Featured Japanese Porcelain Coins

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by Stork, May 9, 2021.

  1. Stork

    Stork I deliver Supporter

    Why not a thread of their own? I have a couple newps and I've mentioned a few in other posts, but time to pull it together. Will mix up the commentary with my actual coins.

    Here was my first one ever! The common type.
    combo black.jpg
    Typical color, Mt. Fuji and cherry blossom, undated but 1945 attributed.

    The porcelain coins really aren’t precisely porcelain, but a clay mix baked in high heat. Somehow the translation went that way though and the coins carry the name. Their production was at the end of WWII and there has been some debate on various message boards as to whether they circulated officially or unofficially. Most clearly did not, but as one type is much more commonly found, this has been ascribed to it having been out in the wild for a limited time. Or, that the rumor of circulation just a speculation that has been repeated.

    It’s an interesting little niche, but little literature exists in English, and apparently not much in Japanese either. I probably should do a proper bibliography, but there just isn’t much. But as I have now acquired a small handful, it seems time to organize what little I know.

    Jacobs and Verumeule mention little and call the coins red fiber, which they aren’t. Sidebar—red fiber refers to magnesite and was used for some of the overseas issues (Manchukuo specifically). J&V also notes ‘similar patters in clay and other such materials exist’. Instead of photos there are drawings—and the 5 and 10 sen illustrations are swapped.

    --an older set purchased via a Stephen Album auction, a full 1, 5, 10 sen grouping--
    combo small.jpg

    The Cummings book describes more varieties and has several photo illustrations for type, but does not claim to be an exhaustive representation. He gives the total mintage of 15,000,000 with dated pieces for 1944 and 1945. All other sources (including the JNDA) only give year 20 (1945) as the official dates.

    --Another older set of mine and Stephen Album auction win. The 1 sen color is a bit different and has that 'sheen'. One source indicates that all three were not produced at a single mint, and clay content varied--
    combo black small.jpg

    Then, there is Krause (looking at my 2015), which appears to be using the illustrations from the Jacobs and Vermeule book (though they correct the placement of the 5 and 10 sen).

    For the single illustrated types shown in J&V regular KM#s are assigned. Content is noted as ‘baked clay’ (vs. the J&V ‘fiber’ or porcelain), with color variations reported. The one sen also is bears the comment ‘circulated unofficially for a few days before the end of WWII in centra Japan’. The 5 and 10 are ‘not issued for circulation.

    Moving to the pattern section things are even less clear. For each of the 1, 5, and 10 sen denomination there are two assigned numbers, all dated Yr 20(1945), and all are “(1, 5, or 10) Sen Porcelain Numerous designs exist”. With a third one sen number merely Sen Porcelain. They are listed sequentially as Pn74-79, with Pn74A tacked on last. Sadly I doubt there will ever be any more clarity from the Krause catalog over this. It might be ‘fun’ (not) to go through older/newer editions for changes.

    --One of my recent auction newps, sorry for the odd orientations, but neat as it shows the color variations of a single type. Whether due to content, baking temperature, or perhaps something else such as storage, I don't know.--
    clay colors.jpg

    Numista has 8 examples, though the photo for one is incorrect (a 1 sen vs. the 10 sen). The comments under the common 1 sen is most complete and references two production potteries as well as the unofficial release. Also notes the different colors, and attributes that to baking temperatures. Unfortunately no source material is given.

    --Newps from an overseas auction. No 10 sen for me as yet, but I've seen illustrations.--
    Blank 2000 x 2000.jpg

    The JNDA also only shows representative designs, as drawings only, and lists all under patterns without reference specifically to circulating specimens. By the highly technical method of aiming my phone at the page and engaging Google Translate, this is what I get:

    Unissued 10 sen pottery (10 sen porcelain in English)
    Manufactured by Matzukazi Co., Ltd. Kyoto City
    Showa 20 (Manufactured in 1945) Trial Casting
    Diameter 21.9 mm
    Grade feldspar 10-15% Ground Powder 85-90%
    (the name of the company was translated several different ways, the one I chose was reflected in another source).

    Unissued 5 sen pottery (5 sen porcelain in English)
    Seto Wade Pottery Co., Ltd. Aichi Prefecture
    Showa 20 (Manufactured 1945) Trial Casting
    Diameter 18 mm
    Grade university (?) clay 90%/Limonite 10%

    Unissued 1 sen pottery (1 sen porcelain in English)
    Arita Town, Saga Prefecture, Kyowa Shinko Pottery Co., Ltd and manufactured in Seto, Kyoto
    Showa 20(1945)**
    Diameter 15 mm
    Grade Mimasaka clay 60%, Izumiyama stone 15% Akame Clay 15% Other 105

    **Interestingly the coin illustrated is the common Mt. Fuji 1 sen which allegedly or possibly ‘circulated’ for a day or so. THIS entry in the JNDA does NOT include the ’Trial Casting’ kanji.

    --Also a newp from the overseas auction. Also missing the 10 sen denomination, but I'm just happy I finally got some of the white ones!--

    And finally, I stumbled across a 1973 World Coins ‘gold edition’ monthly publication which included a brief article on the topic by Thomas Alvin Norris III. Google does not reveal much, but he was an advertiser in the publication as well. And includes footnotes and references which I was unfortunately unable to track down. He uses the term ‘toka’ for the coins. He gives a lot of details on production planning and a timeline for the Mint’s efforts in producing the coins.

    In any case, they came about at the latter part of WWII. As metals were needed for war efforts the smaller denomination coins went through iterations of progressively lighter aluminum and eventually tin. The Japanese Mint went looking for more options. Paper was one, but attention was also turned to non-metallic coin options. Porcelain coins were known from Germany after WWI, the notgeld so it was a known option.

    The Mint officials eventually produced designs and methods to mass produce the coins. Being clay, the task was given to three major potteries that had the size, materials (clay and coal),manpower, and ability to mint to specification. Unlike metal coins a different kind of ‘shrinkage’ had to be accounted for—drying the clay resulted in a 1-1.5 mm decrease in diameter.

    Production issues such as uneven heating, cracking, sticking together were noted. But the final products were uniform in diameter/thickness, were sturdy enough to be handled, and retained the design features required including concave surfaces and two step rims.

    Some have more of a sheen which relates to the proportion of feldspar apparently. And color variances are due to relative content per this source. It appears from the Norris article that the color difference was intentional for each denomination and the planned colors ranging from chocolate, to reddish-brown, to red. But also, white and black examples are known as samples. Up to 91 varieties have been noted, but not confirmed by the sources uses.

    The three factory potteries utilized were in Kyoto, Seto, and Arita. Interestingly each apparently had a unique specific content to the clay, which I suspect was related to availability of local product. The varying content noted reflects the JNDA.

    Between designing the coins, determining content and specifications, die production and producing the minting machines it took quite some time to ramp up production of the actual coins. Plus some machinery was destroyed. First meetings were held in early 1944, and mass production began in July 1945.

    According to the Norris article total mintages were:

    — Kyoto (1 and 10 sen) 3 million
    —Seto (1 and 5 sen) 2 million
    —Arita (1 sen) 1 million

    And because the government wanted to wait until sufficient quantities were ready before wide release, this did not happen as the war ended in August. But this article also specifically states “Although these coins were never officially released, some one sen toka circulated for one day in Osaka”.

    I wish I could find and read his sources! In any case, most were ground and destroyed, and the rest are what trade amongst collectors.

    And finally, what do the TPG say? All I could tell from the NGC census is there are two clay 5 sen pieces dated 1945 in slabs. No 1 or 10 sens are in the reports. No photos that I’ve found yet.

    PCGS has four 1 sen patterns (a couple Pn74 and PN75 and I wish I knew how they decided which was which).




    three 5 sen



    and three 10 sen



    At some point I will try and add a post with some auction listings plus one more set I'm awaiting.
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  3. TheFinn

    TheFinn Well-Known Member

    Very informative and complete. Thank you. Nice to learn more about coins outside of the normal stream.
    mlov43 and Spark1951 like this.
  4. ddddd

    ddddd Member

    An interesting series of coins; thanks for sharing!
  5. Oldhoopster

    Oldhoopster Member of the ANA since 1982

    Nice write up. I have one (Fuji type I believe) with my porcelain notgeld pieces.

    I recall seeing some info on the Japanese porcelain in one of my hotels references. Probably was Scheuch's book, but I don't have access to them right now.
  6. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Supporter! Supporter

    Thank you for this post. Very informative.
  7. The Eidolon

    The Eidolon Well-Known Member

    Very cool post! I only have a cracked 1 sen of the common type.
    I'd love to expand my collection, but I don't often come across any of these. 1 sen 1945 clay copy.jpeg
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  8. scottishmoney

    scottishmoney Unwell Unknown Unmembered Supporter

    Frankly until reading the post above I had no idea that there were even plans for 5 and 10 sen coins in baked clay.
  9. Robidoux Pass

    Robidoux Pass Well-Known Member

    Wow! Quite an interesting read. You've obviously spent some time gathering research materials on these. I have an odd one or two -- someplace. I'll have to find them and do some more attribution using your research.

    Thanks for sharing such an informative article.
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  10. Sullykerry2

    Sullykerry2 Humble Collector Willing to Learn

    Well done and quite informative. I have the more common 1 sen and somewhere a 5 sen.
  11. mlov43

    mlov43 주화 수집가

    Were these still considered legal tender into the 1950s and later?
  12. The Eidolon

    The Eidolon Well-Known Member

    With the wartime inflation, I think pretty much all the sen denominations would have been too small to circulate much after the war anyway. The 10 sen ended in 1946 (Showa 21) and the 50 sen in 1948 (Showa 23). I think the postwar yen was pegged at 360 to the dollar initially. Even in impoverished postwar Japan most coins less than a yen would have been too small to circulate.

    As the ceramic coins weren't really officially released during the war (though a few leaked out into use), my guess is that they were never really legal tender. And their collector's value would have exceeded their face value quickly enough that there wouldn't have been much incentive to try to pass ceramic coins into circulation even if one could find someone willing to accept them in payment.
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  13. Stork

    Stork I deliver Supporter

    Agree. I don't think they officially achieved legal tender status, or if they did they were super short lived.

    There were millions made and the plan was to release them, but the war ended at which point the issuing authority was no longer 本日大 "Dai Nippon" or "Great Japan". Even if they were legal tender and released, that changed. Next was the transitional 府政本日 "Nippon seifu" or "Government of Japan", until the new constitution and current coinage.

    Plus, they are listed under patterns in the JNDA, so that works for me :D.
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  14. mlov43

    mlov43 주화 수집가

    A couple of points:

    If an issuing authority mints coins, regardless of where they end up, they ARE legal tender, are they not? Unless these coins have been officially demonetized by the issuing authority, I think that they would still be considered "legal tender." Legal meaning just that: Under LAW. Now, that doesn't mean that you can use them or deposit them as money (under the concept of "freedom of contract," providers of goods and services and bankers do NOT have to accept them). Did Japan undergo a currency reform since their issue? If so, then they are demonetized, right?

    Not sure about this, as I don't understand the monetary system of Japan in the wartime/postwar era.

    Good point about the micro-denomination (sen) not representing enough value. And if the Japanese consider them to be patterns, then perhaps they were never legal tender.

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  15. Stork

    Stork I deliver Supporter

    TL;DR: IF they were even 'monetized' in the first place, they were certainly DE-monetized by the subsequent change in government and abolition of the denomination.

    But smarter people have to figure out where along the food chain something is monetized. And what about NCLT? LT is in the name :D.

    Or if something created by an official government Mint under government direction and decree, still counts as monetized even if they never actually left the mint due to external forces. (1933 double eagles come to mind too).

    My original/poorly caffeinated ramblings where I may or may not have been thinking about what you were really asking:

    If the issuing authority still exists I would expect that the specific coin would be demonetized. I haven't looked into this specifically as this doesn't really apply here.

    For Japan there are 'modern' coins which are Meiji reformation (1870) to date. Then there are 'current' coins which have been issued by the current governmental entity. And these are broken out in the JNDA by section. Of the 'current' coins there are plenty that are no longer circulating, but absent translating the footnotes in the JNDA or checking the Japan Mint site, I don't know. But you have given me an idea of an interesting thing to try and figure out!

    In any case, before and during WWII the coins were issued by the Empire of Japan, which what the Dai Nippon/Great Japan refers to as the issuing authority.

    After the war the translation on the coins is for 'The Government of Japan', and was, IIRC, managed by the US. A transitional period in terms of being a legal entity as Japan was being 'reorganized'.

    Once the new Japanese constitution was created, the legal issuing authority is now the 'Country of Japan', a constitutional monarchy/parliament system.

    Any coins previously used are no longer valid, though I don't know if this was an official act of demonetization per se or just a natural consequence. I mean, did that have to say, 'prior coins are not valid as the government no longer exists'?

    This was a currency reform as well. All denominations under the yen were abolished and larger denominations created--initially up to 100 yen coins (higher for banknotes, and later the 500 yen coin added).

    The 100 yen for example: Several iterations but only one circulates.
    Silver to boot, so a good reason to pull from circulation.

    100 yen S35 combo copy.jpg

    Plus a few 'commemoratives' that apparently did circulate some, but mostly were saved.

    100 yen Olympic combo copy.jpg

    Vs. the currently circulating style:

    100 yen S42 combo copy.jpg
    No longer silver.

    In any case, that would be fun to check. Of all the 'current' (ie current government) 100 yen coins, what is the legal tender status of all those others?

    Perhaps the biggest question, will they work in vending machines :D. Probably not given the coins are assessed on size, weight, composition by the machines. I seriously doubt any of the silver (and definitely not the off-sized commemoratives) would function in the machines. That said, I think they refuse the older version of the 500 yen because of the counterfeiting (mostly by fooling the machines), but all versions of the 500 yen are still 'money'. I'm not even going to pretend all those NCLT commemoratives are part of that.
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  16. mlov43

    mlov43 주화 수집가

    Awesome. Thanks for the information!

    I wonder if a new constitution in Japan is tantamount to demonetizing previously-issued coins? I only ask, since I've been studying South Korean coins, and the coins in that country only get demonetized (legal removal of currency status) when the central bank announces that the coins to have been declared "suspended circulation" (유통정지). There is also "suspension of distribution" (발행중지), meaning the central bank no longer issues the coins out into the economy and (likely) requires branch locations to sequester the coins from circulation mostly for later storage/recycling, BUT these coins are NOT demonetized, just removed.

    South Korea has had several governments and revised constitutions since 1948, and none of these changes meant that the then circulating money was demonetized or removed UNLESS the government declared a currency reform (which they did three times), or just decides to demonetize a coin/note at some time.

    About the 500-Yen: Was the counterfeiting of the 500-Yen due to weak slug detecting ability in Japanese vending machines prior to 1999?

    A little backgound: The criminals were drilling divots into the surface of South Korean 500-Won coins and depositing them into Japanese cash machines or vending machines and hitting the "reset" button. Japanese vending machines did not (back then?) return the coin you put into the machine, but dropped one from the coin hopper, giving the criminals REAL 500-Yen coins. One Seoul newspaper accurately described the activity as “buying 500 yen at less than a seventh of the price.”

    Both the Japanese coin and the Korean coin were made of the same cupronickel composition, same diameter, but the Korean coin was heavier. Hence the divots dug into the faces of the "500-Won slugs."
    Edit: By the way, the Japan Mint's Public Relation Office are rockstars. They were very helpful with providing me information on the training of South Korea's Mint workers (although limited was the information). Very helpful people! They should be able to answer any questions you have for them.
    Last edited: May 16, 2021
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  17. Stork

    Stork I deliver Supporter

    I have officially gone off the deep end! My new set.

    Plus someone on another forum asked me about relative sizes. My group photos were done to emphasize details vs. relative size. The diameters are 15 mm, 18 mm, and 21 mm (21.9 in the JNDA).

    Family photo with exposure tweaking (I'm down two lights right now so not as good though).
    group small.png

    And quick shots with all in view at once:

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