Guest post by Emily Pearce Seigerman
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.
The object’s precise history is uncertain. At the bottom of the frame is a title label “Japanese Old Gold and Silver Coins 大日本古金銀貨幣” in Japanese and English.
In addition to the title label, the 33 replica coins have individual or group labels, printed on paper, in both Japanese and English, identifying them by type, date, metal and weight (in grammes).
It is obvious when looking at these objects that they are replicas, made for display, and never intended to be handled outside of the frame. In 2018, gallery conservation staff captured X-ray fluorescence (XRF) data for all coins within this frame, and found copper and zinc to be the predominant metal throughout rather than gold and silver. The differences in metal composition imply that the objects—though adhered to the backing and as of yet not individually weighed—do not weigh what the labels describe. In other words, they are replicas made with a cheaper metal core that has been coated. The physical differences between these replica coins and authentic Edo (Tokugawa) coinage hints that the objects were not made for recipients familiar with authentic Japanese coins, let alone the large oval pieces of the Edo (Tokugawa) period.
This object is not unique to Yale though similar pieces are not easy to find. Various 19th-century framed displays of East Asian coinage exist in museum collections including the Ashmolean Museum of Art and archaeology, the American Numismatic Society, the Museum der Kulturen Basel (MKB), and the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Asiatic Arts. Information on these objects is available predominantly through scholarship and academic publication as most have not been digitized for online access at this time—my thanks goes to Lyce Jankowski, Helen Wang, and Rais Manon for their research on the Ashmolean, MKB and other pieces. Similar objects have sold through numismatic auction houses and remain in private hands. Many of these framed objects have connections to some of the 19th century’s great curio shops that specialized in the manufacture and selling of Japanese decorative arts objects, silvers, furniture, and lacquers to European collectors. Displays of fantasy Edo coins sometimes appear as collector items offered on internet auction sites or live auctioneers, harkening to collectors of “samurai money” or Asian charms.
If you know of pieces similar to these please reach out to Emily Pearce Seigerman at