The Anthropology of Money in Southern California

This is from 2004, but worth revisiting. I wish more exhibitions were recorded.

The following passages are copied from the website:

The Anthropology of Money in Southern California is an exhibition of the uses of money and money-like objects in the cultural, religious or ritual practices of various communities of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. It was created from original research conducted by the students in an undergraduate class at the University of California at Irvine, on the anthropology of money (Anthropology 125S) in the Fall of 2004. For about four weeks out of a ten week quarter, in addition to conducting their regular assignments for this class, students worked in small groups to collect data on monetary uses of non-monetary objects and the non-monetary uses of legal tender. They employed participant-observation, interviews, archival and web-based research. The goals of the project were: (1) to introduce students to ethnographic research methods and to give them the opportunity to conduct independent, original research on a little-studied phenomenon; (2) to illuminate and document the diverse practices involving money and money-like objects in which many Southern Californians participate; (3) to contribute to research in the humanities and social sciences on the social meanings and uses of money.

…Some of these practices gain their force from an imagined “Chinese culture,” described to students in various terms by Chinese and non-Chinese alike. The pervasiveness of “Chineseness” is perhaps best illustrated by the Honduran woman one of the research terms interviewed about Feng Shui. There are also traces in the research represented here of Middle Eastern, South and Central Asian cultural and political histories that transcend religious and ethnic divides, or that intertwine those divides to the point where they almost disappear. Students were surprized – and frustrated, at times – by the fuzzy and often flat-out contradictory lineages their interviewees recounted for these money objects, their “cultures,” and their associated uses and beliefs.

…Some of these practices have rarely been documented. Even the most ubiquitous – ghost money, or hell money – has received only cursory scholarly attention. This may be because many of these practices are assumed to be “women’s work” or “women’s knowledge,” and/or activities involving the sustainance of family and kinship across the generations and back into the time of the ancestors. Or it may be because, like legal tender itself, they are so ubiquitous that they seem to go without saying.

… The student researchers on this project discovered more than the earmarking of money for special purposes, or the inherent tension between gift and commodity that becomes so difficult to sustain when faced with cultural economies of money and money-like objects. They also discovered that money is a complicated tangle, ultimately representationally inadequate to the notions of value, community and sociality it is purported to index. And that inadequacy opens money up to reveal its deep sociality, its metaphysical meanings side by side with its earthly pragmatics.



Money lei with intricately folded bills (original source: http://leisofhawaii.com/money.htm )

“…this project presented one of the greatest challenges of my college studies to date.”   – Dave Eggers, Anthro 1255, Fall 2004

“It  not only takes skill, communication, and good research techniques, but the ability to look at a project that lies in fragments, see the whole it can become, and turn it into that very thing.”   – Alexandria Ostowari, Anthro 1255, Fall 2004

Evolution of Silver – from Sycee to Silver Dollar

This was the title of a Zhejiang Provincial Museum (浙江省博物馆) exhibition from 2 March to 2 April 2016. It was the 14th in a series of exhibitions drawing on private collections. 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) brought together over 530 pieces from more than 30 collectors of gold and silver money in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. The exhibition was arranged chronologically, showing the evolution from early silver ingots to machine-struck silver coins. The expert on Chinese silver and gold ingots at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum is Ms Li Xiaoping 李晓萍.  A beautiful catalogue was produced.

Exhibition title: 《银的历程:从银两到银元》

Catalogue: 浙江省博物馆编:《银的历程:从银两到银元》 (北京:文物出版社,2016。ISBN 978-7-5010-4491-7  [Zhejiang Provincial Museum (ed.): Evolution of Silver – from Sycee to Silver Dollar (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2016)]


See more images of the inside of the book here.

The following information is taken from the Zhejiang Provincial Museum website:

The earliest silver money in China found through archaeological excavation is from the Warring States period 2000 years ago – imitation cowrie shells made of silver, and silver spade money very similar to hollow handle spade money. In the Tang dynasty there were silver bars (银铤 yinting) and cakes (银饼 yinbing), but limited use of silver as money. In the Song and Jin dynasties, silver and gold money became widespread, and a particular form developed, more or less rectangular, with a large top, a small base, and which narrowed at the waist. This shape continued into the Yuan dynasty. In the Ming dynasty, silver was in common use, and a variety of shapes emerged. In the Qing dynasty, silver ingots continued to be made in a variety of shapes. The influx of foreign silver coins prompted suggestions for a currency reform, to put Chinese silver coins into circulation alongside the foreign coins. In 1887 Zhang Zhidong 张之洞, governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, proposed that a mint be established in Guangzhou (Canton), and purchased minting machinery from Heaton, in Birmingham, UK. In 1890, the Canton Mint issued silver coins, marking the beginning of the move to machine-struck silver coins in China.

The following photographs of the exhibition are taken from the Zhejiang Provincial Museum website:


The opening of the exhibition






Lord Charles Beresford’s Chinese coins at the V&A

In 1899, “a small but interesting collection” of Chinese coins was displayed in the Cross Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. Gertrude Burford Rawlings, author of The Story of the British Coinage, Coins and How to Know Them, The Story of Books, and Old London (and a translator of 17th-century French philosophy) wrote a short, descriptive note about the display in Spink’s Numismatic Circular in September 1899. She noted that the collection was lent by Lord Charles Beresford, but offered no further information about him, suggesting perhaps that he was too well known to need an introduction.  (more…)

Supermarket of the Dead 冥間超市

“Supermarket of the Dead. Burnt offerings in China and the Cult of Globalised Consumption”  – an exhibition by Wolfgang Scheppe with the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections) in the Northwing, Reception Floor of the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace), 14 March to 14 June 2015.  (more…)