Zhang Zhidong

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)]

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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:

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The opening of the exhibition

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