The Durham University Archaeology Laboratory Collection houses a wide variety of objects obtained over many years for teaching and learning purposes, many with unknown histories. One such object is a coin sword (Figure 1). Coin swords, also known as cash swords, evil-warding swords, exorcising swords, and magic swords, are generally believed to have been used within Chinese households to ward off evil spirits. In Chinese, they are known as 辟邪剑 bixiejian (evil-averting sword), 钱剑 qianjian (coin-sword), 古钱剑 guqianjian (old coin sword), and 铜钱剑 tongqianjian (copper coin sword).
The precise history of this sword is unknown. The only documentation it possesses is a small label tied to the hilt, which gives the date of ‘5 Jan 77’, but is otherwise mostly illegible (Figure 2).
The sword is composed of 66 coins in total: 42 on the blade, 16 on the guard and 8 on the pommel. The coins are fastened by red and yellow cords onto an iron rod which extends throughout the full length of the sword (Figure 3).
The sword is not unique and various other similar comparative pieces are in museums and private collections worldwide. Coin swords can be found in the collections of the British Museum, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Scotland, Horniman Museum and Gardens, the Science Museum in London and many other places. Despite the apparent prevalence of coin swords, little information is available about their use and their place within Chinese material culture. However, suggestions have been made of their connection to Taoist rituals and deities, Feng Shui and Chinese numismatic charms. For example, Doré (1914, p. 507) suggests that coin swords were made to represent the exorcising sword of the Daoist magician Zhong Kui.
If you have any knowledge or guidance on how they were used, who made and used them, or their connections to Chinese religion and culture, please contact Anna Crowther at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Helen Wang, Emily Williams and Helen Armstrong for their help and assistance with this artefact research so far.
DeGroot, J.J.M. (1910) The religious system of China: Its ancient forms, evolution, history and present aspect, manners, customs and social institutions connected therewith Vol. VI. Leyden: E.J. Brill.
Doolittle, J. (1868) Social life of the Chinese. A daguerrotype of daily life in China, (Paxton Hood ed.) London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston.
Doré, H. (1914) Researches into Chinese superstitions Vol. V (Recherches sur les superstitions chinois), translated by M. Kennelly et al. Shanghai: T’usewei Printing Press.
The survey covers three countries: China, Japan and Korea, and all types of objects, including numismatic material. The types of objects are: (1) Works on Paper/Silk/Pith, (2) Metalwork, (3) Cloisonné and Glass, (4) Ceramics, (5) Lacquer, (6) Carved Ivory/Stone/Wood, (7) Textiles, Dress/Embroidery, (8) Fibre/Bamboo/Wooden Structures, (9) Numismatics, (10) Photography, (11) Miscellany. The inclusion of a separate section devoted to numismatics is a very welcome development, the initiative of Dr Qin CAO, now a curator at the NMS, and previously a Future Curator in Asian Numismatics at the British Museum and the Manchester Museum.
For convenience, I’ve pulled out the information relating to money and medals, and present it below:
For further details of the collections and provenances, see the full report.
Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums
China: a small collection of Chinese coins (thought to have been in circulation in Japan); renminbi notes from the 1990s; 1 coin-sword formed by coins from the Xianfeng reign (1850-1861)
Japan: a range of Meiji-period (1868-1912) currency issued in the 1870s; a silver ichibu-gin (1837); a copper-alloy hyakumon (1835-1868)
China: 1-yuan banknote issued by the Farmers Bank of China, 1933; 2-yuan banknote
Japan: 3 medals (with documentation) donated by George Geddie – Order of the Rising Sun (1905), Order of the Sacred Treasure (1905), a medal from the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) – awarded for his participation in a battle that defeated the Russian Navy in 1905; 2 Japanese occupation notes (Malaya, 1-dollar and 100-dollar); Tenpō tsūhō coin from Fukugawa, 1835
Live Life Aberdeenshire Museums
China: 3 objects comprising cash coins tied to metal bars (19th century); 2 buyuan coins, Beijin/Jizhou; 3 coins from Hong Kong; 3 banknotes of the Central Bank of China
Japan: 3 Meiji-period coins, 1868-1912; 2 post-WWII banknotes; 4 Japanese occupation notes (Burma[Myanmar] and Malaya [Malaysia])
University of Aberdeen Museum
China: examples of rebel coinage; spade coins and knife coins dating from 500 BCE to the 20th century; cash coins of Guangdong and Fujian provinces; Peiyang Arsenal coins from Zhili; a 10-tael silver ingot; a coin-sword
Japan: approx. 50 coins, including a silver coin with the inscription yonbu gorin 四分五厘, awarded to a student who achieved first place in the highest degree in examinations
Korea: 1/4 yang coin, 1898
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Highlife Highland
Black Watch Museum (Perth)
Korea: banknotes issued by the Bank of Koea, 1952-1953
Fife Cultural Trust
China: a few examples of Hong Kong currency from 1866, 1875 and 1904; 2 coin swords
Japan: 1 silver ichi-bu-gin
Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Culture Perth and Kinross
Korea: 2 coin-shaped charms
The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum, Leisure and Culture Dundee
The Cairncross Collection: (approx. 755 coins and 65 amulets from Mr A Cairncross): c.40 coins from the Qin to Tang dynasties; c.230 coins of the Song dynasty; c.45 coins of the Ming dynasty; c.330 coins of the Qing dynasty; c.65 coin-shaped charms and imitations of early knife and spade money; 4 Japanese coins; coin sword; 40 unidentified coins
China: 6 coin swords (Cairncross Collection; Mr A. Jack, donated in 1932; Mrs J. Drummond, donated c.1968); a set of 8 solid metal weights (inscribed qian 錢, liang 兩, jin 斤, dan 擔)
Collection: 439 records for numismatic items, mainly Chinese, with only a few of these being Japanese. According to the records, these date from the 1st- 2nd century to the 18th century
China: coins (from Mr J. Kirkwood); coin swords (from Miss H.L. Moodie, Mr J. Kirkwood)
Japan: 2 Kanei tsuho coins
University of St Andrews Museums
China: a silver ingot; some cash coins
Japan: a coin from 1830-1844
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
George Forrest Collection: record of accounts kept by Zhao Chengzhang (GF’s “right-hand man”) for Forrest (1873-1932), who collected plants in China; steelyard-balance (diaocheng);
Glasgow Museums: Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, The Burrell Collection, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
China: 40 coins
Tibet: 1 silver coin
Low Parks Museum, South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture
Japan: a Tenpō Tsūhō 100-mon piece (1835-1870), a 1-shu piece (isshu gin 一朱銀) possibly from the Kaei period (1848-1854), and two Ae one-sen pieces (1885); a 10-yen note (1946); a 10-yen coin of post-WWII; a 10-cent Japanese Government note (printed in English); Japanese occupation notes (Singapore/Malaya; Burma, 1942)
The Dick Institute, East Ayrshire Leisure
China: 357 coins – cash coins, oval coins, coins of ‘unusual shape’ (possibly knife and spade coins), and coins from Hong Kong; 2 catalogues of ancient coins; coin swords; 8 porcelain coins [HW: perhaps Thai “pee”?]
Japan: a small collection of Japanese coins; Japanese occupation notes
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
China: knife money (from A.C. Johnstone and James R. Lockie); cash coins; banknotes; 10-tael silver ingot from the Republican period (1912-1949)
Japan: several koban, 17th-18th centuries
The McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock
China: coin sword (from John S. Barclay)
Dumfries Museum, Dumfries and Galloway Council Arts and Museums Service
China: a small collection of coins, including spade money
Hawick Museum, Live Borders Museums, Galleries & Archives
China: 40 Chinese coins, incl. 16 cash coins, Fujian, 1662-1723; 1 spade money (huobu) [HW: probably spade-money issued by Wang Mang?]; 2 banknotes of the Farmers Bank of China (1-yuan, 5 yuan); 1 banknote of the Central Bank of China (10-dollars)
China: ‘Value of Cargo at Shanghai Dock’ 上海船頭貨價紙, document printed on silk, Shanghai, 1861 — “A ‘rectangle of light blue silk printed with black Japanese or Chinese characters’ was listed in Transactions of the Hawick Archaeological Society, dated 11 May 1875, as ‘Chinese newspaper printed on blue satin for the use of the Emperor’. This item was donated by Samuel Mossman who had been living in Shanghai and working for the North China Herald newspaper. The text has the title: Value of Cargo at Shanghai Dock (Shanghai chuantou huozhizhi 上海船頭貨值紙) and is dated the 16th day of the 10th month in 1861. This weekly publication lists the names of the ships’ captains and the ships expected to unload their cargo at the docks on the Huangpu river.”
Japan: 1 hansatsu of the Edo-period (c.1603-1868) for 1 monme of silver 銀壱匁; 21 Japanese coins, incl a copy of a coin from 1100 CE; 2 Japanese occupation notes (10 rupees, 10 dollars)
Korea: 1 banknote, 10 jeon, 1962
NOTE: The review specifically covered East Asian collections in museums. There may also be numismatic collections in libraries: for example, the collection of Theophilus Siegfried Bayer (1694-1738) in the Special Collections and Archives of the University of Glasgow Library. Bayer was perhaps the first European to take Chinese numismatics seriously – see my earlier post about his collection. If you know of any other East Asian numismatic collections in Scotland, please leave a comment below.
This was the title of my paper at the Art, Materiality and Representation conference, held in London, June 2018. The participants were all people who work in museums or places with Asian collections – and how they have reconsidered the collections, displays, interpretations, etc, bearing in mind changing attitudes and changing audiences. The proceedings of the conference (11 papers) have just been published online, open-access, and links to the contents are given below:
Dr Sana Shilstein at the Weizman Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, recently contacted me with the results of a metallurgical project looking at the composition of lead inclusions in modern and ancient leaded tin bronzes. He encourages anyone interested in this project to contact him by email at email@example.com
S. Shilstein , A. Berner , Y. Feldman , S. Shalev & Yu. Rosenberg (2019), Distinguishability between ancient and modern leaded tin bronzes by the composition of their lead inclusions, STAR: Science & Technology of Archaeological Research, 5:2, 29-35. DOI:10.1080/20548923.2019.1649082
ABSTRACT: The composition of lead inclusions in modern and ancient leaded tin bronzes was studied by XRay Diffraction (XRD) and Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) in Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Lattice parameter of lead inclusions in all bronzes was smaller than the lattice parameter of pure lead. This determination indicates that lead inclusions in bronzes are nothing else but Pb–Sn solid solutions. Tin concentration in lead inclusions in modern bronzes was not less than 3 at% in accordance with the Pb–Sn phase diagram, tin concentration in lead inclusions of ancient bronzes was as low as 1 at%. This difference enables a distinction between ancient bronze artefacts and modern products including the most sophisticated fakes. On the other hand, our work demonstrates that the generally accepted Pb–Sn phase diagram corresponds to an incomplete equilibrium state and only after centuries-long aging at ambient temperatures does the Pb–Sn solid solution reach real equilibrium.
The Yale University Art Gallery’s Department of Numismatics houses well over 120,000 objects of numismatic and para-numismatic material representative of international traditions and cultures from more than two millennia. While the majority of objects are coins, medals, and paper currencies, the Collection also houses fine and decorative arts objects, printing plates, dies, books, and documents related to commerce traditions. One such decorative arts object is this large framed display containing 33 replicas of Edo (Tokugawa)-period (1603-1868) Japanese coins.
Look underneath Ming and Qing dynasty ceramics, and you’ll often find a reign mark or another kind of mark on the base (Chinese: 底款 dikuan – base-mark). Sometimes these are presented in a way that references Chinese coin designs – some base-marks look like coins: some have a square mark in the middle of a round base (like the hole in a coin?), and/or two concentric circles (like the outer rim of a coin?). Some even have an inscription arranged top-bottom-right-left as on coins, although this is sometimes a good luck inscription, as found on coin-shaped charms. Chinese coins had reign periods as part of the inscription several centuries earlier than the Ming dynasty, but when do Chinese coin-shaped base-marks first start to appear on ceramics? Which came first – the reign-period base-mark or the Chinese coin-inspired base-mark? What is the earliest evidence of a Chinese coin-inspired base-mark?
Blue and white ‘coin’ dish, 17th century (Sotheby’s, New York, 19-20 March 2013)
Chinese coins were used decoratively and symbolically at least as early as the Han dynasty. And coin-designs featured on the body of Chinese ceramics long before the Ming dynasty, as in the Song dynasty vase below.
The library of the Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum, has just acquired a copy of this illustrated catalogue, published almost 40 years ago in 1983:
Wilhelm KUHLMANN, China’s Foreign Debt 1865-1982 : Excluding the Debt of the ROC Taiwan (privately published by the author), Hannover, 1983. ISBN 0-9610400-0-9
2. A few historical considerations
2a. Some aspects of China’s financial history
2c. Yen-denominated bond issues
2d. Direct loans of foreign governments to China
2e. Private investments in China
3. Recent developments
3a. Foreign funds raised by the PRC to finance imports
3b. The Sino-US claims settlement agreement
3c. Development in Great Britain
3d. Other countries
3e. The PRC’s first trial to launch an external bond issue
3f. Bondholders’ struggles for redemption
3g. The Hukuang Case, by Prof. Hubert Park Beck
3h. The actual estimate of China’s foreign debt in the form of bearer bonds
3j. Charts of the big Chinese government loans
3k. Development of a collector’s market in Chinese bonds 1974-82
1. Financial terms and procedures
1a. Loan agreement
1b. Bond issues, specimens
1c. Reserve stock, duplicates
1d. Floatage, temporary bonds
1e. Inscribability, registerability
1g. Drawing procedures
2. Introduction to the Catalogue
2a. Numbering system
2b. Other abbreviations
2e. Denominations (= nominal or face value)
2f. Number issued and outstanding
2h. Usual condition; grading
2l. Paper quality
2m. The different type settings
2n. Further general remarks
The Collector’s Synopsis of Chinese external bonds
Compilation of Chinese external bonds [ie the catalogue]
Appendix 1 – The Sino-German Agreement 1921
Appendix 2 – 4% Russian 1902 (China’s contribution to Russia)
Appendix 3 – Where to buy Chinese bonds
Every so often, someone asks about Chinese bonds and share certificates in the British Museum collection. There are a few in the BM Collection – see Collection Online (search for China bond), but probably many more in private collections. Here’s one:
Government of the Republic of China Treasury Bond (8% on 500 francs) of 1923, for the Lung-Hsing-U-Hai Railway (BM 2014,4050.1, donated by Dirk Booms)
The Howard F. Bowker Collection in the National Numismatic Museum, at the Smithsonian, has been digitized and is available on the NNM online collection – here’s the weblink (search for “Howard F Bowker”). (more…)
There are several digitization projects happening at the National Numismatic Museum, at the Smithsonian, including this transcription project (I’ve copied and pasted from the NNM website below). Many thanks to Wayne Holmen, editor of The E-sylum for posting info about it (E-sylum, vol. 23, no. 6, February 9, 2020). (more…)