41. Chinese guides for identifying silver dollars and other coins, 19th century

There are two Chinese guides – merchant manuals or shroff’s guides – in the Department of Coins and Medals, at The British Museum (nos 4 and 8 below). Several similar guides are known, and I’m grateful to Richard von Glahn and Byron Hamann for sharing their expertise and knowledge on this subject. I’ll give a very brief introduction below, and then share ten of these guides. If you know of others, or of research on these guides, please leave a comment.


Mexican silver dollars, and other silver coins, were known and used in China in the Qing dynasty. They were often cut or stamped in China, and there are numerous examples of cut and chop-marked dollars – there are examples in the British Museum Collection, and many more have been published in Chopmark News (there are copies of this journal online and print copies of later issues in the library of the Dept of Coins and Medals at the British Museum). For a good introduction, with wonderful illustrations, see Joe Cribb’s Money in the Bank: The Hongkong Bank’s Money Collection (published by Spink for the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, 1987). For further detail, see Richard von Glahn’s article “Foreign Silver Coins in the Market Culture of Nineteenth Century China”, International Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 4, issue 1 (Jan 2007), pp. 51-78.

Abstract of von Glahn’s article: ‘Both the physical qualities of different types of money and the cultural values assigned to them contributed to the determination of their economic value. China began to import substantial quantities of silver coins from Europe as early as the sixteenth century, but it was around 1800 that a foreign coin, the so-called “Carolus peso” issued by the Spanish kings Carlos III and Carlos IV, became the basis of a new monetary standard in China, the yuan. In the nineteenth century the Carolus peso and imitations of it (mostly manufactured in China) served as the principal means of exchange, and the yuan as the standard unit of account, in the markets of South China. This paper analyzes the monetary conditions that led to the establishment of the Carolus peso as the monetary standard of South China with particular consideration of the distinctive “currency circuits” formed by regional variations in monetary circulation. Significant differences can be seen in the monetary regimes that prevailed in Jiangnan and Guangdong, the major commercial centers of the empire. While Guangdong reverted to a commodity money standard that allowed the use of a wide range of different types of physical monies, including “chopped” and broken foreign coins, in Jiangnan the Carolus peso became a unified, fiduciary monetary standard. This regional variation attests to the distinctive regional characteristics of market culture in late imperial China.’

Finds of Mexican silver dollars are reported in Chinese numismatic journals, and sometimes make a splash in the local press: see, for example, the hoard of hundreds of silver dollars found in Longhai Village (Fujian province), in 2011, which Gary Ashenkazy highlighted on his blog Primaltrek. At the Academic Conference of Gold and Silver Currency and Social Life (Hangzhou, 2017), Ye Zhenming , of the Fujian Numismatic Society, presented a paper titled “The Marine Silk Road and the Circulation of Foreign Silver Coins in Fujian” (叶真铭(福建省钱币学会):《海上丝绸之路与外国银币流入福建》) .

Ten guides (arranged by date)

1800 manual

(1)  李允中:《銀論》 , c.1800 — LI Yunzhong’s “Silver Treatise”, edited by YANG Qing, published by Dan Gui Tang, c. 1800 — Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich —  Digital version here 

(2)  梁恩澤:《新鐫銀經發秘》, 1826 — LIANG Enze’s New Engraved Edition of the Silver Treatise, Revealing the Secrets, preface (1826) , published in Guangzhou — Toyo bunko collection, Tokyo [my notes are incomplete]

(3) 《新刻银经发秘》, 1826 — 最早关于银币图录专著  (2010-11-19 10:59:15)  http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4feb31570100n4uz.html — PDF of sample pages


(4) 蘇富源, 蘇德源:《洋錢 銀論全法》, 1836 — SU Fuyuan and SU Deyuan (brothers): Foreign Coins, Silver Treatise Comprehensive Guide, 
published by Su Deyuan, new engraving, 1836 (Daoguang 16) — British Museum Collection (Dept of Coins and Medals) — PDF here

1836 manual

(5) 《花边银论图式》, 1836Silver Treatise, illustrated guide, printed in Jiangxi, 1836 (Daoguang 16), 1 vol., 1 volume, illustrated. 19 x 12.5 cm, Seen in trade: 2007
 [ 拍卖公司: 中安太平国际拍卖有限公司 — 拍卖时间: 2007-09-15 09:30 — 拍卖会名称: 2007年秋季艺术品拍卖会 — 拍卖会专场: 古籍文献专场 — 拍卖地点: 北京朝阳区东三环南路17号京瑞大厦十八层会议厅
拍品描述: 线装一册 纸本  // 道光十六年刊  //  提要:此为江西刊书。内附银圆图多幅。文中涉及银圆籹作、造假等各个方面情况。 19×12.5cm
View here: http://auction.artxun.com/paimai-510-2546633.shtml

1844 manual

(6) 梁恩泽: 《銀經發秘》, 1844 —  LIANG Enze’s Silver Treatise, Revealing the Secrets — Harvard-Yenching library collection — Digital version on Hathitrust.org – and on ctext

(7) 梁恩泽: 《銀經發秘》, 1844 — LIANG Enze’s Silver Treatise, Revealing the Secrets [LIANG Enze of Shunde], 2 vols — BnF collection — Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris: Département des Manuscrits > Chinois > Chinois 1-9080 : cat. M. Courant > Chinois 5343-5720 > Chinois 5550-5602 Chinois 5588 — Catalogue record (not illustrated): 銀經發秘Yin jing fa bi.Traité des alliages et falsification de l’argent.

1846 manual

(8)  《银经砰金集》 , 1846 — The Silver Classic, Ringing Gold Collection, published by Dacheng Tang, 1846 (Daoguang 26) — British Museum Collection (British Museum Collection (Dept of Coins and Medals) – PDF here

1881 manual

(9) 梁恩澤:《銀洋精論》, 1881 — LIANG Enze’s Foreign Silver Stunning Treatise [LIANG Enze of Shunde, Guangdong), published by Shi Yi Xuan, 1881 (Guangxu 7), 2 vols, illustrated. 19 x 12.5 cm — seen in trade: 2013. 作者:梁恩澤 — 出版人:是亦軒刊本 — 年代:清代 (1644-1911), 纸张:白纸, 刻印方式:其它, 装帧:线装, 尺寸:长19宽12高 (cm), 册数:2册, 年代:清光緒七年是亦軒刊本, 函册:线装 2册, 纸张:纸本, 尺寸:1912, 此為錢幣學專著。梁恩澤,廣東順德人,清末錢幣學者。http://book.kongfz.com/24982/202582447/ (Accessed 2 Nov 2017) – PDF of sample pages

nd manual

(10)《银经发秘》Silver Classic, Revealing Secrets — 作者: 不详, 出版人: 傲雪山房, 年代: 清代 (1644-1911), 纸张: 白纸, 刻印方式: 木刻, 装帧: 线装, 尺寸: 长18宽5高2(cm), 册数: 1册, 商品描述: 《杨清银论银经发秘》保存相当完好,书共83页(166面),其中有35页70面木刻版画。自清中期开始,大量外国银元涌入中国,此书即是专门讲解外国银元材质与鉴别的书籍。http://mbook.kongfz.com/12895/190647165/ (Accessed 2 Nov 2017)


UPDATE (21 February 2018) – Many thanks to Richard von Glahn for the following comments (sent to me by email):   “There is a copy of #9 (which was published in Ningbo) in the Diet Library in Tokyo.  The appendix to my ‘Foreign Silver Coins’ article also includes four additional titles (#s 3d and 4, 5, 6 in my appendix) that are not included in your list (3d 銀洋珠寶譜 is in Library of Congress, the other three (新刊洋銀辨正; 銀水總論; 新增銀論) are all in the Toyo Bunko.  You might also mention the book by Masui Tsuneo 増井経夫, 中国の銀と商人 (Tokyo: Kenbun shuppan, 1986), which I believe is the only monograph devoted to these manuals.  Masui collected the set of manuals now deposited in the Toyo Bunko.”



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