Vietnam, Tu Duc 1848-83 two zinc cash with city names on reverse

Started by bgriff99, August 11, 2016, 09:37:20 AM

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Obverse inscription 'Tu Duc Thong Bao', specific dates within reign not known.   The pair of zinc cash is almost calligraphically identical.   Diameters are the same 22.7mm.    First coin reverse characters Ha Noi (R-L), second Son Tay.   Sontay is a town, and former province.   The town is 35km west of Hanoi, now absorbed into its greater metropolis.   A comparable blank reverse piece was made.

Nobody seems to know whether such zinc cash circulated at par with brass pieces of the same size.   Many of those carried the denomination '6 wen'.   There were also 9 and finally larger brass 10 wen pieces.   It is possible that zinc, and/or various tiny relic and private cash were valued as one wen.  All that had to fit together with the French issued denominations.   It frankly bugs me that good and detailed references just show the coins, but do not tell what is known about valuations.    For China that can generally be found out.   It tends to be complicated, with typically two or more types of cash circulating together, and each region having its own system.


At least in Iran and Afghanistan, there have been travelling die cutters, taking a design from one city to another. Maybe that helps you.

Don't know about Vietnam but the anecdotes I have heard from what is now Indonesia is that the cash coins circulated among the Chinese only and their value was agreed quite locally.

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


Wat amazes me most about these two specimen is how well the zinc survived after all this time in a damp and hot environment.


When I first started collecting, zinc Vietnamese cash were considered somewhat scarce.   Both copper alloy and zinc cash were commonly buried.   But with zinc they knew how quickly it would rot buried as they customarily did strings of bronze or brass cash.   Zinc cash were buried in stoneware pots, lids sealed with grease or wax.   They were cast in enormous quantity and tended to have low value.   So now with metal detection and nationwide construction, all those forgotten pots are being found.   The common coins are individually worthless now, and after checking through for rarities, melted down along with all the common copper alloy ones to make cheap plumbing fixtures.   Leaded brass, good stuff.

The Sontay coin here is now common, but as recently as 2004 was unknown or rare.   It is not listed in Barker's catalog of dynastic Vietnamese cash.


Well, who can blame them for recycling this material and making use of it? Would be good though to have finds first recorded and inventories made because a lot of potential historic knowledge now also gets lost. I don't know in how far historic awareness is consired a luxury locally.



About recording finds nominally as numismatic archaeology, some of that was done by a group in the Mekong Delta area.    There was a book written about coins of the Nguyens, in Vietnamese.    But yes, hoards generate a lot of information, which is lost when they are just quickly searched for rarities to sell, then disposed for scrap metal.   I just found out that in the 1990's many Japanese numismatists were in Vietnam to study and retain material at the beginning of the modern excavation period, which is now considered about over.    Unfortunately for me that means most study is in two venues I can not easily get access to.     

From what I've seen, things are lagging, for historical attribution, what they should be.   Having recently had to reorganize Zeno's unofficial Vietnam cash, it was a bit uncomfortable assigning issue periods and places to groups on just my own opinion.   In some cases defending them, based on comparisons and known history.    Zeno has a one secret weapon, Pavel Kartashov, running XRF's on things, with professional metallurgist and mineralogist analysis.   A regular terrible swift sword to specious wishful "traditional" attributions.   11th Century?   Sorry, its brass.   Guess again.


I saw some of your efforts on Zeno, great work ! I suppose any attempt at restructuring a given field will lead to discussion. One interesting thing about cash coin research is the availability and research of old written accounts and literature. That's a major benefit compared to my focus area. But i can imagine that this may also lead to a tendency to procreate old errors. The advent of XRF indeed has a potential to terminate some doubts and misconceptions.