Tag Archives: china

Samarqand’s Cast Coinage of the Early 7th–Mid-8th Centuries AD: Assessment based on Chinese sources and numismatic evidence

1D3_8288_ppXiaoyan Qi participated in 2016’s Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar. Qi is a PhD candidate at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, currently a visiting student at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW). Her current research focuses on Sogdiana during the Hellenistic period based on ancient texts, numismatics, and archaeological evidence. 

Samarqand, named Kang (康) in Chinese sources, formed a tributary relationship with the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907). According to Tang Hui Yao, Kangju Dudufu (康 居 都 督 府) was set up in Samarqand in AD 658. The local rulers of Samarqand were considered as the officials of the Tang Dynasty, but the land enjoyed a large degree of independence. In AD 621, the Tang Dynasty began to mint a new coinage, Kai Yuan Tong Bao (开元通宝), featuring a square hole in the center (Figure 1). Samarqand issued its own coinage imitating the Tang prototype. From the early 7th to the mid-8th century, Samarqand’s coinage was cast with the square hole in the center, and the Chinese characters were gradually replaced by the king’s name and title on the obverse (Figure 2).

Fig. 1: China, Kai Yuan Tong Bao (ANS 1995.44.63)
Fig. 1: China, Kai Yuan Tong Bao (ANS 1995.44.63)
Fig. 2: Samarqand, Shishpir (zeno.ru 152381)
Fig. 2: Samarqand, Shishpir (zeno.ru 152381)

Ten Samarqand kings have been identified based on the names on the obverse of the coins. Chinese sources render important clues about these kings, so paralleling the names on the coins and records of these kings in Chinese sources helps to construct the chronology of the Ikhshid Dynasty. The primary Chinese dynastic histories are Wei Shu (魏书), Jiu Tang Shu (旧唐书), and Xin Tang Shu (新唐书). The names of two kings known from the coins cannot be identified clearly with the names in Chinese sources. Based on my current research, Shishpir can be identified as Sha Se Bi (沙瑟毕) and Mastich-Unash can be identified as Ni Nie Shi Shi (泥涅师师). The names of two kings, Urk Wartramuka and Afrig (Devashtich), appear on the coins, but are not recorded in Chinese sources. It is difficult for us to find a satisfactory explanation; however, it is understandable to place these facts in the political upheavals when Chinese historians lost track of the periphery of their empire.

The tamghas on the reverse also reflect a complicated picture. The coins can be classified into three groups based on the tamghas. The first group includes the coins of Shishpir, Wuzurg, Wartramuka, Urk Wartramuka, and Mastich-Unash. The second group includes the coins of Tukaspadak, Tarkhun, and Afrig (Devashtich) (Figure 3). The third group includes the coins of Ghurak and Turgar (Figure 4). Compared with the family relation between the kings in Xi Yu Zhuan, Xin Tang Shu, not all the kings using the same tamghas are from the same family. Some earlier study suggested that the tamghas are used as a family sign or a dynastic symbol. But for the tamghas on Samarqand cast coinage, they should have more profound political-historical meanings.

Fig. 3: Tukaspadak (zeno.ru 50498)
Fig. 3: Tukaspadak (zeno.ru 50498)
Fig. 4: Ghurak (zeno.ru 5245)
Fig. 4: Ghurak (zeno.ru 5245)

Finally, Samarqand cast coinage will be studied in a wider context, which are viewed from the perspectives of historical process, continual exchange and interaction between different cultures as well as the circulation of the coinage within the Sogdian commercial network in the Silk Road.

REDRESSING THE BALANCE, PART 1: THE GLORIES OF LEAD

Brasher dubloon (ANS 1969.62.1)
Brasher dubloon (ANS 1969.62.1)

When thinking about the collection of the American Numismatic Society, the mind often leaps first to the trays of gold and silver coins, to beautiful and famous rarities, and the extremely valuable pieces that only a select few could ever hope to own privately. The shiny stuff has a great allure. There is no question about that. Who doesn’t like the warm glow of the Brasher doubloon or appreciate the rarity of the Confederate States silver half-dollar? I can personally attest to the great thrill of holding one of these in each hand while we were preparing the Drachmas, Doubloons, and Dollars exhibit for the Federal Reserve back in 2000.

Lead token of Boure, A., Canada (ANS 1966.176.492)
Lead token of Boure, A., Canada (ANS 1966.176.492)

This edition of Pocket Change, however, is not about such pretty and valuable coins. Instead it is about the coins in the collection that many readers may not know about. They are the forgotten coins, the odd coins, the sometimes distrusted and maligned coins. They are those humble and unsung heroes of the ANS cabinet—the lead coins.

It may come as some surprise (perhaps even shock) to learn that the ANS collection includes some 4,448 lead pieces (including ancient scale weights, seal impressionsmedals, and modern fakes). These range in place and period from Archaic Greece and Classical India to the Netherlands in the sixteenth century and the United States in the nineteenth century.

Samian lead hemistater (ANS 1979.116.1)
Samian lead hemistater (ANS 1979.116.1)

Lead coins of all periods generally fall into one of four main categories:

  • Counterfeits intended to deceive the unwary in commercial transactions. This use of lead can be traced in the Western World all the way back to the late sixth century BC, not long after coinage was invented. Herodotus reports a rumor that Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, struck lead coins and plated them with gold (probably really electrum, an alloy of gold and silver) to buy off a besieging Spartan force in 525/4 BC. Despite the doubts of the Father of History, the ANS collection includes a Samian lead hemistater that tends to support the story as well as several Milesian lead issues of even earlier vintage (c. 560-545 BC). Although plated bronze cores seem to have been far more common than plated lead in later periods, lead counterfeits were still produced by unscrupulous individuals to pass as silver coins as late as the early twentieth century AD. The Society’s collection includes a number of lead U.S. half-dollars, quarters, and dimes that were cast from authentic silver examples, apparently for circulation.
2010.22.11.obvrev.width350
Lead half-dollar (ANS 1934. 2010.22.11)
  • Official coinages. When other forms of metal currency—especially copper/bronze—were in short supply, governments sometimes produced official fiduciary coinages in lead as a means of preventing the collapse of quotidian transactions. Thus, in southern China of the Ten Kingdoms Period (AD 907-979) lead coins were cast both officially and in private with value ratings against copper cash coins. Lead sporadically occurs as a coinage metal in India of the Classical Period (first-third centuries AD), especially in central India, but also later under the occupation of the English East India Company in the eighteenth century. The Company’s lead pice not only filled a need for low-value coinage, but also returned a hefty profit since the face value of the coin was much greater than the cost of the lead from which it was made.
Lead pice, Mumbai, 1741 (ANS 1988.21.63)
Lead pice, Mumbai, 1741 (ANS 1988.21.63)
  • These coin-like objects are distinguished from emergency coinages in that they were produced officially or privately usually to be exchanged for goods or services rather than to circulate as money, although in times when other low value coin was scarce they were pressed into service as emergency money. In Roman times, tokens, known as tesserae, were used by emperors and lesser officials in Rome and the provinces to distribute the grain dole and other bonuses to the populace. The also seem to have been used by private businesses. The ANS collection is notable for a group of tesserae from the Roman client-kingdom of Nabataea, which may have been distributed in the context of a religious celebration or were used as tokens to purchase votive gifts in a temple. English shopkeepers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also often produced their own tokens in part because there was rarely enough copper halfpence in circulation for daily transactions. Lead tokens made business more manageable and some of the more trusted issues even gained the status of local currencies. Lead tokens were still used by small businesses in North America and elsewhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Lead tessera (ANS 1967.160.11)
Lead tessera (ANS 1967.160.11)
  • Test strikes and patterns. As a soft metal, lead was often used for trial strikes at many mints in different periods in order to test the quality of dies and their engraving or as patterns for coins and medals not yet struck. The ANS collection includes a variety of lead trial pieces and patterns for U.S. coins that were ultimately rejected by the Mint. It also holds numerous lead trial pieces for medals struck or planned by the American Numismatic Society during its long history as a medal-producing institution. Indeed, even as late as the 1990s lead blanks were used to demonstrate hammer-striking when the Society used to have its open house at the old Audubon Terrace location. Some readers may still have one of these ANS “test strikes” carried off as a memento. As one of the demonstrators back then, I still have mine. Out of a concern for safety, all demonstration strikes made at the ANS now use plasticene rather than lead.
Lead half-dollar, Philadelphia, 1859 (ANS 1956.122.3)
Lead half-dollar, Philadelphia, 1859 (ANS 1956.122.3)

It is easy to love gold and silver, but this brief survey of the Society’s holdings of lead should shown that their humble cousin, lead, is of comparable interest from the historical and numismatic technical perspective. Just because they are often small, have less than stunning patinas, and could cause physical harm if you do not wash your hands after handling them, there is no reason why they should not sometimes share the spotlight with their shinier and more attractive relatives. After all, in some cases there might not have been the finished gold or silver coin in the trays if there had not already been a lead piece first.

Chinese Notes Update: Beware of Works Based on a Fraud

Recently on Pocket Change I wrote about Chinese Ming paper notes. Afterward, I was pleased to hear from an expert on the subject, Bruce Smith, who has been studying Chinese coins and paper money for forty years. Most of the information he conveyed comes from a talk he gave at the Chicago International Coin Festival in April 2013.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The earliest western description of the Ming notes that Bruce could find comes from The General History of China, a translation of a 1736 French work by Jean Baptiste DuHalde that was a compilation of reports by Jesuit missionaries. Early descriptions can also be found in articles by John Williams for the Numismatic Chronicle (1863 and 1864) and in two Journal Asiatique articles, “Sur l’Origine du Papier Monnaie” by Jules Henri Klaproth (1822) and “Memoire sur le Systeme Monetaire des Chinoises” by Edouard C. Biot (1837).

Chinese book 0535_001In the twentieth century, much of the writing on early Chinese notes, including the article by John Sandrock (parts 1&2) cited in my original post, was based on the research of Andrew McFarland Davis in the 1910s. Davis, an authority on U.S. Colonial notes, stepped outside of his area of expertise when he published descriptions and illustrations of early Chinese notes taken directly from Ch’uan Pu T’ung Chih, a work supposedly compiled in the early nineteenth century. The resulting study by Davis and translator Kojiro Tomito, Ancient Chinese Paper Money as Described in a Chinese Work on Numismatics (1918), was used by subsequent writers such as Henry Ramsden and Howard Bowker. Unfortunately, according to Bruce, the Chinese book on which it is based is a fraud. “All of the notes listed and illustrated in the work are bogus fantasies—they never existed,” he says, so any work based on Davis’s writings are suspect, including the Sandrock article.

Incidentally, one of the frustrating things about the online version of the Sandrock article is the absence of a date or the name of the journal where it was originally published. Bruce cleared that up too. A brief article by Sandrock on topic appeared in the Currency Collector (v.4 n.1, Spring 1963). The source of the online version appears to be Numismatics International’s NI Bulletin (part 1, Nov. 2003; part 2, Dec. 2003).

ANS 0000.999.34324
ANS 0000.999.34324

Finally, Bruce also points out that, while the Ming one kwan (or guan) notes were indeed first made in the late fourteenth century, they continued to be printed and circulated into the sixteenth, so surviving examples, including those in the ANS collection, could come from the later period.

I would like to thank Bruce for contributing so much on this fascinating topic.

David Hill

The World’s Oldest Surviving Paper Money

In 1923, Dr. Richard Ehrenfeld of Vienna wrote to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to announce that he had in his possession the oldest bank note in existence, a one kwan (or guan) issue of the Ming dynasty from about the year 1375, discovered in 1888 during the demolition of an old house in Beijing and acquired by his father, paper money collector Adolf Ehrenfeld. Richard had inherited the note and, suspecting that “European collectors or Museums nowadays have not the money to acquire so valuable an object,” he turned to America instead, looking to part with it “should a price approximate to the value of the note be offered me,” a figure he put at about fifty thousand dollars (roughly one million dollars today).

Howland Wood
Howland Wood

The Met passed Ehrenfeld’s letter on to the ANS, which left curator Howland Wood to deliver the bad news. His father’s note was not worth fifty thousand dollars. It was worth five dollars. Wood knew this because he had sold fourteen of them himself for that price. There were many others in New York alone, Wood told him, including several in the collections of the ANS.

The problem for Mr. Ehrenfeld, as Wood explained, was that his treasured item was not as rare as it once had been. In 1900, some European soldiers, who had been sent to China to restore peace during the Boxer Rebellion but who were instead ransacking the imperial Summer Palace, discovered a large quantity of these notes under an overturned statue of Buddha. (An entire bale of one kwan Ming dynasty notes would be discovered in 1936, hidden in an old wall outside of Beijing.) Ehrenfeld was right about one thing. Well, almost: with very few exceptions, these are the oldest examples of paper money known to have survived.

Marco Polo, Wikipedia
Marco Polo, Wikipedia

The Chinese not only invented paper, they invented paper money during the reign of emperor Chen Tsung (998-1022 AD). Examples predating the Ming notes are rarely encountered and are limited to fragments, modern facsimiles made from brass plates recovered in excavations, and a few notes reportedly held in museums. In 1988, Bank Note Reporter announced the discovery of two notes dating from 1265, one at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and the other illustrated in a book published by the Inner Mongolia Numismatic Research Institute. These notes date from the period just before the arrival of Marco Polo at the court of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. Polo was fascinated by the “coinage of this paper-money,” describing it as a kind of alchemy, mulberry bark transformed into paper having the same value as gold and silver.

Of course it doesn’t matter that no one then or now would pay fifty thousand dollars for Ehrenfeld’s note. It is a great thrill just to be able to hold one of these historical artifacts.

Chinese bank note
ANS, 0000.999.52979

The first thing you notice is the size (22.5 cm x 33.5 cm), which is close to a standard sheet of U.S. office paper. The mulberry paper is thick and textured with the characters and symbols printed in black and then overprinted with vermilion seals, which are only faintly visible in the photo above. At the center of this “Great Ming General Circulation Treasure Note” is a pictorial presentation of the denomination in the form of ten strings of 100 cash (= 1000 cash = 1 kwan). Those able to read the inscriptions can tell you that the issuers were not content with a simple “In God We Trust.” Instead they made sure to include a warning to those thinking about making unauthorized copies. It reads, in part, “the counterfeiter shall summarily be decapitated.” Although Howland Wood did not purchase Ehrenfeld’s note, the ANS at present has five examples of this historical Chinese paper money.

For more, see the highly informative “Ancient Chinese Cash Notes – The World’s First Paper Money,” part 1 and part 2, by John Sandrock at the Currency Collector website.

Update: For more on ancient Chinese notes, see this follow-up post.

David Hill