Seaborne Trade in the East Indies and the Far East during XVIIth-XIXth Centuries

Le Commerce maritime aux Indes orientales et en Extrême-Orient aux XVIIe-XIXe siècles: Aspects monétaires et numismatiques [Seaborne Trade in the East Indies and the Far East during XVIIth-XIXth Centuries: Monetary and numismatic points of view] has just arrived! It contains papers presented at the conference of the same name, the second conference organised by the Société de Numismatique Asiatique, which took place in Versailles, in December 2016, with the support of Spink.


I’ll list the contents below, with the English abstracts:


  • Préface – by Michel Amandry (Président de la Société Française de Numismatique) (p. 5)
  • Envois de métaux précieux aux Indes orientales par les Européens au XVIIIe s. – by Philippe Haudrère (Professeur des Universités, historien des compagnies françaises des Indes, author of Les Compagnies des Indes orientales, Paris, 2006) (pp. 7-14)
    • Abstract: About 75% of the value of freight shipped to the East Indies by the French were due to precious metal: 60% for the British; 22% for the Dutch. It’s a means to compensate the shortage of the balance of trade between the two continents. What was the metal they dealt with and by what means did they get it? For the main part, silver, and especially “Spanish-struck” piastres often bought in Cadiz, the final harbour for the galleons turning back from Spanish America. In this stream of trade, 70% of the precious metal extracted from the American mines were shipped to the East Indies, yearly about 230 tons. It’s a huge and essential complement for the Asian currency!
  • The English Coinage of the Bombay Presidency – by Paul Stevens (specialist on East India Company coinage, author of The Coinage of the Hon. East India Company, London, 2012) (pp. 15-21)
    • Abstract: In the 1670s the English East India Company (EIC) acquired the island of Bombay from the Portuguese and, since they considered this to be sovereign territory, they felt that they had the right to establish a mint and strike coins, which they duly did. After several abortive attempts at producing silver coins in the Moghul style they finally received permission to strike this style of coin in 1717. In 1800 the EIC acquired Surat and began producing coins of the Surat standard at both Bombay and Surat. Eventually in the 1830s machinery was installed in the Bombay mint. Finally later in the 1830s and 1840s the uniform coinage produced for the whole of the British territories across India was introduced into the Bombay Presidency.
  • Le monnayage de l’Inde française (1700-1840): à propos de classement et de chronologie – by Daniel Cariou (Président de la Société Bretonne de Numismatique et d’Histoire) (pp. 23-30)
    • Abstract: The French India coinage is rather well-known. Nevertheless some details are to be deepened: how many mints under the French rule? Pondicherry, Mazulipatam? Murshidabad, Surat, Chandernagor are mostly debatable. Some coins are struck for the internal use of the settlements, other ones to be transferred and accepted in India. Then they bear a privy mark. Among these coins, it’s necessary to distinguish those struck by the various French authorities: the East India companies, the rule of the king, the Revolution and the various rulers until 1840.
  • Arkhat rupees with a Latin D: Danish or French? – by Jan Lingen (specialist on South and Southeast Asian coinages, author of Marwar, Jodhpur State: history and coinage of the former Indian princely state of Jodhpur, 2012) (pp. 31-37)
    • Abstract: A major trade coin in India was the so-called Arkhat or Arcot rupee, struck by the Nawab of Arkat at his mint at Arkat and also at several country-mints under his control. Alamparai was one of the Nawab’s mints from where the French in September 1736 received the dies for the minting of Arkat rupees at Pondicherry. Two ‘Arkat’ rupees in the name of Ahmad Shah Bahadur, with a mint-mark of a Latin D and dated resp. Ry 4 and Ry 7 have surfaced. The coin with Ry 7 has been described as an issue of the Danish Company, however, the issue with Ry 4 (1751-52) was struck prior to the date that the Danes obtained their minting rights. Could therefore the rupees with this Latin D-mark, which are rather identical to the French Pondicherry rupees, be a Danish issue, or are there also other possibilities? That will be the question to be discussed, whereby Alamparai, a French possession from 1750-1760, is a serious contender.
  • Les monnaies du Cambodge d’après les sources européenes (XVIw-XVIIIe s.) – by  Alain Escabasse (Secrétaire de la Société Numismatique Asiatique) (pp. 39-56)
    • Abstract: If the monetary history of the Cambodia since the reign of Ang Duong (1847-1860) is rather well-known by documents, nevertheless we know few things upon the local post-Angkorian coinage, between the XVIth century, when it appears, until the end of the XVIIIth. The tales of Europeans, as travellers (missionaries, traders), or merely writers of books upon the trade in the East Indies, are the main source of information upon this long monetary era during which the Khmer monarchy had to face tough periods, and about that we lack of official records. A former search to set up a “Numismatic bibliography of Cambodia” let us list some Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French authors, who gave information upon the coins used in the realm. Here we study the context of the most important testimonies, and then shortly analyse the information they give, finally compared to the other available data.
  • Chinese influence in the Former Dutch East Indies as evidenced by the circulation of cash coins and other Chinese style pieces – by Tjong Ding YIH  (Independent researcher, specialist in Asiatic numismatics, The Netherlands) (pp. 57-67)
    • Abstract: It is well known that at the arrival of the Europeans in the East Indies Chinese cash (picis) were the circulating currency that had replaced the former gold and silver coins. Nevertheless, relatively few papers have been published dealing with the typology of the cash-like local coinage. Local cash-like coins from Java have been reported and recently on Sumatra, due to draggings in the Musi river at Palembang and the Batanghari river at Jambi a substantial number of new types turned up. The aim of this paper is to extend the knowledge of this interesting, but neglected coinage by providing a small catalogue. These coins reflect the influence of the Chinese in the archipelago.
  • Les caxas chinois de Quanzhou pour le commerce au sultanat de Banten et îles voisines, aux XVIe-XVIIe s. – by François Joyaux (Professeur des Universités (e.r.) à l’Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris) (pp. 69-80)
    • Abstract: The traders of the western countries who dealed with the Eastern Indies had a former knowledge of a “small coin cast in Chinceo, town of China, only currency since 1590”. Most of European encyclopaedias and trade handbooks quote this coin. This town Chinceo – Quanzhou, today – included an important Muslim community dealing with the Indonesian archipelago, mainly Banten for the pepper. These “tiny coins” were in fact light and of bad alloy sapèques, especially cast in Quanzhou to gain pepper at low price.
  • Le désordre dans la circulation monétaire en Chine sous Qian Long: le témoignage de l’ambassadeur vietnamien, 1761-62 – by François Thierry (Conservateur général honoraire, chargé des Monnaies orientales aux département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France (pp. 81-91)
    • Abstract: As a lettered high civil servant, Le Quy Don (1726-1784) left from his travel towards the Chinese chief town in 1760-61 a narrative of the Chinese currency background he met. He quotes precisely the different types of coins used, the values of these coins according to the areas he goes through, Nanning, Wuzhou, Guilin, Quanzhou, the number of coins lacking in a ligature, and so on. In fact, if this large monetary disorder then spread upon China is compared to the monetary system of his own country, the trouble of Le Quy Don, regarding such a situation, is explainable.
  • Le Dai Viet: problèmes monétaires et commerce international (XVIIe-XVIIIe s.) – by Frédéric Mantienne (Docteur en histoire de l’EPHE (IVe section), ancien professeur associé à l’Université de La Rochelle) (pp. 93-102)
    • Abstract: The Dai Viet empire is then divided between two principalities: one in the north (chief town Thanh Long – Hanoi), the other in the centre of the present Vietnam (Hue). The two states are rather poor, offering only agricultural goods to export (peculiarly, silk). They used weapons, copper, luxury goods for the courts. Scarcely export-oriented, they are dependant of foreign traders (Chinese, and Dutch and British East India Companies). Then the currency is only based on the sapèque, a tiny coin but convenient for the internal trade, often depreciated by impoverishment of its alloy (copper, but often another alloy named “toutenargue”). As metal or coins, the copper has to be imported. In Vietnam, gold and silver are of none monetary use. So mainly the Chinese, and the Europeans have to create commercial roundabout ways to bring copper. Unaware of this the French East India Company will fail repeatedly.
  • Archives – Un manuscript français de numismatique indienne (pp. 103-112)
    • about the manuscript Histoire des Pièces de Monnoyes qui ont été frappées dans l’Indoustan, tirée de plusieurs historiens du Pays, by M. Gentil, colonel au service de France dans l’Inde, chevalier de l’Ordre Royal et Militaire de St Louis, Résidant de France à la Cour du Nabab d’Aoud (Bibliothèque nationale de France : Manuscrits français 25287, 127 pages)

The account books of Derek Bryan, consular official in Peking (Beijing), in the 1930s

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) recently acquired “The Personal Papers of Derek Bryan, Consular Official and Teacher” [SOAS PP MS 99]. Derek Bryan went to China in 1932, aged 21, as a student interpreter with the Foreign Office, and remained there, on and off, until 1951. Back in the UK, he worked to encourage understanding of China, writing and teaching. He was very much involved in the Britain-China Friendship Association (BCFA), and founded the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) in 1965. Among his papers are very detailed financial accounts and letters home. Further biographical information for Hermann Derek Bryan (1910-2003) can be found on the SOAS blog.

SOAS Archivist John Langdon has kindly written this blog, focusing on Derek Bryan’s account books of the 1930s: 

Derek Bryan’s career was closely tied to China, first as a consular official and later as a teacher and advocate of closer Sino-British relations. This blog post looks at what his account books, now held in SOAS Archives & Special Collections, can tell of his early days in China when he was first posted to Peking (Beijing) in the 1930s. Peking was a city on the brink of great change, and Bryan’s accounts capture a way of life that was shortly to vanish, swept away by the Japanese occupation and the Communist revolution, all witnessed by Bryan from a succession of posts in China.

Arriving in Peking as a student interpreter in 1933, one of Bryan’s first actions was to exchange the £3 10s 5d he had left from his journey into Chinese currency. His accounts record that he received $56.40 in Chinese dollars.


Entries for January 1933, showing Bryan’s exchange of £3 10s 5d into $56.40, as well as 6s in poker winnings (PP MS 99/01/01/07) © SOAS Library

Provided with rooms in the student mess, some of Bryan’s earliest purchases show him settling into his new surroundings. The day after he arrived he bought furniture for $35.00 and was shown around Peking before spending the evening playing pin pool with one of his new colleagues. Subsequent purchases included ash trays ($0.80), a tea service ($20.20), a lampshade ($3.00) and a cocktail set ($8.80). He also had his chair covers dyed ($6.00). Bryan equipped himself with books that he needed as he learned Chinese, such as Soothill’s dictionary ($2.80).

Bryan later recalled that Foreign Office advice to students stated that there was no use for bowler hats in Peking. He may not have had a bowler, but he did make sure he had appropriate hats to hand. He bought a Panama hat for $1.20 and a straw hat for $2.30 during his first spring in Peking followed by a fur hat for $4.00 in the winter, to add to the sun helmet he had bought in Port Said on the voyage out (10s).

Once he had settled in, Bryan’s expenses became more routine. His hair cuts cost $1.00, as did regular purchases of gramophone needles. Rickshaw rides cost only a few cents. Bryan was a frequent letter writer, corresponding regularly with his family in England. His quarterly postage bills ranged from $2.00 to $10.00 in 1933. His accounts rarely mention food, except for occasional meals out, and he would presumably mostly have eaten in the student mess.


Expenses for April 1933, including Soothill’s dictionary, a cinema visit and gramophone needles (PP MS 99/01/01/07) © SOAS Library

Bryan later wrote of his student days in Peking that they ‘amounted to a small amount of Chinese culture and an endless round of Western social life’. Studying in the mornings, many of his afternoons were free to spend as he wished. His accounts record excursions, such as those to the Great Wall ($12.00 in total) and to the Summer Palace (which cost $2.80 for car hire, $1.00 for teas, and $1.50 in entrance fees) in the spring of 1933. A trip to the races in April 1933 cost Bryan $1.50 for his share of the car hire but $3.60 in betting losses. He played hockey and tennis (his hockey shirt cost $5.00, his tennis racquet and press $11.50), went riding (he gave the groom a $5.00 tip at Christmas 1933), and skated in the winter.


Entries for June 1933, including rickshaws and dinner at the Hôtel du Nord (PP MS 99/01/01/07) © SOAS Library

In the evenings Bryan was a frequent visitor to the cinema. His accounts list the films he saw, including Dawn Patrol, the 1930 film directed by Howard Hawks which he saw twice, or the 1932 comedy The Indiscretions of Eve directed by Cecil Lewis, which he found ‘good in parts’. Tickets were $1.50. He also played bridge and vingt-et-un, with his wins and losses set out in his accounts. Over the course of 1933 he came out behind, losing $17.05. Other evenings were spent at the club playing snooker or pin pool.

Overall Bryan lived within his budget. Bryan’s annual salary was £300, which he converted to roughly $4600. He allowed himself $40 a month for his personal expenses, not including his fixed monthly outgoings. These included his mess bill of $75, the club at $20, his bottle club at $10, and $70 for his servant. This left him able to save a significant part of his salary, particularly once he had paid the one-off costs associated with moving to a new country. It is perhaps not surprising that he later recalled he and his fellow students as having lived ‘the life of young lords’.

The Nicholas Rhodes Collection of Tibetan Coins

A reminder of how useful auction catalogues can be…  The Nicholas Rhodes Collection of Tibetan Coins  (羅寶士收藏 : 中國西藏錢幣 中國西藏紙幣), sold by Spink China, 21 August 2013, in Hong Kong – is available online.  (more…)

Marco Polo Studies and Yuan dynasty money

There was a very interesting conference in Tübingen this week: Marco Polo Studies: Past, Present, Future (I’ve copied and pasted the programme below). It was an intense, and friendly, workshop, bringing together expertise from different fields. I’m not an expert in this period, and felt very honoured to be invited, and to have the chance to learn from specialists from Austria, China, France, Germany, Italy and the USA. I gave a powerpoint presentation packed with images, aiming to illustrate representative pieces and introduce some recent work. I mentioned, for example: (more…)

Academic Conference Proceedings of Gold and Silver Currency and Social Life

This volume of papers by some of the leading numismatists in China was published in time for the Academic Conference of Gold and Silver Currency and Social Life, that took place in Hangzhou on 14 June 2017. It was organised by the Zhejiang Provincial Museum (浙江省博物馆) and the China Numismatic Society’s Special Committee on Gold and Silver Money (中国钱币学会金银货币专业委员会). The editor-in-chief of the volume is Li Xiaoping 李小萍, of the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, who is well-known in China for her expertise in gold and silver ingots and coins. (more…)

Zhu Xihua, coin designer and engraver

Zhu Xihua 朱熙华, coin designer and engraver at the Shanghai Mint Co Ltd 上海造币有限公司 has just been honoured with a Shanghai Skilled Worker Award. (more…)

Chinese Coins from the Scholar’s Study

“Chinese Coins from the Scholar’s Study” at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, opened on 25 April. It closes on Sunday 24 September. It’s a small, but thoughtful display and well worth a visit if you can make it. (more…)