Author Topic: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era  (Read 10793 times)

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Offline mitresh

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Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« on: May 05, 2013, 08:04:56 AM »
I did not see any coin of the Samurai/Shogun period hence I decided to post few coins from my collection to start a discussion. The coins are in the form of rectangular ingots. The dotted and floral borders as well as decorative motifs within the coin makes it very interesting. However, I do not know why the Shoguns issued these coins in square shape when the prevailing prototype, based on China, was round or oval.

Imperial Japan, Shogunate, Meiji Era, 1868-69 AD, Gold Nibu-Kin (2 Bu), 3g, 11mm by 19mm



Imperial Japan, Shogunate, Tempo Era, 1832-58 AD, Gold Nishu-Kin (2 Shu), 1.62g, 7mm by 13mm



Imperial Japan, Shogunate, Ansei Era, 1859-68 AD, Silver Ichi-Bu-Gin (1 Bu = 4 Shu), 8.6g, 16mm by 24mm



Imperial Japan, Shogunate, Kaei Era, 1853-65 AD, Silver Isshu-Gin (1 Shu), 1.89g, 10mm by 15mm




Full details of the coins can be reviewed at below link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokugawa_coinage
« Last Edit: May 06, 2013, 01:28:49 PM by mitresh »
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2013, 01:05:18 PM »
Samurai are a class of noblemen. However, one of the main characteristics of the Shogunate was heavy centralisation. While I can easily imagine different mints within a central administration in this period, I cannot imagine privately issued money.

Then again, the pieces you show were used more like small silver bars than like coins. They would go by weight and have no long-term value expressed in copper coins, which were the backbone of the money supply.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline mitresh

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2013, 01:36:06 PM »
Thanks Peter but if the purpose was to circulate the ingots by weight, why did these have specific denominations and conversion rates pegged to the lowest unit ie Bu? Or was the affixed unit on the ingot intended to serve as a ready reference to the conversion rate? Remarkable why most of these ingots do not bear chop or test marks to test for purity of metal content. Either the penalty for faking these would have been very harsh or else this unit was widely accepted by the populace as an authentic Shogun issue that no one dared refuse or forge.
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paisepagal

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2013, 05:07:10 PM »
I'm just wondering if its a coincidence, but did you watch "The Last Samurai" (starring Tom Cruise) last night on MoviesNow Channel and decide to post these ? The movie was enthralling and so are these illustrations !

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2013, 05:30:37 PM »
A gold-silver-copper money system is a figment of the Robinson Crusoe syndrome. The normal means of payment were strings of cast cash coins, just as in China. The coinage was completely fiduciary, so there was in principle not even a need for silver and gold coins.

Silver and gold coins were made in separate mints, originally for export only, mainly to China and the Republic. The gold coins were eventually also used for prestige and rewards.

Silver and gold were used as commodities, of course. In China, the emperor set the gold-silver ratio. Not sure of the Japanese government did the same, but it seems quite likely. Dutch merchants took advantage of the gold-silver ratio by arbitraging with European prices.

From "Coins of America, Africa, Australasia and Asia" by R. A. G. Carson ISBN 0091048311: The silver used in this period* partook even more of the nature of bullion than did the gold and scarcely qualifies to be considered as coinage and The bronze eiraku tsuho which was already in issue in the time of Toyotomi continued in circulation till about 1640 but the basic bronze coin throughout most of the period was the kanei tsuho which was produced from 1626 until 1863 (...)

A western payment and coinage system was introduced only with the banking laws of 1869.

Peter

* Shogunate (sixteenth to nineteenth centuries)
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Offline mitresh

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2013, 05:35:23 PM »
I saw the movie long back. It was very moving and touching especially the last cavalry charge and resultant machine gunning of the Samurai's. Equally poignant was the scene when Tom Cruise returns the sword of the Samurai to the Emperor and evokes the sense of pride and honour in him to refuse to sign a humiliating treaty. What a movie, what characters, what emotions!! The age of the Samurai was truly remarkable and its fair to say I was attracted to these coins as a result. The posting of these coins today is a mere coincidence as I clicked these coins over the weekend!
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Offline Manzikert

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2013, 01:12:52 AM »
Hi Peter

I'm afraid I have to disagree with your (and Carson's) statement that Japanese/ Tokugawa gold and silver was just bullion.

During the period c.1600-1865 there were issues of cho-gin and mamieta-gin which were definitely just bullion, being of variable weight, though they did have fixed finenesses (1601-1695 80%, 1695-1706 64%, 1706-10 50% etc., the standard going back to 80% in 1714, then gradually dropping again to as low as 13.5% 1859-1865. The piece below weighs 15.51 gm, was issued 1859-65, so is only 13.5% silver.

By definition a coin is a piece of metal stamped with a die by a government or other issuing authority as a guarantee of weight and metal content, and the koban, oban, -shu and -bu pieces meet that criterion. The fact that they resemble what we in the west might think of as ingots is immaterial: the Japanese accepted them and used them as circulating medium alongside the bronze coins. Bronze was used for relatively small transactions, but anything over the value of a string of mon could be paid in silver isshu-gin, gold nibu-kin or whatever was appropriate for the transaction.

These rectangular coins were first issued in 1772 (the nanryo gin) and had a clear value relationship with the koban: the inscription on the first coin states 'Take Nanryo eight pieces/To exchange for koban one ryo', in other words 'eight of these equal one koban [gold]'. That they didn't have exact interchangeable values but 'floated' with the differing prices of gold, silver and copper is also immaterial: between the 1660's and early 1800's so did the guinea: it was issued as a 20/- coin, floated up until under William and Mary (I think it was) it was worth over 26/-, then gradually reduced to the 21/- we think of today as 'a guinea'. This in no way classes it as bullion: it was a coin the value of which was governed by the 'exchange rate' between gold and silver in the market, and the Japanese coins did the same.

Yes, Tokugawa Japan was very centralised, but the daimyos of the larger feifs had some leeway, and were in some cases specifically permitted to issue coins, whether iron, bronze, silver or gold. The Osaka gold/silver exchange (rather like the London money markets) had existed unofficially (and technically illegally) since the late 1600's, but it was officially recognized by the Shogunate in 1725. After two gold/silver exchange sessions there was a bronze exchange session based on the rates from the gold/silver sessions.

Carson's statement is certainly true of the mamieta-gin/chogin issues, but I think the isshu-gin/ nibu-kin issues that mitresh has posted are definitely coinage in the western sense.

Alan
Alan

Offline mitresh

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2013, 07:43:03 AM »
Alan thanks, I never knew all this history but thanks to you, I'm better informed now.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2013, 03:12:41 PM by mitresh »
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2013, 04:51:53 PM »
Thanks, Alan. Nothing to tease out the truth like a good discussion.

Maybe the problem lies in your definition of "coin". It would include bullion coins and gold and silver bars. It would exclude privately issued coins, such as the Canadian bank tokens. My definition would be different on these points and thereby exclude bullion coins and metal bars. In fact, I would probably even be unable to come up with a definition. I do have requirements, though:
  • Meant to facilitate trade
  • Used principally as a medium of exchange
  • Produced as uniformly as possible in appropriate quantity
  • Having a fixed denomination
As for gold, the Koban has some money aspects, notably that it was made in quantity and meant to facilitate trade. However, AFAIK, it was not use as a medium of exchange within Japan, other than to pay off foreigners. I am aware of the local issues. I am led to believe that they are exceptionally rare. They seem to be prestige issues, rather than money.

I have somewhere an article written by none other than lord Keynes, written in his younger years, on the silver standard, where the good lord points out that India, China and Japan (he's probably forgotten about Korea and Vietnam) suffered heavily from being on the silver standard. Unfortunately, I can't find it, which may be due to moving house last year :'( Whatever, it shows that gold pieces were not a means of payment in Japan, but a sop to foreigners and the equivalent of what a decoration would be in Western countries.

For silver, we may indeed have to distinguish between early and late silver. I have no doubt that early silver went by weight. Several sailors stranded in Japan mention only copper and brass coins. However, towards the end of the shogunate, I could imagine a drift towards the silver standard in view of increasing insecurity. The problem is that sources are mostly unclear. All agree that the banking law of 1869 introduced silver and gold coin, yet some of them mention a silver standard before 1869.

Since Mr. Carson cannot speak for himself, I'll let Wikipedia speak for him. Of course, insights may have changed. If so, I'd be interested in your sources.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Manzikert

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2013, 12:32:23 AM »
Hi Peter

No, my definition of coin does not gold and silver bars. These are usually made by private companies not national issuing authorities and do not circulate from hand to hand as money: it is a bit difficult to get change for a 400-ounce good delivery gold bar at your local corner shop! Modern bullion coins, and the smaller gold and silver bars are stores of wealth using the imperishable nature of the value of the metal they contain and do not form part of the circulating money/currency of any nation, except in so far as they can be used to back fiduciary note issues. It would, as you say, not include tokens like the Canadian bank tokens: the operative word there is 'tokens', they were private issues accepted in lieu of government issued coins because there weren't any.

If I can cover your points in order:
1 The isshu-gin/ nibu-kin type coins definitely circulated within Japan as money.
2 They (like most money) could act as a store of wealth but their main use was to facilitate the purchase of goods and services.
3 The weight standards are closely maintained within the different issues, and the officially declared mintage of the 1837-54 issue of isshu-gin was 78,916,556 and the 1853-1865 ibu-gin 159,244,800  for instance, so I think they can be said to be available in an 'appropriate quantity'.
4 The denomination is clearly stated on each of the coins, isshu-gin='1 shu silver' for instance. The fact that different issues could have different weights and finenesses but still retain the same stated denomination emphasizes the fact that they are coins, subject to inflationary processes, but still coins.

One of my main sources is Hartill's new 'Coins of Japan' (for the denominations and the fineness of different issues). The mintage figures come from the JNDA catalogue. I also take the evidence of the Bank of Japan website (quoted below) which makes it clear that the Tokugawa government issued the isshu-gin and nibu-kin types intending them to circulate as coin.

The koban was as you say issued in fairly large quantities (17,435,711 for the Gembun (1736-1818) issue for instance). The fact that these 17 million plus coins were struck in the period 1736-1818 when foreign trade was essentially forbidden I regard as proof that they *did* circulate as coin inside Japan and could not have been intended as a ‘sop to foreigners’ who would not have had access to them. Their current rarity is mainly due to the fact that the Japanese valuation of silver and gold was very different to the Western valuation (5-1 in Japan, 15-1 in Europe and America) which meant that once Japan had been ‘opened up’ to trade with the West vast amounts of gold haemorrhaged out of Japan in a few years in exchange for silver, and was simply melted. The koban were not used to 'pay off foreigners', the foreigners took advantage of the difference in gold/silver ratio to bleed the gold coinage out of Japan. As soon as the Shogunate realised this they revalued the koban against the silver coinage by reducing the fineness and weight, but even this didn’t solve the problem as the value of the silver coins against the Mexican dollar was also unfavourable (the Americans insisted on an exchange rate of 3 Tempo ichibu-gin to the Mexican dollar when the real exchange rate should have been 2 Ansei nisshu-gin). See http://www.imes.boj.or.jp/cm/english/history/18C/ (on the Bank of Japan website) for an explanation of how the foreign traders took advantage of the exchange rate differences.

I would like to see the Keynes article but I think he has got it as much wrong as Carson.

The oban coinage was certainly mainly a ceremonial coinage, and struck in correspondingly low numbers (16,565 for the Keicho oban, 1601-c.1650, and just 1,887 for the Tenpo oban, 1838-1860 for instance), but the kobans, shus and bus were issued in a definite value relationship intended by the government of the time to circulate within the country as money, and I think that is the essence of a ‘coin’.

There were two different types of silver ‘money’, the bullion cho-gin and mamieta-gin, and the coin silver, such as the isshu-gin and ichibu-gin. Both were issued in parallel up to 1865 when the bullion issues ceased.

I have great respect for Carson as a numismatist, but I think that in the case of his comments on Japanese coins in general he has oversimplified things. Re-reading the paragraph you quoted his comments on the bullion nature of the cho-gin and mameita-gin are totally correct. However, his comment puts the mameita-gin into a ‘second category’ when in fact they were an integral part of the exchange mechanism, the major part of the transaction being paid for by the chogin whilst the final ‘topping-up’ to the final price was done with the mameita-gin. The over-simplification is further evidenced by his comment in the next paragraph where he refers to the ‘kanei tsuho (Pl. 1013) which was produced from 1626 until 1863 with four characters on the obverse and wave-like lines on the reverse.’ The ‘kanei’ mon were produced by private contractors from 1626-1636 when the government took over production. These were then produced until 1867 with blank reverses or one or two character mintmarks. The wave-like markings on the reverse don’t come in until 1768 when four-mon coins were issued with these markings, continuing until 1869.

What the 1869 banking law did was to replace the Japanese native style coins with Western round coins: it didn't create coinage in Japan.

Alan

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #10 on: May 08, 2013, 01:48:48 AM »
It would, as you say, not include tokens like the Canadian bank tokens: the operative word there is 'tokens', they were private issues accepted in lieu of government issued coins because there weren't any.

The Canadian tokens were produced by some banks on contract from and under control of the government. Yet, the word "token" is mentioned on them. They are not essentially different from coinage farmed out to private mintmasters, as was usual in most Western European countries (England being a notable exception), or the French 1920-29 series issued by the national chamber of commerce and mentioning "Bon pour" (token), all commonly accepted as coins.

The fact that these 17 million plus coins were struck in the period 1736-1818 when foreign trade was essentially forbidden I regard as proof that they *did* circulate as coin inside Japan and could not have been intended as a ‘sop to foreigners’ who would not have had access to them.

Please see this lemma, showing that there was continuous foreign trade with Japan at least since the 16th century. The amounts involved were significant and the arbitrage you mention started in an earlier period. Several houses along the canals in Amsterdam were built by successful silver/gold arbitrageurs. I have collected some stats on the difference between the gold-silver ratio in China and in Europe, if you are interested. Since gold was undervalued (in European terms) in Japan, it flowed to Europe. It is no coincidence that the Geldmuseum has a fine collection of Japanese gold. You will even find a picture of a case to transport large quantities of gold here.

A very important point I keep wanting to make and forgetting: all of this does not mean that there is anything you must or cannot collect.

Peter


An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline gxseries

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2013, 12:31:41 AM »
What would you classify this as:


Offline Manzikert

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2013, 02:31:49 AM »
Hi

This appears to be an Akita province 4 momme 6 bu silver piece, weight 17.2 gm (17.25 gm according to JNDA), struck in 1862-3, fineness 95%, Hartill 9.91, JNDA 09-72. Hartill rates it as very rare.

As to its authenticity I'm afraid I can't comment.

Alan

Offline gxseries

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2013, 12:17:50 PM »
Pretty sure it's genuine Alan. It's spot on at 17.25g.

Offline Manzikert

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Re: Imperial Japan: Samurai Coins of the Shogun Era
« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2013, 11:16:13 PM »
Hi

I wasn't doubting the coin particularly, it is more that I was doubting my own competence to authenticate it :)

There are an awful lot of doubtful Chinese/Japanese coins around though, so I'd say get it authenticated by someone like David Hartill, but the accurate weight is a very good sign. Where did you get it from?

Alan