Featured The first official circulating coins of Japan. The Twelve Antique Coins of Japan

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Loong Siew, Jun 19, 2017.

  1. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    The following thread showcases 5 of the 12 antique coins of Imperial Japan or 皇朝十二钱 (kochou junisen). These were the first official circulating coins minted in Japanese history. The emphasis on official is noted as only recently in 1998 did researchers dug up what is now regarded as Japan's earliest coins, the Fuuhonsen 富本钱 in the ancient rural capital of Fujiwara ko by half a century. However unlike the 12, the Fuuhonsen was not recorded as official issues for trade and circulation. References to David Hartill's excellent book "Early Japanese Coins" were made and illustrations within for specimens outside of my collection were provided for illustrative purposes. Due to their limited issues and habit of one to ten exchange rates every susbequent issues, they are very to extremely rare.

    Prior to the issuance of the 12 antique coins, the Japanese economy relied heavily on a barter system. Semblances of a circulating currency lies in the import of the Kaigen Tsuho 開元通寳 (Kaiyuan Tongbao) from Tang Dynasty, China. Thus the 12 antique coins bear a significance in Japan's monetary history as they were the first official attempt to assert their own independence from an already heavy cultural dominance from China.

    The first official coin of Japan - Wado Kaichin (和同開珎)。

    Officially, they were also referred to as the Wado Kaiho 和同開寳. The zhen 珎 was an archaic attempt by the Japanese to simplify the intended character of treasure "寳" (pronounced as Ho) by retaining only the centre particle. Officially decreed by the then Empress Genmei in AD708, they imitated the calligraphy of the Tang Kaiyuan (particularly obvious on the Kai character) but using recently discovered copper deposits in the Musashi province. These were separated between the old "Ko" Wado, minted in both silver and copper in 708. Wado incidentally meant Japanese Copper with Wa 和 being the ancient name for Japan and 同 being a possible abbreviation for 銅 meaning copper.

    The ko wado is copper but given the infancy of their mintage and purer content, they are significantly cruder and of poor state of preservation.

    The following photo displays the ko Wado specimen in my collection.


    From 720-759 the new "Shin" Wado was minted after employing Tang Dynasty mint officials to improve their minting techniques. Due to the significant advancements from Tang Dynasty mint officials, the quality is significantly superior both in terms of the consistency and qualitu of the calligraphy and flan (although at a lesser copper purity). The following is a sample of a Shin Wado from my collection for reference


    Today, the Wadokaichin remained a symbolic icon of Japan's economic history. The original copper mine has now become a national historical shrine as well as a tourist attraction. The following are pictures of the Wadokuriya shrine. Source:http://www.japanvisitor.com/japan-city-guides/wadokuroya-chichibu wado-kaichin-1.jpg

    The 2nd issue - Mannen Tsuho (萬年通寳)
    During the reign of Emperor Junnin, in AD758-64, the Mannen Tsuho or "ten thousand year circulating treasure" was issued for general circulation at a rate of one to ten Wado Kaichins. As I Do not have a specimen in my collection I am attaching a picture from Hartill's Early Japanese Coins (EJC) book.


    The 3rd issue - Jingo Kaiho (神功開寳)
    The Jingo Kaiho or "Divine Merit Inaugural Treasure" was issued under Empress Shotoku in AD765. Similar to the Mannen, they were issued at an exchange rate of one to ten Wado. It was an attempt to alleviate shortage of currency from hoarding largely due to the exchange ratio as well as lack of appreciation from rural Japan over the use of currency. The following is a specimen in my collection

    The 4th issue - Ryuhei Eiho (隆平永寳)

    Issued under Emperor Kammu in AD796, the "Eternal Treasure of Prosperous Peace" was issued at a rate of one to ten previous issued coins.

    The 5th issue - Fuju Shimpo (富壽神寳)
    The "Divine Treasure of Wealth and Longevity" was introduced by Emperor Saga in AD818. This coin marked the beginning of a general decline in the quality of coinage as a shortfall of copper was compensated by an increasing lead content in the alloy.

    The 6th issue - Jowa Shoho (永和昌寳)
    Issued in AD835 during Emperor Ninmyo's reign, the "Flourishing Treasure of the Jowa era" at a rate of one to ten of the older coins.

    The 7th issue - Chonen Taiho (長年大寳)
    The "Great Treasure of Many Years" was issued also by Emperor Ninmyo in AD848, the first year of the Kasho era.

    To be continued...
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2017
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  3. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    The 8th issue - Nyoyaku Shimpo (僥益神寳
    Issued in AD859 under the reign of Emperor Seiwa. The "Divine Treasure of Abundant Profit" was issued similar to previous issues at one to ten exchange rate of earlier coins.

    The 9th issue - Jogan Eiho (貞觀永寳)
    The "Everlasting Treasure of the Righteous Contemplation Era" were issued also by Emperor Seiwa during the 12th year (AD870) of the Jogan Era. Most notably their quality was one of the poorest of the twelve and received severe court reprimand.

    The 10th issue - Kampyo Taiho (寛平大寳)
    The "Great Treasure of the Liberal Peace Era" was Issued by the Emperor Uda in AD890 during the Kampyo era despite an acute shortage of copper.

    The penultimate issue - Engi Tsuho (延喜通寳)
    The "Circulating treasure of prolonged happiness" was issued by the Emperor Daigo in AD907. This period marked a growing disgust by the people over these coinage as a poor workmanship (small size and heavy lead content or full lead issue) marked an eventual end of Japanese coinage in the next issue.

    The last of the twelve - Kengen Taiho 乾元大寳
    The last "Great Treasure of Heavenly Origin" marked the end of Japanese coinage. Issued in AD958 by Emperor Murakami, they were characteristic of poor workmanship and debasement. In 987, an imperial decree prohibited the use of coinage which marked an end of Japanese coinage for the next 6 centuries.
  4. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & odd Moderator

    This is both fascinating and, I must confess, rather bewildering to me, because, even rendered in perfect English, this information is hard for me as a Westerner to absorb.

    It was quite interesting to try to follow along, though. I shall have to read it a few more times.

    For a so-called "eclectic" collector who tries to fit as much geography, history, and culture as possible into a small collection of 20-25 coins, I've really mostly just covered the Western world so far, and have explored the East far too little.

    Thanks for the sampling of early Japanese coins.

    The earliest Japanese coin I've had was discovered in a bulk lot. It was, I believe, from the 1600s AD, looked like a cash coin with the square central hole, and had a pattern of "waves" on the reverse (I think you'll know what I'm talking about though I might have used the wrong term.)

    When were the first Japanese coins with pictorial elements struck? Somewhere I have a copy of The Coin Atlas. I'll have to take that out and browse the Japanese section again. It was in that book that I first saw a photo of a Japanese gold (oban? koban?) with the inked calligraphy for the first time. Amazing!
  5. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    Thank you. You must have been referring to the following 1600s wave coin

    The above coin is a common Tokugawa cash coin that is circulated en masse during the Tokugawa Shogunate which lasted up to the late 19th century. As for the twelve antique coins, I doubt the Coin Atlas has records of them. My suggested references are Hartill and Munro as they cover Japanese coinage right up to antiquity. The gold pieces you are referring to are what we call the Oban 大判 and koban 小判。The Obans are the larger gold pieces with ink whilst the Kobans are smaller without. I have 2 Kobans which I previously posted in the past it reattaching here for reference. The Obans are way outside of my budget although like yourself I find them extremely fascinating as well. They also have the silver disc coins called ginban as well but those are not central official issues but provincial issues.
    20161223_214757.png 20161223_214325.png
  6. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & odd Moderator


    Yes, the Tokugawa cash coin looks just like the one I found in a bulk lot. Though I know next to nothing of these things, I did realize that the waves must mean it was Japanese rather than Chinese.
    Loong Siew likes this.
  7. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    Yes.. the waves are known as Nami and bear auspicious meaning to the Japanese. I believe it may be due to the association with Japan as a fishing country thus good waves bear good tidings. Secondly it could be due to the Kamikaze or divine wind than brought forth waves and tsunami which protected Japan from the Mongol invasion of Kublai Khan. Nonetheless you were right about the waves being a distinctive Japanese motif on coinage
  8. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & odd Moderator

  9. scottishmoney

    scottishmoney Bammed

    I've read that after Japan opened up to foreign trade in the mid 19th century, one of the important places they sent dignitaries to was the US mint in Philadelphia - to learn assaying of metals and striking coinage by modern means.

    During the absence of a uniquely Japanese coinage for so long, Chinese coinage was imported and used to some extent.
    Loong Siew likes this.
  10. I really need to expand into these other eastern cultures. They beckon strongly.

    There seems to be a practice of issuing a new coin at an inflated value compared to their counterparts. Is that what you are describing? How I am reading it is analagous to the US printing a new $100 bill and making all of the old ones worth only $10. If so, how did this affect the circulation/private smelting of these coins.

    I know "Xin" in Chinese means "new." Is that the case here as well?

    Oh, and this arrived today. I need to do some more research on it, but for $13 I could not pass it up.

    IMG_9989.JPG IMG_9990.JPG
  11. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Thanks for sharing, @Loong Siew. I'm impressed by your collection; my understanding is that all of the 12 Antique Cash are quite rare and expensive, and tend to get snapped up at auction by wealthy collectors in Japan. My oldest Japanese coin is this Kanei Tsuho with bun (Edo) mintmark, Hartill #4.100, issued 1668-1683:
    Japan Edo mon.jpg
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  12. Johndoe2000$

    Johndoe2000$ RE-MEMBER

    Excellent post, and replies. Curious, how big are those rectangular coins?
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  13. gregarious

    gregarious E Pluribus Unum

    that's neat. as far as i know, i only have one Japanese coin, a trade cash from the 17th cent. xmas chinese coins sigusmund 017.JPG
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  14. About this big

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  15. gregarious

    gregarious E Pluribus Unum

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  16. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & odd Moderator

    I will add that I just bought this. Its my second of this type, but an upgrade to the one I used to have in my Box of 20.

    These are common but appealing, even to those who don't usually collect Japanese coins. They are, of course, often romantically called "Samurai coins".


  17. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Great thread, but can y'all size your images down to something reasonable? Some of us living in the sticks only have DSL connections and the pics take forever to load. We don't need to see the bacteria on your coins.
  18. gregarious

    gregarious E Pluribus Unum

    ahaha! holy moly batman! i live in the sticks too John, but i have little control on size here. it's either full blown or itty bitty.. your choice just 9.99:)
  19. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    Yes..you are right. Shin is but the Japanese romaji for Xin or new
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  20. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    Thanks. Yes the 12 Antique coins are rare. Hartill rated all except one or 2 variants VR to ER*. Thus I had to get it outside of Japan through reputable sources in Europe and the US to be safe. Your Kanei Tsuho is very nice by the way... very good condition.
  21. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES! Supporter

    Man, those early coins are very "Tangy" looking aren't they? I think I would just think there were some coin Chinese coin from that dynasty if I say one.

    I have some modern Japanese coins from the 20th century, but this is my only one from before then (I think it's about 18th century?).


    reverse is blank, no pic.
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