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Chong-zhen cash from the Board of Works at Nanjing

Started by bgriff99, January 24, 2017, 07:51:38 AM

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Recently I was involved in setting up categories for this Chinese reign's cash (1628-44) at Zeno.   That inevitably leads to bearing down on details more than I had before.    This type has the general markings of the Board of Works, but also different workmanship, date sequence (embedded in calligraphy), and always a large dot above the reverse center frame.   

We know that the Boards of Revenue and Works both had mints at the "southern capital" Jiangning, or Nanjing, besides the ones at Beijing which we can recognize.    This common style is found exactly on the most common kind of Southern Ming cash of Hong-guang.   Those were the continuation of the Nanjing mint after 1644, by the Prince of Fu.    Within two years Nanjing fell.

The left coin is a heavier piece from the first few years of Chong-zhen, 1628-32.   The smaller right coin was made at the same time to a lower weight and size standard for unknown parts of farther-south China. 

The thing here, the philosophical point, is that this attribution is obvious, I would say ironclad.   It fills a big hole, as the Nanjing Board of Works was a large mint.    Yet to my knowledge nobody has put that 1 + 1 = 2 together before.      Rather instead several scarcer with 'jiang', 'chu' (office) on the backs, etc have casually been made out as that mint.    They all have obverses belonging to Beijing or other places.    Repeatedly for several decades I've found such things, low hanging fruit one might say, never noticed.    It shows a bias of disdain for the most common coins, to even care enough to want to know where they're from, or specifics of issue date and so forth.    One sees it in the Chinese books.   They put this coin down unattributed at a lowly couple yuan, HA HA see the cheap kind.   Next to it some ultra rarity, sometimes not even a genuine issue, at 10000 yuan.   

So in my own way I go around disdaining catalog numbering, which to many people IS an attribution, and call them what they are.   Certain people arrange their numismatic lives around coins not being known as Qian-long year 40 Board of Revenue east mint, but rather just a catalog number which begins with their own name.   


Very informative and clear discussion on this specimen. But this also illustates the difficulties of the methodology of catalogueing in a broader sense.

Step one in the catalogueing process probably always is making the distinction between different coins.
The way how that can be done is heavily dependent on the information we have available. In Chinese coinage you can still consider yourself lucky that there are quite some contemporary written sources. On the downside of this, some previous sources may present erroneous information which will tend to perpetuate.
If there is sufficient information it seems obvious to catalogue the coins based on the structure of the coinage system. If there is insufficient information i seen no objection in just giving coins reference numbers in a framework which is as logical as feasable.
I would consider it a healthy sign of progression, that sometimes an expert comes along who points at inconsistencies and holes in the catalogueing framework. Then a desciptive catalogueing framework has a big advantage over just a list of sequential numbers. So i think i largely agree with you in this matter.


I commend you for the work you do on these coins. We desperately need people with your expertise to move forward. So much is still unknown and interesting to know.

That also goes for cataloguing. I am a modest part of a small group putting together an online catalogue of British bus and tram tokens. Several catalogues exist, some better than others, but we have already moved beyond all of them, simply by listing more variants. That consists of two variables: close study and access to a lot of pieces. The latter is the part that goes beyond collecting: being unafraid to buy "duplicates" and thankful you have one more coin to study. That is what you have just done and I think you are quite right.

As a cataloguer, you can only work with what is known to you. You chart those waters and others can expand your map. You know in advance that you will produce only a snapshot of current knowledge and that more knowledge will come about as a consequence of what you have done.

Every cataloguer and their successors should be humble and flexible, but at the same time wary. Numismatic history is full of misunderstandings, wrong readings, faithful copying of cataloguing errors and interpretations of regulations into coins that don't exist. For you, it is evident that Nanjing was a big mint and I am sure you have excellent reasons for believing so, but is it just as evident for others? Even for me, it is evident that the dot has a function, but which function I cannot tell, let alone that this is a common variant.

That leads me to conclude that we must maintain a good home base at WoC for all cataloguers, authors and speakers, the humble and the arrogant, the scientists and the flamboyant, the learned and the enthusiastic. We profit from and support the work of all of them.

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