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Comparing a juncture of reigns: Yongzheng and Qian-long at 1735-36

Started by bgriff99, August 01, 2016, 06:28:07 AM

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I am often asked how are dates for cash figured out, and how are they put in sequence for any given reign.   The most important points are determining the first and last issues.   Here is a demo.   Yong-zheng cash were reduced in weight (and size) for the last two years 1734-35.   That makes them easily separated.   The comparison of those pieces easily matches particular ones of the next reign, Qian-long.   Those in turn have clues going forward which verify this is indeed exactly its first year of issue.

Certain working assumptions are made.   The first is that changes are made incrementally, and deliberately.   Such year by year calligraphy change serves in lieu of placing dates on them.   That was established at least 600 years prior to this point.   These coins are from the main Beijing mint, the Board of Revenue.   The Board of Works has its own parallel sequence, with frequent helpful crosslinks.   

Just making incremental changes exhausts possibilities to make clear differentiation, in about 10 years, so a larger overall change is made, and then return to small changes on the new form.  It is an interesting puzzle, or one might say equation:   the 60 year reign of Qian-long being a sum of 61 two-year comparisons like this.


To be honest, i never asked myself this question. But it is nice to read your explanation on the subject though !


Excellent demo, Bruce. Thank you. I understand that is vital that the assumption of incremental change only is true, but also that changes are made once a year, not more, not less, or you cannot date them. Even so, there would be no guarantee that the changes would be made on 1st January. Maybe even the opposite.

Given that Chinese governments are and probably were control freaks, while provincial authorities are and probably were like a flock of geese that needs constant herding, I'd consider this method as highly useful but not infallible. This is giving light where there was none before.

Do you come across situations where there are more or less changes known then reign years available? Do you remember situations where more than one change was made? Most important, do you have mules in your collection that confirm sequences?

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


Regarding all your questions, the coins have to be allowed the final word over theorizing.  That means one cannot be very certain about what was happening without looking at enough of them.  It frequently happens that provincial mints do not make changes every year, or that they are too random to do any kind of ordering.    Patterns tend to be changed more often than twice yearly when mother cash are directly hand cut.   During Yong-zheng for example, as much as 6 times yearly at the Board of Revenue, up to 1733.

A mule would be difficult to confirm for any sequence.   They do show up where a single shop was cutting mother cash for more than one mint.   For early Yong-zheng 1723-27 the Yunnan central mint in Kunming also cut the mother cash for Dali and Zhanyi.  They were very well coordinated for separate privy marks, obverse and reverse, and twice or more yearly changes.   I have one mule which is half one mint, half another on the obverse, and the reverse matches one of the half-obverses.   I was watching for that, actually surprised it was so rare.   A more common one is of Shun-zhi 1660-61.   Shandong had two mints, Linqing and Jinan.   There are coins with the obverse of one, the reverse of the other.   Werner Burger thinks all provincial mother cash at that time were centrally produced.   But he thinks those particular pieces are forgeries.   Numerous other such mules are.   Separating good quality forgeries comes before arranging date sequences.

Something akin to muling occurs during Qian-long, between the Boards of Revenue and Works.   They started out identical (1736), except for the Manchu mint name.   In the third year one part of the character 'tong' is made different for Board of Works.   So began slowly differentiating the obverses so much they could almost not be tracked to each other.   A couple times are seen false starts where one mint made a change, while the other briefly followed, then veered off.  The 60 year sequence for Qian-long has no calibration to provincial styles past the 12th year.   But frequent cross links between the two boards in Beijing make the sequence sturdy.   The number of varieties fits well with twice yearly changes.    Casting apparently was fairly steady at the recorded quota levels.   Dates arrived at by this method match well to when they are figured out by frequency count of the various types.   That is not the case for the next reign, Jia-qing.


Thank you, Bruce. Fun stuff. Enough for a lifetime of painstaking study.

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