coins to the shooting event’s organizing committee for sale at venues of its choosing, while the Bank of Korea would handle the sale of the remaining coins.

Coin designs

Upon receiving the Bank of Korea’s initial proposal for the new commemorative coins, the Ministry of Finance gave its approval on March 14, 1977 for the minting of the Foundation Anniversary and Shooting Championships coins.  The Komsco currency design team soon got to work on the designs.  They drafted ten trial sketches for both proposed commemorative issues.

For the Foundation Anniversary commemoratives, the team drew images of the Korean variety of the hibiscus flower, a frontal view of the national assembly building in Yeouido, the Korean flag, the double-phoenix emblem, and the Silla Dynasty-era bell of King Seongdeok.  For the shooting championships coins, they sketched images of a Silla dynasty Hwa Rang warrior, an image of the mounted archer depicted in a 4th Century tomb mural, an aerial view of the Taeneung shooting range, and images of contemporary pistol and rifle competitors in shooting stance.


The proposed design sketches for the 42nd World Shooting Championships commemoratives, circa 1977.

As the planning and design phase for the new commemoratives got underway, the Chairman for the shooting championships, Pak Jong-gyu, made an urgent request to the Bank of Korea that priority be given to the commemorative coins being made for the event that he was organizing.  Pak strongly requested that the Mint redouble its efforts to have the Shooting Championships coins ready for release before June 1978 in order not to disrupt the distribution and marketing schedule for the coins.  In response to this request, the Mint soon shifted the focus of its design work to preparing the shooting championships coins.

What followed, from March to July 1977, were five months of tedious back-and-forth consultations with Chairman Pak over the coin designs as the Bank of Korea and the Komsco team got bogged down attempting to satisfy the Chairman’s desires concerning the coins’ appearance down to the tiniest detail.  Having a micromanaging third party inserting itself between the Komsco team and the Bank of Korea was an unusual and frustrating experience that required an extra effort on the part of the practitioners involved.  Despite this difficulty, the design team finalized work on two designs that ultimately met with Pak’s approval.

By July 25th, the proposed coins also had the approval of the Governor of the Bank of Korea, Kim Sung-hwan.  Governor Kim announced that two coins were to make up the Shooting Championships commemorative issue:  A 2,500 Won silver coin featuring the image of the Muyong mounted archer, and a 500 Won coin displaying the design of the standing rifle competitor.  The 2,500 Won Silver coin design was the work of senior Komsco designers Kang Bak and Jo Byung-soo, while junior designers, Ryu Taek-soo ( 류택수 ) and Lee Ye-soo ( 이예수 ) co-designed the images on the 500 Won coin.

During its final review of their event’s commemorative coin designs, the Shooting Championships committee requested a change to the coins’ planned diameter sizes and denomination.  The Bank of Korea subsequently changed the specifications, enlarging the silver coin’s diameter from 32mm to 35mm, and the value from 2,500 Won to 5,000 Won.  The denomination of the 500 Won coin remained unchanged but its diameter size was also increased, from 30mm to 32mm.

The proposed Application for Government Approval, August 19, 1977

08/19/1977 Application for Government Approval vspace=

Since the effort to produce the Shooting Championships coins took priority during the Summer months of 1977, the Komsco team did not have time to further develop the design artwork for the Foundation Anniversary commemorative coins. Consequently, the Bank of Korea’s application for government approval did not include any finalized obverse or reverse designs for the Foundation Anniversary coins when the Bank submitted the plans for both pairs of commemoratives on August 19, 1977.


The 42nd World Shooting Championships took place in Seoul from September 27 to October 5, 1978, making South Korea the first Asian country to host the World Shooting Championships.  The event was a resounding success for the host country, and for the chairman of the championships, Pak Jong-gyu, the former head of South Korea's presidential security detail (shown above shaking hands).  At the time, Chairman Pak also held the position of vice president of the Union Internationale de Tir or UIT, later to be known as the International Sport Shooting Federation (ISSF), the governing authority of the World Shooting Championships.  The Park Chung-hee government utilized the event to showcase the country, spending nearly $4 million (in 1978 USD) to host the Championships and to beautify and upgrade the country's premier shooting venue, the Taenung Shooting Range, which was also a favored playground for President Park and his entourage in this era.

When the government sanctioned the Bank’s application a month later on September 19, 1977, only the 42nd World Shooting Championships commemoratives were given approval to be minted and issued, effectively cancelling the two Foundation Anniversary commemoratives coins.  The Bank of Korea gave no major reason for the cancellation beyond the desire to focus efforts on getting the Shooting Championships coins minted in time for their namesake event. However, there were other reasons.

While the Foundation Anniversary coins were seen as commemorating just another government holiday, the international exposure promised by the 42nd World Shooting Championships necessarily made the event an object of President Park’s close attention.  Not an insignificant consideration was that the Shooting event was the pet project of its chairman, Pak Jong-gyu, one of the president’s earliest supporters from his army days.  The president ordered all government departments, including the major cities, to cooperate with the organizing committee to ensure its success.  This high-level scrutiny also increased the pressure on the minting authorities to produce commemorative coins of high quality.

As the Bank of Korea prepared the administrative procedures for the release of these non-circulating legal tender commemorative coins, Komsco was having to confront problems that became apparent while ramping up its own operations.

Unresolved problems at the Mint

One complication was Komsco’s ongoing workforce deficiencies at the Gyeongsan Mint.  Although Komsco had recently worked hard to train its staff in the special processes involved in producing master hubs and dies for coin-striking operations, it was still experiencing an acute shortage of trained and experienced artists and technicians involved in creating relief sculpture engravings and galvano castings for use on the reducing lathes.  In fact, when producing the 30th Anniversary of Liberation commemorative coin in the Spring of 1975, Komsco had resorted to hiring Kim Chan-sik —a local artist and sculptor with no medal or coin engraving experience— to create the plaster models used in cutting the master hubs for the coin. In the two years since, Komsco had taken on just one engraver who had received a formal education in the kind of bas-relief engraving that is specific to medals and coins; and this employee had just returned from his training in Italy a few months prior to the start of work on these new coins.  With the exception of this single engraver, and some other technicians and engineers who had received training in die manufacture at the Osaka Mint in Japan, none of Komsco’s employees had any formal education in currency manufacturing processes.

Adding to their worries was Komsco’s lack of experience in minting silver coins, which was limited to making limited quantities of the Bank of Korea’s 25th Anniversary silver proof medal two years earlier.  The newly-proposed 5,000 Won silver commemorative coin had a planned mintage of 100,000 pieces, and these would need to start coming off the presses in just a few months.

The president of Komsco confronted the skillset deficiencies at the Gyeongsan Mint by proceeding with a plan to quickly raise the level of skill among its engraving and die-making staff, while simultaneously seeking outside professional assistance in engraving.  The leadership hoped that the combination of efforts from its staff and the outside help would produce a successful outcome.  The Mint again asked sculptor Kim Chan-sik from Hongik University to help, as he had experience in making the plaster engraving for the 1975 commemorative coin.  Not satisfied with just one, Komsco hired a second relief engraver, Professor Baek Hyeon-ok from nearby Mokwon University, to join the effort.  The Komsco staff, however, gave this arrangement a cool reception.  Knowing that neither Kim nor Paek had much coin-engraving experience between them, the currency staff did not give the two artists much in the way of cooperation as their engraving work began.

Under intense pressure to have the master dies completed according to schedule, and with the start of the engraving process not exactly inspiring confidence, the Komsco chief opted for a risky “Plan B.”


Toppan Printing Company representatives from Japan (left) meet with South Korea's currency design team (right) in the mid-1970s to discuss contract work.  The Bank of Korea had contracted Toppan in the 1970s to produce printing plates for Bank of Korea won banknotes in addition to a set of master dies for the 42nd World Shooting Championships coins.

Without informing its governing authority, the Bank of Korea, Komsco independently entered into an alternate contract on November 16, 1977 with the Japanese banknote printing-plate maker, Toppan Printing Company, for the manufacture of the master dies at the Japan Mint.  An arrangement through Toppan was necessary since Japanese law did not allow Komsco to contract directly with the Japan Mint.  In the legal sleight-of-hand that they played, Toppan acted as a surrogate to Komsco, which worked through Toppan’s agents to have the dies fabricated at minting facilities operated by the Japanese Ministry of Finance.  Having hubs and dies made at the Japan Mint was certainly familiar to Komsco, since it was common procedure in this era for the Bank of Korea to order the Korean Mint to request its dies from the Osaka Mint for many of South Korea’s circulating coins.  The difference this time was that the Bank of Korea was out the loop.

As should have been expected, this “secret” contract’s cover was blown when, just a month later, Toppan’s bill showed up on the Bank of Korea’s expense ledger.  Bank officials demanded answers, and an internal report written about the incident, dated December 12, 1977, filled in the blanks for them.  The total price of the Toppan contract was ₩7,105,798 (in 1978 KRW; the equivalent of $14,681 in 1978 USD).  This was the cost of producing the hubs and dies for both the 500 Won coin and the 5,000 Won coin, along with their corresponding mill collar dies.  Despite the way it was arranged, the Toppan order was allowed to proceed; but so was Komsco’s original plan to manufacture the same set of dies locally at the Gyeongsan Mint.

Toppan delivered their finished master dies and collars to the Korean Mint three months later on March 20, 1978.  Soon after, the Komsco team submitted the dies that they had completed.  The Korean Mint now had identical sets of master dies in their possession, and since the Mint evidently decided to go with only a single die pairing, they had to decide between the two.  As it turned out, Komsco’s contract with Toppan Printing was unnecessary, for when officials compared the Komsco-made dies against the Toppan-made dies, they preferred the Korean-made dies derived from Baek Hyeon-ok’s original plaster engravings.  The final decision to go with Komsco’s dies for the minting of the 42nd World Shooting Championships coins was made in spite of slight deficiencies in these dies when compared to the Japanese-made ones.

Although relations between the Bank of Korea and Komsco had soured somewhat over the Toppan-contract fiasco, the scheduled release date for the coins was fast approaching, and the preparations for the minting of the coins proceeded unabated.  The first die trials were completed on March 27th.

Legal hurdles

All during this time that Komsco and Toppan were busy producing their hubs and dies in the early months of 1978, yet another problem cropped up concerning the wording that was to appear on the new commemorative coins, creating a dustup among South Korean officials involved in currency policy.

The exclusion of the legend, "한국은행," as required by the South Korean law had necessitated an exception to this law for the 42nd World Shooting Championships coins to be released on schedule.  As with the hwan-denominated coins of the early 1960s, all twelve designs on the gold and silver commemorative coins issued in the early 1970s had included “REPUBLIC OF KOREA” in English, but also included the requisite legend in hangul, “한국은행 (Bank of Korea).” Why the legends on the shooting championships commemoratives were not similarly represented is a mystery.
The proposed coin designs included the hangul legend, “대한민국 (dae han meen kook)," and its corresponding English transliteration, “REPUBLIC OF KOREA.”  The planners behind this coin issue (Pak Jong-gyu was almost certainly involved in this process) intentionally chose to include this title —the official name of South Korea.  According to Chairman Pak, the main rationale for minting the coins was their potential in promoting South Korea, and their utility in publicizing South Korea's success with hosting this large sporting event.  South Korea’s Minister of Finance supported this view and thought that the legends for these coins were appropriate.

The problem was that the wording was not legal.

The issue with the wording of the legend had to do with a rule outlined in South Korea’s central banking law.  Policies under the Bank of Korea Law for issuing new coins and bills (Article III, Section 2) include the requirement that the legend, “Bank of Korea” in hangul, “한국은행 (han kook eun haeng),” be included on all South Korean banknotes and coins.  Most at the Bank of Korea supported the existing legal requirement.  The legally-inconsistent wording as designed on the coins had shaped up to be a major complication, especially since this problem was left unresolved right up to the beginning of the minting operations.  If an exception to the rule was not allowed, it would cause an unavoidable delay in the scheduled release of the coins while the Mint created a pair of re-designed master dies that included legends with the legal wording.

In the end, higher-level government officials insisted that the coins be minted on schedule.  The Minister of Finance ordered that an exception to the wording be made for these commemorative coins.  South Korea’s Monetary Policy Committee fell in line to make the official changes to the rules, and with the Finance Ministry’s blessing, permitted the exception on April 6, 1978.

Wasting no time, the Gyeongsan Mint began striking the coins the very next day.

Minting and Release of the Coins

Beginning on April 7, 1978 and over the following two months, the Korean Mint struck the two Shooting Championships coins according to the mandated mintages and finishes for both coins.  The Mint determined that the cost per unit to mint the 5,000 Won silver coins was 3,849 won, 62 jeon each; and each of the 500 Won copper nickel coins cost 179 won, 10 jeon.  

The USA's rifle competitors dominated the team rifle events at the 42nd World Shooting Championships and won several individual gold medals, while also setting a world record in 300-meter prone rifle.  Here, the U.S. team competes in the 300-meter Standard Big Bore Rifle event.

The minting of the Shooting Championships commemoratives saw the strictest quality-control measures applied to South Korean coins up to that time; and accounting for errors and damaged coins, 97.3% of the total coins of the official mintage were actually issued.  These commemoratives were also unique in that the 5,000 Won coin was South Korea’s first domestically-minted, and locally-released, silver coin of legal tender.  The Shooting Championships coins were also the first South Korean coins to be minted in two different proof finishes (proof and frosted proof), although the 500 Won commemoratives, most of which were minted as business strikes, made up the majority of the total coins.

Officials at the Bank of Korea intentionally limited the total mintage of both coins to 1.1 million; far fewer than the five million total coins minted for the South Korea’s first domestically-made commemorative coin, the 30th Anniversary of Liberation 100 Won coin that was released in 1975.  That experience had taught them that issuing millions of commemorative coins in a country where citizens were not familiar with the concept of a “commemorative coin” was not exactly a recipe for success.  In an effort to avoid repeating the mistake, currency planners had hoped to enhance the commercial value of the Shooting Championships coins by striking some of them in silver, and by keeping their numbers to a relatively smaller overall mintage while also striking a small minority of both coins in different proof finishes.  Other promotional efforts included purposely marketing the coins to foreign visitors attending the shooting event, to other tourists visiting South Korea, and to collectors.

To publicize the June 12, 1978 release of the Shooting Championships coins, the Bank of Korea

The 42nd World Shooting Championships saw a plethora of numismatic items used to promote the sporting event.  Some items are still highly-valued collector pieces, like the two-coin commemorative proof sets.  Most were cheaply-made, mass-produced curios.

advertised in four daily newspapers in Seoul as well as in nine regional papers over the five-day period of May 23 to May 27, 1978.  Five days before the issue date, the Bank had finalized a unique plan to govern the distribution and release of the coins:

1) The Organizing Committee for the 42nd World Shooting Championships would be allowed to secure up to 55% of the total coins for sale at venues of their choosing.

2) The remaining 45% of the 5,000 Won silver commemoratives were to be sold exclusively out of the Bank of Korea’s main branch building in the Myeongdong neighborhood of Seoul in order to ensure an equitable distribution of these coins.  The remaining 500 Won coins would have a wider distribution via other financial institutions across the city.

3) The coins were to be sold one-per customer, and on a first come, first served basis.

As the 42nd World Shooting Championships got underway in September and October 1978, the event’s organizing committee took full advantage of its allotment of the coins.  The committee sent its workers to the Bank of Korea’s vaults around twenty times to pick up batches of coins to sell at the Taeneung shooting range and at other sites of the committee’s choosing.  The coins were sold with a hefty premium attached to the sale prices; ostensibly to help fund the operating expenses of the event.

As for the Bank of Korea, officials there had hoped that their efforts would enhance the public reception of the coins, while also allowing for their orderly distribution.  As it turned out, the Bank of Korea was not prepared for what was to happen next.

Coin Melee


The image on the 5,000 Won silver commemorative coin was derived from a tomb mural depicting a hunting scene that was painted on the wall of a mid-4th century burial chamber and located near Ji'an city in China's Jilin province, immediately next to its present-day border with North Korea.   The image comes from a tomb known as the "Dancers Tomb" (in Korean: muyong), and is therefore referred to as the the Muyong mounted archer.  This ancient hunting scene is regarded as a masterpiece, and is one of the few remnants that give insights into the culture of the ancient Goguryeo dynasty.

It is hard to believe that the sale of a commemorative coin in South Korea could have had people lining up all along the street and around the corner.  The release of the 42nd World Shooting Championships 5,000 Won silver commemorative coin did just that.

At exactly 4 a.m. in the morning of the Bank of Korea’s 30th anniversary, Monday, June 12, 1978, numbers of people rushed to the Bank of Korea building from various corners of the surrounding neighborhood.  They ran to queue up outside the front doors, released by the lifting of the citywide curfew (one that was enforced from midnight to 4 a.m. nightly in South Korean cities from September 1946 to January 1982).  The crowd had flocked to purchase one of the six thousand 5,000 Won silver coins that were to be sold from the Bank building that day.  The Bank’s remaining allotment of 12,000 silver coins, to be released the following day, were expected to attract an even larger crowd.

What would explain the public’s newfound interest in a commemorative coin when people seemed to have cared so little about them just a couple of years before?  As South Korea placed severe restrictions on precious metals imports, the coin’s silver content probably had something to do with it, and that fact probably played into another phenomenon that was taking place at the time.

In 1978, many Koreans were benefitting from an improved economy, and some households were flush with cash from massive remittances sent home by Korean construction workers in Persian Gulf states, which had contracted Korean businesses to develop their infrastructure.  Back in Korea, legal restrictions did not allow people many choices for investing any of this new money.  Hard assets, such as land, were almost the only options.  Indeed, the latter part of the 1970s was characterized by a real estate boom south of the Han River in Seoul in which farmers were becoming millionaires overnight by selling their once-inexpensive farmland to developers.  The environment was ripe for the country to experience a “speculation craze.”  Real estate was not the only area where this speculation fever existed.  Precious metals were another.  The coins became an instant magnet for investors when reports surfaced on June 12th about those lucky few who had purchased one of the new silver coins and then quickly sold it within minutes for a hefty profit.

So when the 4 a.m. curfew lifted the following morning, all hell broke loose at the Bank of Korea.


Seoul daily newspaper accounts of the June 13, 1978 release of the 5,000-Won silver commemorative, South Korea's very first silver proof commemorative coin.   One article reports that a crowd of upwards of 30,000 people arrived to purchase one of the coins, and that the queue extended 1.2 kilometers.

The Chosun Ilbo reported that pandemonium ensued when upwards of 20,000 people showed up in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 13th in front of the Bank of Korea building.  Pushing and shoving resulted in 20 people being injured even before the doors opened.  Maintaining order in the situation was impossible, and the planned release of the remaining silver coins for that day was cancelled.

Distributing these popular coins was now the problem of the new governor of the Bank of Korea, Shin Byeong-hyeon, who had been appointed just a few weeks earlier.  At an emergency meeting, Governor Shin and Bank officials hashed out a new distribution plan that involved issuing the remaining silver commemoratives via lottery to depositors who held accounts at various financial institutions located in the city center.  Customers whose accounts had been randomly picked by computer program were offered a chance to purchase one of the coins.  The distribution of the Bank’s remaining 5,000 Won silver commemoratives was accomplished in this fashion.

The 42nd World Shooting Championships coins today


The 500 Won commemorative (KM #22) was minted as a mint strike and in two different proof finishes.  While the unfrosted proof version (mintage: 18,000) is somewhat easily found in the Korean numismatic market today, the frosted proof version of this coin is rarely encountered anywhere.

At the time of their release, the shooting commemorative coins were the only coins that had ever caused a sensation in South Korea, and that level of excitement about a commemorative coin has not been repeated since.  The shooting championships coins remained somewhat popular as collectibles for years, particularly the plastic-encased 5,000 Won frosted-proof silver commemorative (KM #23) that appeared in its sealed Bank of Korea green slipcover.  In high mint state proof condition, this frosted-proof coin in 2016 still commanded a premium as a collectible, with sale prices usually just above or below $100 USD each.

Yet, like much of the 100 Won commemoratives issued in 1975, it seems that quantities of the 500 Won shooting championships coins (KM #22) had remained in mint bags, residing the vaults for decades —evidently, even just one million cupronickel commemorative coins were far too many.  Like many of these 1970s and 1980s South Korean commemorative coins that were issued in regular mint finishes, the 500 Won coin is one of the least expensive and more common Korean commemorative coins that one can find in today’s collector market.  However, the proof versions of this 500 Won coin are highly popular in Korea, with the frosted proof version commanding the equivalent of $500 USD, or more, for the lucky collector who can even come upon one.  Both the regular proof and the more rare frosted proof versions of the 500 Won coin are almost non-existent outside of the Korean numismatic market.

Who was Pak Jong-gyu?

The one, and only, Pak Jong-gyu

Having just overthrown the government on May 16, 1961, Major Pak Jong-gyu and Major General Park Chung-hee stand in front of Seoul City Hall (left). Pak Jong-gyu in his role as chief of the Presidential Security Service ( 경호실장 ) in the early 1970s (top right). Pak giving a press conference as Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the 42nd World Shooting Championships in 1978 (bottom right).

          Pak Jong-gyu ( 박종규 / 朴鐘圭 )

          (b. May 28, 1930,   d. December 3, 1985)

Pak Jong-gyu was a key insider of the Park Chung-hee regime and an important, original member that had participated in the 1961 military coup that overthrew South Korea’s Second Republic.   As members of the senior generation of the military junta, Pak Jong-gyu and his associates are sometimes looked on today in South Korea as a collection of somewhat unsophisticated and semi-educated japanophile bullies from the army who muscled their way into the highest positions of government.

    In a more charitable view, Pak Jong-gyu was certainly no different than most other striving young Korean men of his generation whose lot in life was to be relegated to obscurity by the stifling power structures of privileged Confucian and aristocratic hierarchies that prevailed in Korean society.   An ambitious man thrown on nothing but his own resources, Pak survived and dominated by cultivating extraordinary willpower, ruthless determination, and physical prowess.   Just as important were his personal connections to other insurrection-minded comrades in the South Korean Army; and in this area, he made out incredibly well with his close connection to Major General Park Chung-hee.

    Like all of the key men that President Park brought into his inner circle, Pak Jong-gyu’s family was from the Gyeongsang provinces of southeastern Korea.   As a boy, his family moved to Kyoto, Japan, where the teenage Pak received a brief Japanese military education; another ostensible requirement for those close to President Park.   Starting as a Sargeant in the South Korean Army, he was commissioned as an officer during the Korean War, and was a veteran of the conflict.   But Pak Jong-gyu's rise to prominence only came from his participation in the 1961 coup d'etat, in which he acquitted himself well in hunting down the deposed head of state, Prime Minister Chang Myon, as well as serving as General Park's bodyguard.  
Pak Jong-gyu and President Park Chung-hee at U.S. President Kennedy's funeral

Pak Jong-gyu accompanied the newly-elected President Park Chung-hee to the United States in late November 1963 to attend President Kennedy's funeral.  They are pictured here during the flag-folding ceremony at the burial site.

  Pak not only served his boss as his bodyguard, but also multitasked in the South Korean administration on a variety of levels.   Pak even took part in the Korean government's wide-ranging and somewhat unsubtle attempts to bribe members of the U.S. government in the "Koreagate" affair.   While serving as President Nixon's representative to Korea in May 1974, John Niedecker claimed that Pak Jong-gyu handed him $10,000 in hundred-dollar bills just before returning to the United States.   The money was presented to Niedecker in an envelope, on which Pak had written, "Bon Voyage - Park Chong-Kyu."

Pak continued his role as "power broker" just a year before his death, securing at least $7 million in bribes from the U.S. aircraft manufacturer, Northrop Corporation, for promoting the sale to South Korea of Northrop's failed F-20 Tigershark fighter jet.   When this news broke in Korea, U.S. law enforcement began looking into Northrop's rather suspicious 1984 decision to wire $6.25 million to South Korea to "build a luxury hotel as a goodwill gesture."   It turned out that the money went into an account controlled by Pak Jong-gyu's girlfriend, and the funds soon disappeared.   In 1988, South Korean prosecutors said Northrop agreed to pay Pak $55 million, or 2 percent of the value of the planes, if the sales were successful.
For his efforts, Pak gained two rapid rank advancements, from Major to Colonel, before Park Chung-hee finally appointed him to head the powerful Presidential Security Service (PSS) in May 1964.   It would be a position he would hold for the next ten years, longer than any other head of presidential security in South Korea's history.

“Pistol Pak”

    The available narratives that detail Pak Jong-gyu’s behavior as President Park’s security chief seem to describe a character straight out of I, Claudius or Peaky Blinders central casting:   His hawk-like countenance and wiry, athletic build combined to great effect with his fiery, irascible personality and a willingness to “throw down” at the drop of a hat.   These qualities had made a strong impression on his army buddies, who gave him the nickname “G.D. (Giant Dynamite)”.   As PSS chief, he was more commonly known as “Pistol Pak.”   He earned that name after going out armed to the teeth into the center of downtown Seoul during the June 1964 demonstrations protesting the normalization talks with Japan in order to “convince” President Park’s only real political rival at the time, Kim Jong-pil, to retire from politics.   Although even the army and intelligence services were after him, Kim Jong-pil’s real worry was the relentless Pak Jong-gyu, who personally hunted his quarry in the streets in broad daylight with his trademark pistols, one in each hand.

    Pak was extremely protective of his boss, and was an excellent marksman with those pistols, so it seems as if President Park could not have gone wrong with Pak as chief of the PSS.   In reality, Park Chung-hee chose men like Pak Jong-gyu to lead certain vital agencies of his government not just for their abilities, but also because they were incapable of posing a threat for succession to the presidency.   Two other key players that Park utilized in this way were Kim Hyeong-uk (Korean Central Intelligence Agency [KCIA] Director, 1963-1969) and Yi Hu-rak (KCIA Director, 1970-1973).   The fate of all three men depended entirely upon President Park, wedding them completely to the president's fortunes and effectively making them the watchdogs of the Park Chung-hee presidency.   Although he shared a common interest with the other two men, Pak Jong-gyu’s battles with them are legendary.   The source of the strife began early on.

PSS versus KCIA

    As new agencies of Park Chung-hee’s national security state, the PSS and KCIA engaged in critical tasks that made intelligence work prestigious and politically sensitive.   The highly competitive natures of the leaders of these two agencies quickly set them against each other in a “war of information.”   Access to the president, control of regime secrets, and the various palace intrigues were the object and the subject, the arena and the residuum, of their power struggle.   Operating with considerable power and next to no scrutiny, these two hard-bitten men, Pak Jong-gyu and Kim Hyeong-uk, went after one another without restraint.   It was the beginning of an extraordinary internecine conflict inside the Park regime —one that the president curiously tolerated — and a conflict that perhaps had even fostered the environment that made his eventual assassination possible.

    Their underlings called the squabble, “The Pistol and Tonkatsu War” (Pistol for ‘Pistol Pak,’ and Tonkatsu for Kim Hyeong-uk, after the name of the Japanese fried pork cutlet, his favorite lunchtime dish).   Although the dispute was mostly work-related, it was when it got personal that the sparks really flew.   Kim once displaced Pak as the sole importer of U.S. wheat flour; one of the lucrative perks extended to high-level members of the administration.   This and other outrages prompted Pak to get physical with Kim, and rumor had it that Pak, a practitioner of judo, hapkido, karate, and taekwondo, once gave Kim a severe thrashing, using him as a punching bag.

   Kim Hyeong-uk never backed down.   As a part of the 1968 espionage case that involved Koreans living in Germany known as the “East Berlin Incident,” the KCIA arrested one of Pak’s female secretaries, a certain “Miss Kim,” with whom Pak was having an affair.   Director Kim intentionally neglected to inform Pak about her arrest.   Within minutes of finding out, however, Pak loaded his pistols and headed into the night, straight for the KCIA interrogation center in Namsan.   In the ensuing confrontation, Pak pressed his pistol against Kim in a rage and was overheard to have roared at him in warning, “I’m a four-ply ironclad motherfucker! ” (loosely translated from the Korean, “네 배때기엔 철판 깔았느냐 ”).   Kim got the message, although Pak’s lover was nonetheless dismissed.

    After Kim Hyeong-uk was ousted as KCIA director of his own accord, Park Jong-gyu set his crosshairs on the Agency’s new director, Yi Hu-rak.   As presidential chief of staff and then head of the KCIA, Yi had experienced remarkable political successes in helping President Park get re-elected in 1971, and in negotiating the famous Joint Communiqué with North Korea that same year.     If incapable of competing with Yi at his level of accomplishment, Pak would at least look for a chance to take Yi and his KCIA down a few notches.   He soon came upon a spectacular opportunity to do so.

    It began when Pak got a tip from the president of the Seoul daily, the Choson Ilbo, that Yi Hu-rak had once discussed the subject of presidential succession while golfing together with one of his key supporters, the Army Chief of Staff, Yoon Pil-yong, in October 1972.   General Yoon supposedly had made some offhand comments about the president’s “old age” and the need for a successor.   Even for such well-established men, such talk was hazardous to their positions in the Park regime.   Members were known to shrink in fear from the slightest criticism from the president as if they were yangban courtiers of a Korean king.   So it must have been with epicaricatic delectation that Pak Jong-gyu immediately informed President Park about the two men’s “disloyalty.”   The president’s response did not disappoint Pak:   Yoon Pil-yong was court-martialed and jailed in April 1973, and Yi Hu-rak was dismissed as KCIA director that same year.   Yi Hu-rak later claimed that he was even shot at, and suspected that Pak was the gunman.   The incident had scared Yi so badly that he fled to the Bahamas, only returning to Korea in the late 1980s.

    In the ensuing purges of General Yoon's and Yi Hu-rak's close followers, Pak Jong-gyu displayed another aspect of his character that sharply contrasted with his thirst for dominance —he had soft spot for those in need of help.   And two of General Yoon’s followers, army officers Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, certainly needed his help.   Pak vigorously intervened on their behalf to save their careers, and was successful.   His own previous status as an outsider might have been the source of Pak’s sense of compassion for them.   Perhaps he also understood that these two were likely successors to President Park if they avoided the purge.   In any case, Chun and Roh would return the kindness several years later.

The Downfall

    Having overcome his two big rivals from the KCIA, Pak Jong-gyu’s world soon came crashing down on a theater stage; and it had nothing to do with the theatre of secrets, rivalries, or palace intrigues.   The end of Pak’s PSS career happened in the blink of an eye during the August 15, 1974 assassination attempt on President Park as he stood behind a podium giving a speech at the National Theater of Korea.   The entire event, highlighted by Pak Jong-gyu’s heroic charge straight toward the assassin while everyone else dove for cover, was incredibly caught on film.   In the video footage, Pak can be seen as the first to react; he stood up and bolted in a full run toward the sound of the attacker’s gunfire coming from the darkness beyond the stage while simultaneously reaching for his pistol, although he was blinded by the brilliance of the stage lights.   Maybe it was sweat on his palms or that sadistic joker, fate, that made Pak lose control of his pistol in the single movement of pulling the weapon out of his waistband.   The pistol discharged as it fell between his legs and landed on the stage.   Bystanders and PSS agents overwhelmed the attacker at the same moment.   It was all over in less than four seconds from the time Pak got up from his chair.

    While President Park himself was unharmed (protected by his armoured podium) the First Lady was killed when a bullet struck her in the head.   The stray bullet from Pak Jong-gyu’s pistol was later officially determined to have ricocheted off a wall and killed a high school girl sitting in the audience.   Others have conjectured that it was Pak’s stray bullet that killed Park Chung-hee’s wife, since the assassin is clearly seen in the footage aiming his pistol straight at the podium, and away from the First Lady in the moment she was hit.   With the First Lady and a bystander dead, and the president having narrowly escaped harm, Pak tendered his resignation.   It was accepted.   Another one of the president’s favorites from the 1961 military coup, Cha Chi-chul, quickly replaced Pak on August 22nd.

    In the months after his ouster, Pak Jong-gyu was decidedly persona non grata among former colleagues and acquaintances.   But because he had been involved in the government at a high level for so long, he was allowed to fall back on other work in areas of government concern in which he had a hand, such as the economy, foreign policy (especially U.S. relations), sports, and even security duties, albeit indirectly.   Still, Pak needed to show discretion, so it was for this reason that in late 1974 he dispatched a colleague in his stead to Bern, Switzerland to compete against Mexico’s Mario Vasquez Rania for the chance for South Korea to host the International Shooting Union’s upcoming 42nd World Shooting Championships.   South Korea won the vote against Mexico, which gave Pak the perfect chance to showcase his talents as the chairman of the shooting event’s organizing committee, while also giving him the opportunity to show that South Korea was a country primed for large international sporting events.

In doing so, Pak was setting the stage for grander schemes.

The Olympic Advocate

    The 42nd World Shooting Championships held in Seoul in September 1978 were a dazzling success for Pak Jong-gyu, with the tournament garnering rave reviews from the international shooting community, despite a Soviet-bloc boycott.   As the event received strong state funding and other supports from the Park regime, Pak Jong-gyu was able to easily outdo previous international shooting championships held in other countries, since they were usually only funded by local shooting clubs.   Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who had previously shown scant enthusiasm for shooting, also took notice.   It was from the success of his shooting championships that Pak approached President Park and Korean IOC member, Kim Taek-soo, to ask that they support a bid for their country to host the upcoming 1988 Summer Olympics.   President Park demurred, citing economic reasons, while Kim Taek-soo only had a single vote and not much leverage at the IOC.   In the meantime, Pak Jong-gyu bided his time as the director of the Korean Athletic Association and as a member of parliament representing his home district of Masan.

    After the assassination of President Park in October 1979 and General Chun Doo-hwan’s subsequent coup, the government made way for the New Order by rounding up its opponents, as well as cronies of the former Park regime.   Pak Jong-gyu was arrested on May 18, 1980 on charges of illegally accumulating around 7.7 billion KRW (the 1980 equivalent of over 12 million USD).   While the charge was certainly not unfounded, Chun saw to it that Pak was soon released, as Chun remembered how Pak had intervened to save his skin back in 1973.   Chun later supported Pak to become South Korea’s IOC representative upon the death of Kim Taek-soo in 1983.   It turned out that President Chun's government had been better positioned to more seriously consider Pak’s suggestion to host the Olympics.

Thanks in part to Pak Jong-gyu’s early efforts, South Korea won the IOC vote for the 1988 Summer Olympics in September 1981, and subsequently hosted the 24th Summer Olympic Games with great success.   Pak Jong-gyu, however, never got to see his dream become reality.   He died after a long battle with liver cancer at the age of 55; almost three years before his country hosted the Olympics.   Photographs taken of Pak in the years after he had been relieved as chief of the PSS show that he seemed to have quickly aged.   The 1974 assassination incident had evidently cost him something more than just his job.   But true to his nature, Pak remained vital and ambitious in his remaining years.

Pak Jong-gyu often claimed that he was destined to live “a short, eventful life (굵고 짧은 인생 ).”

In this, he did not disappoint.

English-Language Sources:

    Clifford, Mark.   Troubled Tiger: Businessmen, Bureaucrats, and Generals in South Korea.  Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 1994. Print.

    Ed:  Cuhaj, George S.  2012 Standard Catalog of World Coins: 1901-2000,  39th Edition. Iola, WI:  Krause Publications, 2012. Print.

    Numismatic Guarantee Corporation.   NGC World Coin Census:  Korea and South Korea Coin Pop Report -500 Won, KM #22, 1978.   22 Apr. 2017.

    Numismatic Guarantee Corporation.   NGC World Coin Census:  Korea and South Korea Coin Pop Report -5,000 Won, KM #23, 1978.   22 Apr. 2017.

Korean-language sources:

    Daehan minkook hwapae gagyeok dorok
    [Republic of Korean Coins and Banknotes Catalogue].
    Seoul:  Daegwangsa, 2013.

    Jo, Byeong-soo. (Jo Byung-soo eui ton eeyagi) Urinara kinyeom joohwa
    [(Jo Byeong-soo’s Story of Money) Korean Commemorative Coins].
    Seoul:  O-Sung K&C, 2006.

    Jo, Byeong-soo.  (Uri nara eun haeng gwon eui byeon cheon sa) Han kook eui eun haeng gwon.  [(Our Country's Changing Banknotes) Korean Banknotes].
    Seoul: O-Sung K&C, 2010. Print.

     Chosun Ilbo.  Joowha sodong [Coin Disturbance] 13 Jun. 1978. Page 7.

    Kim, Un-yong.  Ilyo Shinmun. Blog post. 09 Oct. 2006. 28 Jun. 2016.  (http://ilyo.co.kr/?ac=print&entry_id=38935).

Article by Mark Lovmo (2017)