Featured Extremely rare Javanese double-massa silver coin (circa 850-900 CE)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by TuckHard, Feb 3, 2020.

  1. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    Javanese Silver Sandalwood Double-Massa – circa 850-900 CE

    Christie Double-massa Edit.jpg

    Shailendra Dynasty of the Mataram Kingdom – Central Java Period​

    The silver double-massa sandalwood flower coins were a short-lived series that remain to be one of the rarest in the Southeast Asian numismatic history. The double-massa coin is an oddly formed lump of two coins weighing 4.8 grams with a thick bar connecting them, termed the double-massa because its weight is double the standard coin weight; one massa or 2.4 grams. The only source of information on these coins is Dr. Jan Wisseman Christie, who studied the archaeology, epigraphy, and history of Indonesia and Malaysia, with special emphasis on the pre-Islamic kingdoms of Java. She remains one of the best sources of information on the development of Javanese markets and their early coinage. Her research piece A Preliminary Survey of Early Javanese Coinage Held in Javanese Collections discusses the contents of several Javanese hoards and collections of pre-Islamic coins and it is the source for the only photographs and discussion on the double-massa coins.

    Dr. Christie writes that the silver double-massa pieces were minted during the second half of the 9th century, a time when the Javanese silver coins were undergoing changes such as flan shape and distortion of the Nagari character. The ‘ma’ characters in Nagari script on the double-massa pieces that Dr. Christie examined are described as either “undistorted or slightly distorted” and the coin flans, thick and flat, match closer in shape to the ones used in the first half of the 9th century than the contemporary massa coins being minted at the time of these double units. Interestingly, and perhaps uniquely, the Javanese moneymakers opted to link two individual unit coins with a short, thick band rather than to create a coin twice as thick or wider than normal. The band connects the two halves in such a way that they never lie flat on a surface.[1]

    Given the lack of further examples and the rarity of the coins, it appears that the double-massa silver coins were not minted for long nor were they produced in large numbers. There is no known contemporary mention in stone inscriptions or other literature and it’s likely they did not spread far. Perhaps it is due to its awkward size and shape, or maybe a preference for gold in transactions where the value traded is more than a silver massa.

    The most notable discovery and example of a silver double-massa coin comes from the famed Wonoboyo Hoard that was excavated by archaeologists and historians in the 1990s. It’s thought that the hoard was compiled from the start of the 9th century until the time it was buried in the Mt. Merapi eruption of 928-929 CE. The Wonoboyo Hoard is most notable for containing nearly 7,000 gold piloncitos and over 600 of the silver massa sandalwood coins, but it also had a small amount of other coins, including two of the double-massa silver coins. The coins weighed 4.4 grams and 4.8 grams, a wide range for a time when the Javanese generally held strict weight standards.[2]

    An additional three examples were discovered by Dr. Christie in a hoard from Kwaron village, just outside of Yogyakarta in Central Java. These coins were similar to those from the Wonoboyo Hoard and were likely doomed by the same fate; the Mt. Merapi eruption of 928-929 CE. The Kwaron Hoard contains three of the double-massa coins, a 4.7 gram specimen and two 4.9 grams examples. The three coins that are photographed and shown above are from the Kwaron Hoard. The dimensions are given for the coins in this hoard; the length of the double-massa coin is 24mm total, with both individual coins being ~10mm and the center bar running about 4mm long.[3]

    It’s notable that the two individual coins that make up the double-massa are slightly smaller than the normal single massa silver coins from the time, meaning the double-massa coin was comprised of two individual coins that were specifically minted for use in the double-massa and to account for the weight of the bar connecting the two. Dr. Christie writes in Money and Its Uses in the Javanese States of the Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries A.D. that the rare double-massa coins were produced by using molds to cast the entire piece at once, and then later each of the two individual coins were hammered with the ‘ma’ character and the sandalwood flower pattern.[4]

    It’s not likely that the double-massa coins saw common use and, given that there have been no recorded discoveries in East Java, it appears that its production and circulation ended either before or when the Mataram Kingdom shifted its palace to East Java in 928-929 CE due to the Mt. Merapi eruption that shook Central Java.


    [1] Jan Wisseman Christie, A Preliminary Survey of Early Javanese Coinage Held in Javanese Collections, pg. 19

    [2] Ibid., pg. 26-27

    [3] Ibid., pg. 34-35

    [4] Jan Wisseman Christie, Money and Its Uses in the Javanese States of the Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries A.D., pg. 254

    I'm hoping to find more examples of this extremely rare coin series. Currently, the five examples from the two Javanese hoards discussed by Dr. Christie are the only known pieces and online research has not revealed anymore examples. It may be a stretch, but if anyone had one of these or anymore information about them I'd love to see or hear it! Feel free to share any coins or relevant information about the coinage from the Maritime Southeast Asian kingdoms.
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  3. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    For reference, here is the standard one massa silver sandalwood flower coins of the Mataram Kingdom of Java. This example is dated to the second half of the 9th century, the same time as the double-massa coins discussed above.

    Shailendra Dynasty of the Mataram Kingdom
    Central Java Period
    Circa 850-900 CE
    One Massa - Silver (2.4 grams)
    Obv: Sandalwood flower motif
    Rev: 'ma' character in Nagari script​
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  4. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    I have never seen a double massa. I have an ordinary silver massa. I also have this tiny "thing":

    Java, Srivijaya Kingdom, gold 1/16 massa ?, ca.7th-10th century AD, 7mm, 0.14g
    Ref: Millies 132v

    These are as small as the smallest Greek coins. I don't know how they kept track of them in the rainforest. Fishman calls it a 1/16 massa. Scott Semens just calls it a "gold sombrero". No clue what the real denomination was.
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  5. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    These small gold pieces are quite interesting, no one really knows how old they are and there's no mention of them anywhere. They also range in size a large bit, from 0.16g down to 0.055g that I've found so it doesn't seem like there is much standardization so I don't know if there really is a real denomination as much as they would use several of them at a time usually and weigh them as a group when making a purchase. The attribution should be to Sumatra rather than Java, they are almost always discovered in Palembang, Sumatra and were probably a local issue to the Srivijaya Empire during the time.
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  6. ScottSemans

    ScottSemans New Member

    Speculating on the conjoined Massa pieces: unlikely to be a circulating coin, perhaps a wealth charm on the order of money trees.
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  7. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    Very possible given that they have only been found in hoards from the Central Java period. Interestingly, Dr. Christie also mentions a double-massa gold piloncito also found in the Wonoboyo Hoard; she writes, "1 electrum double-masa coin in the shape of two linked 'piloncito' type coins."

    Christie doesn't discuss the double-massa coins in depth or speculate on what they were used for, but she does discuss them as if they were a circulating coin rather than the ingots found in the hoards.

    I do think that the effort they went through to make it a double-massa weight indicates more than a wealth charm; they made the individual coins smaller than normal to accommodate the weight of the center bar. If it were just a hold of value like the ingots I wouldn't expect them to try to keep the standard weight as closely.
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