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Non-Chinese copies of Kai-yuan

Started by bgriff99, September 28, 2014, 08:06:55 AM

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Copies for trade purposes are typically made of the most familiar and abundant coins in circulation.   Kai-yuan was definitely that.   Oddly though, I was unable to find a single reference showing a Japanese version.   Perhaps they had never circulated very much in Japan itself, or were not appreciated for their design.   All the coins below are 23.5-24.0mm.

First coin belongs to a small group from the same issuer using probably 5 different reign titles.   I consider it the most beautiful of all Vietnamese copies.   The scan does not pick up the deep knife sharp relief or velvet field.   It was made in a baked clay mold, as were official Vietnamese cash of its time.   Cast probably between 1460-1540.   Its group may have been in whole or part tribute cash for presentation to the Ming.

Second coin belongs to no group, and is close to the originals except for the extension on the left side of the pao cap, as seal script uses.   Otherwise the coin is in the usual clerk script.   Japanese and Chinese references agree this is Vietnamese.   No idea when it was made.   Found in a junk box 35 years ago.

Third is a zinc coin of the Nguyens issued circa 1740-50.    There are multiple varieties of them, as well as Chou-yuans.   While some low-grade zinc was produced in the north border area of Vietnam, the Nguyens bought theirs from China, specifically Kwangtung, delivered in Dutch ships.   

Fourth coin is a Shima-sen (Japanese = Island cash) found and almost certainly made in Java.   It's very thin, made in a clay mold into which the coin impression was poked directly and deeply with tools or sticks.   It is mirror image because the impression was copied directly.   A very rough guess of origin would be 1450-1570, or 1660-1750.  It is an unknown copper alloy.   All copper at that time had to be imported into Indonesia.


Thanks for the interesting overview !
I sort of avoided far-eastern coinage in my personal collection. But it is nice to be exposed to this through experts like you.



Good fun, bgriff. You note that the copy was made in baked clay. I thought all Asian cast coins were made in baked clay moulds and stone moulds were European only. Can you elucidate, please?

Bgriff's elaborate and interesting answer is now here

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

Jonathan Ouellet

Has anyone done a cross section of the moulds to see the chemical composition of them?


Just for fun, this is one from the Bukharan Sogd.



See the link in reply #2, Jonathan. For a Western application of baked clay for casting coins, see here. The Soghdian coin (seriously drooling!) Manzikert shows above is almost an emergency issue. The area was coveted by muslims and it sought support from China.

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

Jonathan Ouellet

Could you in theory do a die study with moulds? Like figure out where on the "tree" the coin was?


In theory you can study anything, in practice, it would be nice if the study yields interesting results.

You probably know this, but for the sake of later readers, cash coin type moulds are the products of seed coins. The seed coins were centrally produced in a disciplined environment. The seed coins are pressed into the casting material and connected with a casting canal. The angle of the seed coin with the casting canal is random. The metallic remnants of the casting canal are filed off. Therefore, there is a 1 to 1 relation between the seed coin and the coin produced, 100% independent of the mould.

At best, I could imagine that IF the mould were left to cool off vertically, the heaviest particles of the alloy would tend to sink to the lowest parts. However, in view of the shape of the casting canals, I would expect the local differences in metal composition within a coin to be too small to draw any conclusions, hard to establish, even if you can study complete money trees (remember that at least some of the surviving money trees are objects of decoration, rather than unfinished coin production) and above all not of great interest.

Rather than leave this in the negative, here is a report I did in 2019 showing some "essais de fonte" (trial casts) that did or didn't turn out well. Then, as now, it was apparently unknown what works or doesn't work when casting. I hope it will inspire you. If necessary, I can try to introduce you to the curator of the collection of the Museum of the Mint in Paris, where I took my pictures.

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


Peter, the position of the seed coin, against the center casting-vent rod, is properly with one of the square centerhole corners pointing toward the center.  That keeps the coin from breaking through the centerhole when it is broken off.

Patterns with characters on both sides tended to be placed all parallel to each other.  Normally the obverse would go down into the casting media, but if in a stack of sand-casting trays, which side went down first would alternate, and the pressure on the two sides would be equal. 

The brushing out of sand is done with the coins still attached, more or less parallel to the center rod.  These things are tells for fake coins.  Casting sprue at top or bottom.  Brush marks not parallel to each other and in the wrong direction relative to the sprue.  Marks from a file not a wire brush.