76. Framed displays of Japanese money as Western Decorative Arts

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.

Fig. 1 Framed Display of “Japanese Old Gold and Silver Coins”, Japan, ca. 1580–1850. Various metals, 71.8 × 52.1 cm. Yale University Art Gallery, Transfer from the Yale University Library, Numismatic Collection, 2001, 2001.87.65009

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.

Fig.2 Title label 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).

Fig.3 One of the labels

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.

Fig. 4 Close up of lower half with frame removed before conservation treatment in 2018

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.

Fig. 5 Close up of upper right quadrant before conservation treatment in 2018

If you know of pieces similar to these please reach out to Emily Pearce Seigerman at

75. Chinese coins and reign/base marks on ceramics

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?

Photo from Amelia (2)

Label text at the Bristol Museum. (Image source: Amelia Dowler)

IMG_0281 (2)

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.


 Yaozhou meiping vase incised with coin-pattern, Song dynasty. Photo Paragon International Auctioneers (image source: Alain Truong2014.wordpress.com)














74. Book: China’s Foreign Debt (catalogue of bonds and stock certificates)

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

bond book


1. Preface
2. A few historical considerations
2a. Some aspects of China’s financial history
2b. Chronology
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
1a. Loan agreement
1b. Bond issues, specimens
1c. Reserve stock, duplicates
1d. Floatage, temporary bonds
1e. Inscribability, registerability
1f. Securities
1g. Drawing procedures
2. Introduction to the Catalogue
2a. Numbering system
2b. Other abbreviations
2c. Currencies
2d. Dates
2e. Denominations (= nominal or face value)
2f. Number issued and outstanding
2g. Colour
2h. Usual condition; grading
2j. Valuation
2k. Size
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:

bond AN01556027_001_l

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)

72. Digitization Project: Chinese Banknotes at the NNM, Smithsonian

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…)

70. The Mao Era in Objects – Money

69. Chinese Song/Yuan dynasty silver ingot design on a lacquer coffer?

Sometimes things just stick in the mind… two years ago at a British Museum study day on Understanding the Silk Road, Dr Ladan Akbarnia gave a very interesting talk about the lacquered traveling coffer in the Brooklyn Museum: for more photos and details, see the Brooklyn Museum website: (more…)

67. The T.S. Bayer Collection, Glasgow

Earlier this month, I was in Glasgow, and went to see some of the collections of Theophilus Siegfried Bayer (1694-1738), Sinologist and Professor of Greek and Roman Antiquities at St Petersburg, 1726-1738, who was one of the first (perhaps the first?) European sinologist to consider Chinese numismatics seriously, and who published De Re Nummaria Sinorum in 1737. (more…)