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Kang-xi tong-bao, miner's cash of lead from Vietnam

Started by bgriff99, December 30, 2023, 04:33:12 AM

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A recast made of lead.  Found in northern Vietnam, where it was produced.  The original pattern coin is from Guangdong Province, cast circa 1689, in huge quantity and circulated in Vietnam.  The lead coin is contemporary to the original.  In that period, northern Vietnam was being invaded by Chinese miners coming down from Yunnan, primarily for copper, but also other metals.

There are such pieces from zinc and raw copper.  Zinc can be easily coated with copper.  Lead cannot.  It was however a useful commodity. It is documented from the 1700's in Vietnam that "lead in hand was as good as money."   It was used for bullets, fishing gear, masonry pegs, an assortment of things we don't think about much anymore, or make for ourselves.  Lead cash coins were commonly made in Vietnam simply as a convenient hardware item.

This piece has copper mineral stuck to its surface, indicating it was strung with regular cash.  Where copper was cheap, the two metals would have been near par for price.  In Beijing at this time, lead was priced a quarter of copper's.   I have separated shipwreck strings from Sumatra of this period with cash of tin, lead, and bronze randomly mixed. Anywhere bullets might be suddenly wanted, tin and lead coins had a modest premium.



I am aware lead is regularly mined in the Birma - Thailand - Malaysia area, as well as being a secondary metal from gold and silver mining. I suppose they occur in other areas also. It's a malleable metal, but it can be poisonous. I can see how it can be useful as coins (wouldn't they be a bit too heavy?) and to an extent in small metal objects.

Even so, I was surprised that lead was traded almost at par with copper in the area. The Beijing price you quote looks more comprehensible. It looks like either copper was too cheap in SE Asia or the bureaucrats in Beijing set the price all wrong (wouldn't be the only time).

In a situation as you describe, you could get rich quickly. Buy lead in Beijing with copper, ship the lead to Hanoi, sell it for copper and ship that back to Beijing and so ad infinitum. The margin will easily pay for shipping and risk and there'll be plenty left for a bowl of rice :)

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


You make it all sound too easy.   "Shipping" anything in the Yunnan-northern Vietnam mountains was almost impossible at all. Isolation is the social story of that area.  Just too vertical.  Sailing ships were small, could only move north-south seasonally, had to deal with pirates and oppressive taxes and duties at ports.  That part not much different from Britain, Ireland, attempt to trade privately and unbeknownst to the government.   

Settling America had the same situation.  People could venture in, get cheap or free land to farm, but nobody else was there except Indians.  No roads, no way to ship produce out, or needed things in.  Chinese "mining" and refining was part of their diaspora.  They knew how to do it more efficiently than the locals.  They invaded anywhere metals could be found.  Tin in Indonesia, copper in south China and Vietnam.  Gold in Sumatra deep backcountry, Xinjiang.   Not unlike the gold rushes of California, South Africa, Australia. They came, a long way, and stayed.  The situation just on Banka is well documented, carried forward into the transition from local rule (back and forth from Palembang, to Jambi, to local pirate groups, to the Dutch).  The Chinese formed "companies", actually self-sufficient communities.  LOTS of them just on Banka island.  Tin there was as cheap as lead.  For world export it had to be pure.  For coinage, commonly mixed with some lead for very small ones (like the standard pitis size about 1 gram), but could be pure for the larger ones.  In places like Banten, Jambi, Jakarta, Manila, Chinese came and made trading settlements, utilizing family connections to have vertical enterprise to connect everything including the ships.   

Regarding lead, as a kid I used it a lot, "mined" from a shooting range a mile or so away, which hosted a BIG annual Civil War reenactment (the Ohio 19th Volunteer Infantry Regiment).  Literally dug it out of the dirt backstop, melted it out.  I did casting in dried clay molds, know that is NOT AS EASY as it sounds.  So that part is familiar.