18. East Asian Coins in North America

Asian Coins in North America is the title of Chapter 4 in Numismatic Archaeology of North America – A Field Guide, by Marjorie H. Akin, James C. Bard, and Kevin Akin (New York: Routledge, 2016). ISBN 978-1-61132-920-9 paperback (also available in hardback and ebook).


The book contains a lot of interesting information about East Asian coins found in North America, largely thanks to Marjorie H. Akin.

“Marjorie H. Akin has spent most of her life in California where she completed her education (PhD, University of Riverside, 1996), married, and raised four children. Her area of specialization within the field of historic archaeology is numismatics, and included among her publications are contributions to Roberta Greenwood’s Down by the Station: Los Angeles Chinatown 1890-1933, Julia Costello’s The Luck of Third Street, and many articles and reports about Asian coins recovered in North America. Her publications in other fields include the seminal essay “Passionate Possession: The Formation of Private Collections” (Smithsonian, 1992), which examined the world of collectors and the often-fractious relationship between archaeologists and collectors. She has been active in the Riverside “Save Our Chinatown Committee” to protect the archaeological remains of Riverside’s Chinatown from development (see www.saveourchinatown.org).” (from about the authors, on p.290)

East Asian coins are mentioned throughout the book, but, the authors write, “Chinese coins and similar Asian coins were never used as circulating currency anywhere in North America, so they have been separated from the other coins that are discussed in this book.” (p.65).

The structure of Chapter 4: Asian Coins in North America (pp.65-81)

  • Why are Asian coins found in North America?
    • Why wen and dong could not have circulated as money
  • The types of Asian coins used in North America
    • Chinese coins
      • Qing period currency systems (1644-1911)
      • Description of wen
      • Avoiding confusion
      • Counterfeits, replicas and forgeries
      • Inscriptions
      • Qing reign names
      • Qing mints
      • Hong Kong mil or wen
    • Vietnamese coins
      • Description
      • Some Vietnamese reign names
    • Japanese mon (1626-1870)
      • Japanese coins exported to China and beyond
    • Korean mon (1678-1888)
  • The Noncurrency uses of Asian coins in North America
    • Fur trade and Native American uses
    • The uses of wen and other Asian coins by the overseas Chinese
    • Talismans
    • Funerary
    • Games and gambling
    • Decoration
    • Medical
    • Hardware

“This book is primarily intended to help archaeologists and historians, as well as people working in the fields of material culture and museum studies, understand just how much information can be gleaned from the complex objects that are collectively referred to as numismatic artifacts. Because they are so complex, combining the economic, political, and aesthetic values of their temporal context, it is not surprising that any archaeologist working with recovered items would need numismatic resources to help understand their significance. New archaeological methods of analysis and what they can reveal will be of interest to more experienced numismatists who want to deepen their understanding and appreciation of numismatic materials and who wish to learn about the relationship between numismatics and archaeology.” (Ch.1, p.19)


UPDATE 27 Sept 2017 — see also Akin, Marjorie Kleiger. “The Noncurrency Functions of Chinese Wen in America,” Historical Archaeology, vol. 26, no. 2, 1992, pp. 58–65. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25616157



  1. The article “Passionate Possession: the formation of private collections is” is updated as the final chapter of Numismatic Archaeology of North America. I still believe that more cooperation is needed between collectors and academics. Margie Akin, author.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s